Dan Rather Interviews Bush

George W. Bush, GOP, Republican, president, Texas governor, White House, Campaign 2000
AP
Rather: Let me take this to a broader (issue). It's late in the campaign. Both of you have been at it for at least 18 months. Here, late in the campaign, I find a lot of people saying two things: one, they can't make up their mind between the two, some people saying I’m not really excited about either one of these two people and some of the messages don’t seem to be sticking. Do you have any idea why?

Bush: Well, I disagree with the premise, in all due respect. First of all, the enthusiasm I see is huge. As a matter of fact, our crowds are much more enthusiastic than they had been, in all due respect, to other presidential candidates in the past, one of whom I know quite well. I'm telling you, when you go to Toledo, Ohio, and have 12,000 people and there waiting out there from the crowd and they are howling and screaming. Their level of enthusiasm is significant.

Rather: So you think you are getting through?

Bush: I have no question, in my mind, I am.

Rather: You think the message is getting through?

Bush: Absolutely.

Rather: Even the complicated ones such as the Social Security?

Bush: Well, I think the Social Security issue — I think people understand the principles but they also understand that the folks up there now haven't delivered. I’m absolutely convinced that the message is getting through.

Rather: Let's talk about your tax program.

Bush: Okay.

Rather: Do you agree or disagree with the premise that the tax cut that you propose, about 40 percent, will go to the wealthiest 1.5 to 2 percent of the people of the country?

Bush: Well, I agree that everybody is going to get tax relief, and if you are a wealthy person, you are going to get tax relief. The largest percentage of the tax relief goes to the bottom end of the economic ladder. There are going to be over 6 million additional families that will pay no tax. If you're a family of four making $50,000, you get a 50 percent cut in your income taxes. After my plan is implemented, the wealthiest people will pay 64 percent as opposed to 62, and so I believe it is a very fair plan and that we can cut numbers all day long. I'm just telling you that when I designed the plan, I heard the voices of the people at the bottom end of the economic ladder, and our system is unfair to people trying to get into the middle class.

Rather: As you would say, with all due respect. When you designed the plan, did you realize at that time that 40 percent of it would benefit those at the wealthiest level?

Bush: I realize that wealthy people pay most of the taxes and, therefore, are going to get benefits. But more importantly, Dan, I realize that the greatest percentage of the relief was going to go to people at the bottom end of the economic ladder. As I just mentioned, 6 million families, additional families, will pay no taxes whatsoever and that the wealthiepeople will pay a higher percentage of the tax load after the plan is in place than before.

Rather: You are confident that you can provide the tax that you've outlined, implement the Social Security program that you’ve outlined, improve the defense of the United States that you’ve outlined and Medicare — you can do all these things and have a substantial tax cut?

Bush: And pay down debt, because the tax cut is about, is about a quarter of the projected surplus, Social Security is about a half and the priorities i’ve outlined represent about a quarter as well.

Rather: What if this turns out to be a phantom surplus? Surpluses projected in the past so often turned out to be fakes.

Bush: Could be, but the reasons why is because the economy might have slowed down, and the reason why I believe it's important to provide tax relief is to serve as an insurance policy against an economic downturn. See, I come from that school of thought that when you reduce marginal rates on people that pay bills it serves as a stimulus to the economy.

Rather: How much time did you spend in the White House — this has to do with the 200th anniversary of the White House — how much time have you spent in the White House?

Bush: Fair amount of time. I never lived in it. I was a visitor.

Rather: Stayed overnight there?

Bush: Oh, sure I did. I actually stayed in the Lincoln bedroom.

Rather: Weeks at a time, months at a time?

Bush: No, I would say days at a time, probably no more than two or three days at a time, if my memory serves me correctly.

Rather: You would have been, what, in your late 20s, early 30s?

Bush: No, no. That would have been 1989 and so I would have been 40, you know.

Rather: Tell me how you felt about it that your family lived in the White House.

Bush: Well, it's an amazing place. It's a national treasure and it is the people's house. That’s how I view it. Upstairs is a pretty formal setting and obviously the Lincoln Bedroom and the queens' bedroom (are) magnificent rooms. A person, if they were a history minded — I spent a lot of time upstairs in the White House. It's not only thinking about but reading about the different folks who’d been up there, who’d lived there.

Rather: Ever seen Lincoln's ghost?

Bush: Well, I quit drinking before I spent time there. I might have still been a drinking man.

Rather: But you've never seen Lincoln's ghost?

Bush: No, I didn't. I went to bed sober at nights, but … it's an interesting place because in some ways it's like a museum.

Rather: Is that how you felt about it when you stayed there? You felt like, "I’m staying in a museum?"

Bush: A little bit. Particularly, I think, my fondest memory of the White House was going down (with) my little girls during the Christmas seaonÂ… and the White House was empty downstairs and we went trough magnificently decorated room after room. They do a fabulous job of decorating the White House for Christmas. You’ve been there. It has such a special feeling, I don’t think our little girls will ever forget that. It's an honor to be in the White House, Dan. The White House is a place of honor and you just can't help it to be at Â… … I don’t care if you’ve been there a lot, there’s something about the White House that is so powerful.

Rather: Spending those nights there when your father was president. Did you or did you not some of the time say to yourself, "you know, some day I might want to run?"

Bush: I don’t think so. I mean, it may be hard for you to believe, I really don’t believe I was thinking that way. The last time I stayed in the White House of course was 1992. 1 had not made up my mind — I didn’t have any idea that I would be running for governor and that I'd win. Of course, at the time, (my) opponent was pretty powerful, so I did not have a game plan.

Rather: I knew it hit you hard when your father lost in 1992, that you believed right to the very end that he was going to be reelected for another term.

Bush: Actually, I've got pretty good antenna. We'll see how good they are this election cycle. Toward the end, I could smell defeat and it hurt me for him. He believed right up to the end, but I must confess I didn't.

Rather: Were you there the day your family moved out of the White House?

Bush: No sir, I wasn’t. I was not there. I was there the dayÂ… I was the man that told him that the exit polls look pretty bleak and that I didn't think he is going to win. That was about three o’clock on Election Day of '92. Then I didn't go back to the White House after that.

Rather: You’re bound to have spent some time in the Oval Office, in the White House?

Bush: I have, a little bit.

Rather: Teddy Roosevelt had the White House re-designed expanded to workspace just at the turn of the century. What do you like best about that?

Bush: Again, it's just one of those places, Dan, where there’s an awesome sense of history. I was talking to Dick Cheney the other day and he said the Oval Office is the kind of place that turns bold seekers into meek folks. In other words, the president is sitting there andÂ… 'by golly i’m going to tell the president exactly what’s on my mind'. And they walk in the Oval Office, and no matter whom it might be, often time it’s the presence of the office -- and of course the office itself of the presidency -- melts many a potential harsh thing. And I think it’s 'cause the office itself its had such a magnificent history when you think about the great presidents that have been there.

Rather: It's setting aside the criticizing of your points? But there is out therthe sort of question I hear some people express this way: 'I like Governor Bush. Very likely fellow, think he's done a good job in Texas. But when it comes to being commander in chief of the United States of America, sometimes he talks too much about the people he’s going to have around him.' So if I may pose the question this way -- are you confident that you yourself would be the commander in chief or would you be the kind of the head advisor in chief?

Bush: That's a good question. I’m absolutely confident I will be the commander in chief. I’m a person who... I’m certainly going to rely upon good people's judgment and good people's advice, but i’ll decide. That's one of the things that you learn to do as a governor. If you’re a good governor. Because you make decisions. Not everybody is going to agree with every decision I make. I understand that, but I make them and I don’t make them based upon polls and focus groups. That's part of the problem in Washington -- kind of the meandering sense of philosophy. This country needs somebody to stand up and say this is the way it is and is and there is no question in my mind I can.

Rather: even with a Colin Powell and a Dick Cheney around?

Bush: Especially with those two men around.

Rather: Do you believe you can be your own man?

Bush: Of course.

Rather: And make your own calls, not a place of validating their calls?

Bush: Oh, absolutely. I’ll make my own cause, the fact that I picked a Dick Cheney should be indicative of my willingness not only to listen to good advice but to have strong people around me. The fact that I picked him should show that I’ve got the confidence necessary to make the decisions to be your president.

Rather: Governor, you’ve been very patient. I’m getting the wrap I want to give you. This will probably be the last interview we will do before the end of the campaign. Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you wanted to be asked. Anything you can hear saying to yourself?

Bush: Not really. I would tell you, though, Dan, thanks for giving me the chance to visit with you. I guess it would be that first I want people to vote for me. And in Texas politics we’ve always learned to asked for the vote and that’s what I’m going to do here the final week. But this has been a fantastic experience for me, and the reason why is because America is such a fabulous country and I got to see it from a unique prospective. I got to see faith-based program community schools and small business first hand. I got to see the owners and the workers and talk to them and listen to them. Politics is not just big crowds; it is coming down the stretch. but when you lay the groundwork for a successful campaign there is a lot of listening and talking to people. I'm just so proud of my country, and if the people turn to me I.m ready. I hope they do, and I know this -- when it's all said and done and I have sprinted over the finish line, I would have given it my all.

Rather: It's always tough to lose. You lost the congressional race once. Can you handle it?

Bush: I don't plan on handling it.

Rather: Do you pray every day governor?

Bush: I do.

Rather: Do you pray to win?

Bush: No, I don’t, I don’t pray to win. I pray for strength and patience and judgement.

Rather: This is not a religious program, but it must be tempting once in a while just to say you know, 'Bush says... God let me win.'

Bush: I don’t think God is a Republican or a Democrat or an independent or a Reform candidate type person. I think God is there to provide substance and strength to each individual and I do pray every day. I read the Bible every morning and I personally obviously find great comfort and strength in my religion.

Rather: That is a very personal thing, but I think it might be very helpful to people, whether a Republican or Democrat, to know if you don’t pray to winÂ… Does god give you the strength to do your best? Give me a sense of how it goes.

Bush: Well, it depends on the day. Of course, I’m a man who could use some patience sometimes, and I pray for patience and I pray for peace of mind. I pray sometimesÂ… I pray for the sake of being clear-headed in important moments.

Rather: Is that also the reason you run, you run every day?

Bush: Oh, run, you bet.

Rather: It helps clear your head

Bush: Yes. Actually the running it helps relieve tension. It can be kind of tense out there on the road, as you can imagine. One interesting thing about the political process is it does test a person's focus and stamina and nerves. I think it's important for a candidate to go through what the vice president and I have gone through. It’s a test of will in many ways. I think it's a part of becoming the presidentÂ… that's an important part of becoming the president and what running does, it kind of loosens you up for life and the remainder of the day.

Rather: Governor, thanks.

Bush: Thank you.