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Brian Lamb Interviews President Bush

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On January 30, 2005 Brian Lamb interviewed President Bush on C-Span. Below are excerpts.

LAMB: You were a history major.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir.

LAMB: At Yale.

THE PRESIDENT: I was.

LAMB: What kind of history?

THE PRESIDENT: American history.

LAMB: Did you have a particular period in American history that you --

THE PRESIDENT: I did. I was fascinated by the Roosevelt era, Franklin Roosevelt, probably because my teachers were -- I had a teacher that was so good in the Roosevelt era....

THE PRESIDENT ... history really matters for the President. And so I read a lot of history books. I'm reading the Washington book by Ellis right now. I read the Hamilton book by [Chernow], which I thought was a fascinating book. I can't remember all the books I read, but I do read a lot of books. And from that, I'm able to gain a better appreciation of where we're going.

For example, the Hamilton book I thought was a very interesting history of how hard it was to get democracy started, in some ways. And yet here we are in Iraq, trying to help them get democracy started, and yet it's expected to be done nearly overnight. And so it helps me keep a perspective of what's real and what's possible, and some of the struggles we went through.

Admittedly, we're dealing with different technologies than, obviously, in the old days. But, nevertheless, it's hard for democracy to take hold. And I think that history gives me a kind of -- it helps me better explain and understand exactly what we're seeing. And that's important for a policymaker to be able to grasp the realities of the situation based upon some historical lessons.

You know, I spent a lot of time talking about the Japanese after World War II, about how they were the sworn enemy, my dad fought them; I'm sure you've had relatives that know people that fought the Japanese. And yet today, because we insisted that Japan become a democracy, they're now our best friend, or one of our best friends. And that's an interesting history lesson, that 60 years after being a sworn enemy, we're now tight allies in leading the cause of freedom and peace, working together to deal with North Korea. Japan is helping a lot in Iraq.It just shows the power of freedom to change an enemy to a friend. That's something you learn from history books.

LAMB: How much reading do you do a day, and what time of day do you read?

THE PRESIDENT: I read, oh, gosh, I'd say, 10, maybe, different memoranda prepared by staff.

LAMB: What about books?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm reading, I think on a good night, maybe 20 to 30 pages. I'm exercising quite hard these days, and I get up very early. And so the book has become somewhat of a sedative. I mean, maybe there are some other old guys like me who get into bed, open the book, 20 pages later you're out cold. But I read a lot on the weekends. I'm traveling -- when I travel a lot I get a chance to read. I'm downing quite a few books.

By the way, in this job, there are some simple pleasures in life that really help you cope. One is Barney the dog, and the other is books. I mean, books are a great escape. Books are a way to get your mind on something else.

LAMB: You told a group here in the White House, I think in May of 2004, that every day you read Oswald Chambers. You say, "I read him every morning. He helps me understand how far I am on my walk."

THE PRESIDENT: That was last year I read Oswald. I read him every other year. And Oswald Chambers was one of the great Christian thinkers, a very -- his writings are very provocative, I think. The easier it is to understand what he writes, I think, the more understanding of religion a person becomes. And that's what I meant by that. It's an interesting gauge. This year I'm reading -- last year I read Oswald Chambers every day, and this year I'm reading the Bible every day....

LAMB: The longer you're in this White House, with all those that have gone before you, do you see ghosts of past Presidents?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I quit drinking in '86. (Laughter.)

LAMB: I mean, do you feel the history of the place?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's interesting. I’ve tried to empathize, at times, with Lincoln, to imagine what it would be like to be the President of the United States when the country was at war with itself. I think he's the country's greatest President. His portrait hangs in the Oval Office. I think that because he had such a clear vision about keeping this country united, in spite of the incredibly divisive times in which we lived. He seemed to have a good spirit about him. But it's just really hard to project back into somebody else's shoes. So, no, I guess I don't see ghosts.

LAMB: Your dad -- do you talk much about the presidency with him?

THE PRESIDENT: Not really. It may come as a surprise to you. I like to check in with him. I love to hear his voice. I know he loves to hear mine, and he likes to ask about this trip where you saw so and so, or, how'd that go, particularly when I've been overseas. But we really haven't gotten to the stage yet where we're sharing common experiences in the White House, although there's kind of knowingness about our positions. I mean, the campaign, he doesn't need to tell me how tired I am, or ask me how tired I am, because he knows; he did the same thing I did.

LAMB: Planning at all for where you're going to put your library?

THE PRESIDENT: We'll be doing that soon. And not only where we'll put it, but what it will comprise, how do we make sure that there's interesting thought that comes out of the library -- it's not just a collector of interesting artifacts, but in fact, hopefully good thought will come out of there, because the library will cause there to be a dialogue, it will advance higher education or secondary education in some way.

And so the process -- this is a long process. The library will be in Texas. I want to be very thoughtful about who we approach, and give everybody a chance that's interested to come up with a -- their best shot at attracting it. So we're working through some of the legal -- we want to make sure we understand fully the legal obligations so that when we start approaching universities or cities or whoever we approach, that there's a -- that everybody understands the ground rules.

LAMB: And do you have a historian anywhere around you following your days and cataloging --

THE PRESIDENT: No, that's an interesting question. I do not. I really, in some ways, wish that were the case. But, unfortunately, there are a lot of security matters, particularly given the nature of the war we're in, that just -- I don't think the government would have felt comfortable allowing an observer to record.

Fortunately, a lot of my life is documented now. I mean, this interview, for example, somebody will be going through the Bush records and see that George W. sat down with Brian Lamb, and we had a 40 minute interview, or whatever it was, on this day, at this time. That will be a part of the record. Obviously, the transcript of this interview will be a part of the record. Most interviews I do there is a stenographer that is recording what is said. So all that will be of record. The content of phone calls will ultimately be made record. When I call a foreign leader, there's an understanding that somebody is listening to the conversation. And so that will be -- I'm not sure what the time frame is. That will be made available for the records.

So there's a lot of what goes on being recorded. What's not being recorded is someone saying to me, well, gosh, how did Lamb look, and how was his interview, was he on his game; kind of the observer recording my thoughts and recollections.


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