BRIAN LAMB, C-SPAN: President GEORGE W. BUSH, what was writing this book like?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I am a type A personality, I guess you'd say and after the presidency, my life went from 100 miles an hour to zero. And the book gave me a focus and a project to keep me occupied. In other words, I was sitting around Crawford after the presidency. There was no intelligence briefings, no staff meetings, no crises to deal with and the book gave me something to focus on.
I really - I actually started writing the book the first day of my post-presidency.
LAMB: When did you decide to do the decisions points as the way you did it?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Probably the summer of '08. In other words, I was thinking about the book. I'd called a group of historians in, many of whom you've interviewed, by the way, and they all suggested I write the book. They suggested I read Grant's memoirs, which I did, but I knew I needed a structure.
And I thought it'd be kind of boring, frankly, to do a life history. Raised in Midland, played little league for the Cubs and you know, kind of walk the reader through. But I didn't think that was a very exciting, you know, book.
And then but - and - because I was - had to deal with some consequential decision I thought would be interesting for people to know how I made those decisions.
LAMB: Give us a little more of how you put the book together, over what period of time and who helped you. I know Chris Michel's in here butâ€¦
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. He did. Chris was a chief speechwriter at the end of my presidency and a speechwriter for much of my presidency so he has seen a lot of the presidency. Plus I knew that the reader might be interested - or I thought the reader'd be interested in, what it was like to sit in the treaty room in the Oval Office and therefore, in the last year of my presidency I had Chris go around and take notes of the different rooms and different settings in the White House so that when it came time for descriptions in the book we'd have that all ready to go.
Once I made up my mind to write the book I started thinking about it but the problem was, he said, at the end of my presidency the main thing I thought about was the financial crisis. It was my - mine was not a presidency where I got to ease out of office. And so I really didn't focus on the book until after the presidency - in other words - started thinking about the anecdotes that people might find interesting.
I knew the style had to be - Doris Kearns Goodwin she said, "It's really important that this book sound like you and not some hired gun." And so that's why the sentences are short. And the print is big.
LAMB: There are a couple of things, though, that you - when you read the book that I notice. One, you weren't afraid to say when you were angry. You weren't afraid to say, "I made a mistake."
GEORGE W. BUSH: True.
LAMB: And during your presidency when the press would stand up and say, "Did you make any mistakes?" You would push that off.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well I - the problem is they would say, "Did you make a mistake in the middle of war?" And I think it's very important for the president to be resolved during war.
The truth of the matter is they were asking did I make a mistake, for example, in the liberation of Iraq and the answer is no, I didn't make a mistake in my judgment.
But in retrospect, I thought it was important for the reader to know if I had to - could - was able to do some things differently, I'd do them. And the problem is you don't get do-overs when you're the President. But I thought it'd be (INAUDIBLE) for people to know where I'd done some things wrong.
LAMB: One of the words that you used when people ask your advice is that you have to discipline yourself.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: And I know you go through the drinking thing in here and all that but when did you decide that you wanted to discipline yourself the way you live now
GEORGE W. BUSH: Probably about the time I quit drinking. When I was drinking too much it reflected an undisciplined person. I make the case in there that I was falling in love with alcohol when I wanted to be in love with my wife and my children or in love with an almighty God.
I realized that alcohol was competing for my affection. And I was pretty disciplined up to then. In other words, I was running a lot which is an act of discipline. But the problem was I started running to get rid of the alcohol as opposed to running to, you know, ease stress or to - or to stay fit.
LAMB: When you were president, what kind of discipline did you put on yourself that we don't know about on a daily basis?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I was at work every morning at 6:45. In other words, I believe that it's very important for someone running a complex organization to be disciplined in his behavior. And so if a meeting were to start at 8:00 that meant eight.
I remember early on, I think it was Karl Rove wandered into a meeting late. And it was fortunate it was Karl because he was, you know, had big standing in our Administration I said, "Don't be late again." And all the people in the meeting were like, "Man, this guy means it. If he's telling Mr. Karl Rove." And so our meetings started on time and they ended on time. And I think that discipline inside an organization is very important in order to get good advice and to keep people focused on the task at hand.
LAMB: Page 121 in your book.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I can't remember it.
LAMB: Well, I'll help you out.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Thank you.
LAMB: No. It's quite a paragraph. You say, "Partisan opponents and commentators question my legitimacy, my intelligence and my sincerity. They mock my appearance, my accent and my religious beliefs. I was labeled a Nazi, a war criminal and Satan himself. That last one came from a foreign leader, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. One lawmaker called me both a loser and a liar. He became Majority Leader of the United States Senate."
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: Anything else they did to you during that time? And what - why, in your opinion, does that happen?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, I just think it's part of the process. I also made it clear that I studied a lot of history. I read, for example, a lot of Lincoln and they did the same thing to Lincoln. And they did the same thing to Truman and they - I just finished a book on Roosevelt. In other words there was - there's always been name calling in the political process.
I also made the point that a president should never feel sorry for himself. In other words, it's an honor to serve and self-pity is a pathetic quality for somebody trying to lead an organization.
But yes, I mean, politics is harsh.
LAMB: Later on, (quoting) Yet the death spiral of the agency during my time in office, exacerbated by the advent of 24-hour cable news and hyper-partisan political blogs"..and on.
Bring that to today.
GEORGE W. BUSH: And not enough C-Span. There was not enough kind of sober analysis where people can come on your show - I'm pandering, of course, now - but people can come on your showâ€¦
LAMB: It works.
GEORGE W. BUSH: â€¦but people can come on and discuss things in a way that is not highly emotional and doesn't have an edge to it. But politics is edgy and part of the problem is that with the 24/7 news cycle, in order for people to gain market share they have to scream loudly and they have to, you know, make a case in an exaggerated way to be noticed. In one way the 24/7 news cycle is great because it gives the consumers a lot of choice. In another way it creates a pretty hostile atmosphere at times.
LAMB: So bring it to today, you know, we spent two weeks talking about what happened in Arizona and there's a lot of charges back and forth that cable, the right wing cable caused this.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: What's your take?
GEORGE W. BUSH: My take is there was an absolute lunatic who got a hold of a weapon and created a terrible act and caused a lot of suffering. And my view is that we ought to be focused on the victims and pray for their recovery.
LAMB: So what do you say about the country now and the attitude that you see all over the country?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think this is just a, you know, it's - the 24/7 news cycle has created a lot of noise and gives people an opportunity to blather, bloviate and scream. And I don't know what you can do about it except -- sober people need to tune it out and focus on reality.
LAMB: In a few minutes we're going to ask the students here in the auditorium from SMU to ask you some questions for the rest of the hour.
The other thing that I noticed in your book that I wanted to ask you about was your constant reference to prayerâ€¦
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: â€¦to religion, to God, was that a conscious decision on your part?
GEORGE W. BUSH: It reflected reality. I was sustained by my faith during my presidency. And I did pray a lot and I saw God's wonders in many occasions when I was president. I tell the story about the rainbow in Bucharest, Romania. I gave a speech and right before I got the stage, somebody pointed out this balcony that was lit. It was the place where the tyrant had given his last speech. And midst this rain storm a rainbow appears and it ended right behind the balcony and I - you - people can ascribe anything they want to it. I ascribed it as a - as a message that said freedom is beautiful and universal and everybody desires to live a free life.
LAMB: You did say, though, in the book twice that you don't like it when people use religion to pander in politics.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. It's true.
LAMB: How did you avoid that then?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I didn't pander. I didn't say vote for me, I'm a better person than you because of my religion. As a matter of fact, the reason I ascribe to my religion is because I realize I'm unworthy. In other words I put in there that my - one of my favorite Bible verses for politicians is I shouldn't be taking a speck out of your eye when I got a log in my own.
And I think anybody - if anybody were to campaign I believe they campaign say, "Vote for me I'm more religious than my opponent," is really not a religious person.
LAMB: There were things left out of it. This is a - this is a relatively small thing but I want to ask you why you did it. You don't mention Scot McClellan...
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: â€¦who was your longest serving press secretaryâ€¦
GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't know if that's true.
LAMB: â€¦who went out and then wrote a book that was somewhat critical.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: Why not?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Because he was not a part of a major decision. And this was a book about decisions. This isn't the book about, you know, personalities or gossip or settling scores. And I didn't think he was relevant.
LAMB: About 20 years ago Michael Korda who was the Editor in Chief of Simon and Schuster told us in an interview that Ronald Reagan was paid between $8 million and $9 million for his book.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: They printed between 3 and 400,000. He sold maybe 20,000. You've been number one for seven weeks on the New York Times list, supposedly have two million in print. What's the difference? Why did Ronald Reagan fail and you succeed?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't know. That's an interesting question. I'd be - you need to ask the publishers that.
LAMB: But what's your sense of why you did so well?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think people wanted to know what it was like on September the 11th. I think people wanted to know why I made the decision to remove Saddam Hussein. I think one reason the book is successful because it's not a book that is mean spirited or settles scores. In other words, I didn't want to call names. I didn't want to get all involved with typical Washington speak. What I wanted to do was describe in a sober fashion what it was like to be president --what the environment was like and how I made a variety of decisions. And I hope sometime that people who are involved in making decisions in a complex environment learn some lessons from the book. And - but other than that I'm not sure why.
LAMB: What's the latest history book you've read?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I just finished Edmund Morris' book "The Colonel" on Theodore Roosevelt.
LAMB: You mention Roosevelt several times in here. Theodore Roosevelt, why?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well because he aggressively used U.S. power to - which I did as well. In my case I did it to defend the security - defend the country. My presidency was defined by September the 11th. And on that day I vowed to use every legal means at my disposal to protect America.
And I happen to believe that's the most important job in the world. And one of the interesting things about protecting America in the long run is to encourage democracy, is to spread freedom because that ultimately marginalizes idalogues who use murder as a weapon to spread their view.
LAMB: We've got about 75 students here and you majored in historyâ€¦
GEORGE W. BUSH: I did.
LAMB: â€¦and went on to become President of the United States. Good idea to major in history today?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I gave a speech one time at my alma mater, Yale University, and I said to the summa cum laude students congratulations honor students, congratulations - as for U.C. students, you too can be president. And yes, I think history's really important. I've learned a lot from history. I learned a lot during the presidency in reading history.
And one of the purposes of the book is to be a part of history. In other words, when sober historians show up, objective historians - sober's the wrong word. When objective historians show up that truly want to analyze the effects of my presidency and the effects of the decisions, this will be a reference point.
So people, if they're interested, to know what it was like during the beginning of the 21st Century inside the Oval office, I hope they read this book. And so I had historians - future historians in mind when I wrote it and I couldn't have written it that way had I not been a student of history myself.
ZACKARY FRISKE: Mr. President, my name is Zack Friske. I am a freshman here at SMU. And I'm from South Lake, Texas.
How did you change as a man during the course of your presidency? How is the George W. Bush of today different from the George W. Bush before your inauguration?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, that's a very good question.
A lot of people have said to me, Zack, "you're a lot taller than I thought" and - which - and my answer is I've always been this height since age 18. So in other words, in some ways I didn't change.
I think I'm a wiser person. I am a - I was confident going into the presidency. I think I have a different kind of confidence now that I served. I'm a more fulfilled person. I believe life is to be lived to the absolute fullest and a chapter of my life as governor and president was living life to its fullest.
And now the challenge for me is how to continue to live life to its fullest. But you know, I (was) always an emotional person and clearly my emotions were tested during the presidency. I hope that - I know this that I loved and appreciated my wife going into the presidency and I love and appreciate her even more coming out of the presidency.
In other words, there are certain basic things in my life that became enriched and you know, interesting question.
ZANE CAVENDER: Mr. President, my name is Zane Cavender. And I'm a freshman here. I'm from Corsicana, Texas.
Mr. President, do you recommend the presidency to young leaders?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, absolutely. It is an honor to serve America and it is a - it's one of the great experiences ever. What I would recommend to young folks is public service. Some of you may be president. But all people can serve the country. And you can serve the country in a variety of ways. One, obviously politics and I was - I would recommend that. I think politics is noble. I mean, there's obviously a, you know, a lot of sharp elbows in politics. Sometimes people enter politics for the wrong reasons but our country's only as good as the willingness of people to serve.
But public service can mean teaching a child to read. Or public service can mean worrying about the homeless. Public service can mean becoming involved with a Boy Scout Troop.
My advice is serve something greater than yourself. And I think you'll find that to be a refreshing and will help you a more complete person.
ROZA ESSAW: Good morning. My name is Roza Essaw. I'm a sophomore from Wiley, Texas.
And I'm interested in knowing -- once the presidential library opens, what kind of efforts can we expect the institute to make in order to fight malaria, AIDS?
GEORGE W. BUSH: That's a good question.
In my book, Roza, I talk about a decision I made which was to take taxpayers' money and apply that money to - and a strategy to help with HIV, AIDS and malaria particularly on the continent of Africa.
People say why would you do that? And the answer is because it's in our national security interest and our moral interest as a country. One of the things - points I make in the book, I think it's important to live by a certain principle. And one of the principles is, "to whom much is given, much is required."
We are a blessed nation and for our nation to have sat on the sidelines during the pandemic that was destroying an entire generation of Africans would have been unconscionable.
Secondly, we face an enemy that can only recruit if they find hopeless people. It's pretty hopeless to say, " join our team and you get to be a suicider." And there's nothing more hopeless than for a child to watch mom and dad die of HIV-AIDS and wealthy nations do nothing about it.
And so in other words my point - the reason I tell you that is that strategy and that desire to help others is engrained in my system. And at the (Bush) institute we have - one of the fellows we've got is a person who helped design PEPFAR which is the Presidents Aids Initiative.
And his job is to come up with a strategy to make public and private participation in dealing with AIDS or malaria more effective. And what you'll see come out of the institute is a better strategy on how to deal with pandemics.
LAMB: Who's next? Yes.
JEFFREY WHALEN: Hello, Mr. President. My name is Jeff Whalen from Manhattan Beach, California and I'm a freshman here at SMU.
My question is, what do you believe is the most significant issue facing my generation?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Your generation?
WHALEN: Yes, sir.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well the most significant issue facing the country, as far as the Presidency goes, is another attack. That - the most important job, I said this before, is to protect the country and therefore the country has got to be aware that there are still people who would do us harm.
I think the most - it's an interesting question. You know, one of the things that I think a lot about is social networking which seems to be a little impersonal to me. I'm not much of a social networker. After all, I'll be receiving - I'll be eligible for Medicare here this year and - but the question is, is interpersonal relationships define a generation in a way that is interpersonal?
And I don't know the answer to that question but I do know that being able to relate to somebody face to face is very important to living a good life.
LAMB: Who's next?
JOHN F. AKERS: Good morning. My name is Freddie Akers. I'm a senior from Atlanta, Georgia.
GEORGE W. BUSH: There you go.
ECKERS: Mr. President, what is your inspiration - what is it that gets you out of the bed in the morning to do the good you do and to have done the good you did?
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think a part of it is religious that - like I read the Bible every morning and here I go again - Lamb's sitting there saying to himself, "Wait a minute this is getting (INAUDIBLE), all he wants to talk about is God."
But I do get inspired by religion and the call to serve others. I was raised by a mother and father who dedicated their life to serving others. I - plus my wife kicks me out of bed and says, "Get going buddy, get out of the house and get moving." (laughter)
No, I am a - I'm learning how to be a post-president person, pretty good illation there. And I want to make sure my time is useful. In other words, I'm now 64. I'm beginning to realize that time is limited and therefore I want to make sure that my time left is spent in a constructive, positive way. So, the (Bush) institute here at SMU, which by the way, is a fabulous university, is going to be a place for me to work on issues that matter to me without being political.
In other words, I'm through with politics. I'm tired of politics. Politics is important but I don't want to be involved in politics anymore. And - but I do want to be involved with policy like spreading freedom for the sake of peace. And I believe women, for example, are going to lead the freedom movement in the Middle East and Laura and I want to be a part of that.
And SMU is going to play a constructive role in helping us lay the foundation for civil society so that democracy can take place. And this, by the way, is a very controversial project, as Brian will tell you. The idea of spreading freedom in parts of the world where some people don't think freedom could possibly exist is controversial.
It's really a change in foreign policy which, in the past, I'll kind of simplify it, but you know, if it's a tyrant and he was good to the United States it's OK. Well it's not OK, as far as I'm concerned, for people to live under tyranny.
And I'm going to be work - we're going to be working on accountability in schools and defending the marketplace. I also want to stay involved with our veterans. I have a special kinship with the veterans. After all, two decisions of mine put people into harm's way. And I feel not only a kinship but an obligation to help our vets. And I want to spend the rest of my life doing that.
And so it's very important for me to stay active in a way where I feel like I'm contributing without contributing to all the noise and blather and discourse.
MARTHA POOLE: Hello, Mr. President. My name is Martha Poole and I'm a freshman from Aledo, Texas.
What was your single most greatest challenge being president? And what method or strategy did you use to overcome that?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. Interesting question.
I think the biggest challenge for any politician is to chase popularity. I mean, obviously you want to be popular on Election Day. At least by one vote. In my case, like 150 votes or 300 votes or whatever it was. (laughter)
But the temptation is to want to be liked to the point where you're willing to sacrifice principle. But you can't lead an organization unless there are certain principles that are inviolate. In other words, the people around you got to know there are just certain things that you will defend. In my case, I thought it was important to defend the notion that all life is precious. Or that freedom is universal and it was important for me to make it clear that there were just certain things I wouldn't compromise.
But - and at certain times that'd stand me in good stead with the, you know, the population at large and certain times, it didn't. And by the way, that applies to life in general, though. It's not just the presidency, I mean, you know, you can make - you can try to be cool and make stupid decisions like drink and drive. And anyway I think that's - what - I think that - arguably the greatest temptation for a political figure.
CATLIN HORAN: My name is Catlin Horan. I'm a senior from Atlanta, Georgia.
My question for you is if you were not born into a political family what would have been your dream job or career path.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. I can't answer that question because I was born into a political family.
You know, it's like saying what would you have done if? Well, I - but I guess I could invent something. I - you know, I thought I wanted to be a major league baseball player until I couldn't hit a ball that didn't go straight.
And you know, I never thought I was going to be president, just so you know. I mean I wasn't one of these guys that went to junior high school and say gosh if I could only be the president of junior high school class, I'll be able to parlay that to be president of the senior high school class. And then once I get to be that I do this, that and the other.
I was more spontaneous than that. In the book, I think it's pretty clear that I was one of these people before age 30 I wanted to explore and see as much of the world that I possibly could. And not traveling the world but just doing a lot of different things.
In other words, I had no sense of responsibility. I didn't feel tied down at all. And I wanted to learn in different ways and I guess my advice - I'm not really answering your question because I don't know the answer to it. But I do know that it's really hard to plan your life out.
In other words, it's hard to say I'm going to be this when I'm 64 years old. I think it's unrealistic to do that. In fact, I'd be open-minded if I were you.
The other thing that's going to happen to you in your life is there are going to be things that happen to you that are - that you didn't want to have happen to you. Trust me. The way I put it and there's a, you know, you're going to get dealt a hand you didn't want to play.
And the fundamental question is not whether you're going to get the hand. The question is how do you play it. And that's just the way life is. And during my presidency I got some hands I didn't want to play. But when you're the President of the United States you don't have any choice but to play them. And you play them as best as you possibly can. Same in life.
One of the things that I hope has helped me is that I've never kind of looked back and said, "What if?" You know, what if I had been raised this way or that way and how would I have been different? It's just hard for me to do that.
LAMB: Who's next? Anybody got the mic? Yes. Go right ahead.
ROMAN STOLYAROV: Mr. President, hi. My name is Roman Stolyarov. I am a freshman here at SMU.
This is going off of what you said about wanting to be a life during your presidency.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
STELLERO: I wanted to ask you what did - what do you - how did the approval ratings affect you during your time in office?
GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, I mean, I obviously liked it when I was high and I guess I didn't like it when I was low. But it's a - you study - here's the thing; you're running an organization of people. I mean the presidency is an administrative position. You've got a vast group of people that are looking at the president and, you know, when people were disgruntled with my presidency, had I let that affect my behavior it would have - it would have affected the organization.
People needed to know that I was doing what I thought was right. Or we were doing what we thought was right and if you, as the president, if you're kind of chasing popularity - what do I need to do to make myself more popular, you're really sending a signal that popularity is more important than the principles involved.
And you know, I mean, I think at one time my approval rating was like off the chart, probably the highest approval rating of almost any president and you know, at that point in time I remember telling some people around me, "It's going to go down. It can only go down. I mean don't even - don't dwell on it."
The other thing that's interesting about the presidency, events take place that are out of your control. And therefore, kind of trying to worry about popularity and dealing with events outside your control is almost a contradiction.
So like in our case, we had 9/11, Katrina, the financial meltdown. And when those - when that happens to you as president, you don't have time to say, "wWell let's figure out how to make me popular." What you have to figure out is how do you solve the problem?
And that's the nature of the presidency. The unexpected happens at times and you've got to solve the problem. And therefore, it's important to have a team that's focused on certain basic principles in order to be in a position to solve the problem in an effective way.
You're not asking many questions.
LAMB: Great students. Don't interfere with them.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Better questions. (laughter)
JEREMY WILKINS: Hi. I'm Jeremy Wilkins from - I'm a senior from Lubbock, Texas.
Nine-eleven largely defined your presidency but before that date what were you hoping would define your presidency and were you able to do sufficient work in that area with all the unexpected things that happened?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. No. So I made three decisions prior to 9/11 that are - were consequential. At least I thought they were. One was the tax cuts. I had - interestingly enough - that the boom of the dot com era ended when I was president. In other words, it - in fact, we were in a recession. And so the fundamental question is how do you deal with that?
And I felt the best way to do it was to interject capital back into the private system through tax cuts. Secondly, No Child Left Behind was a landmark piece of legislation. It was done in a very bipartisan way. Ted Kennedy and I as well as Judd Gregg and Boehner and George Miller, these are both democrats and republicans, worked at introduce accountability into the public school system.
Many of you lived under No Child Left Behind and you probably didn't like being tested. Nevertheless, I don't see how you can solve education - educational mediocrity unless you test. And so that was a landmark piece of legislation.
And finally, stem cell research. Now that issue was not one I campaigned on but it came up during my presidency and I gave a speech out of Crawford, I think August, 2001, on stem cell research.
So those are three areas of pretty consequential decision-making that took place prior to 9/11. But no question 9/11 redefined the presidency because it made it abundantly clear that my most important job was to protect the country.
And I took a - I made a lot of controversial decisions to do that, many of which I describe in the book. And the truth of the matter is if I had to do them over again, I would have done them again. Because I think one of the largest accomplishments of my administration, all of the people who worked there, was there was no further attack on the country.
LAMB: Yes, sir.
DANIEL BOUCHARD: Mr. President I'm Daniel Bouchard. I'm a freshman from Perryton, Texas.
And in your book you talk a lot about Pakistani/U.S. relationsâ€¦
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
BOUCHARD: â€¦during the war with Iraq. And I was wondering where you see our relations with Pakistan going in the future?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Well I spent a lot of time on Pakistan because, well, what's interesting, one of the anecdotes I put in there, Colin Powell, Secretary of State reported in shortly after 9/11 that he basically laid out a list of demands to President Musharraf whose government had recognized the Taliban and said, "Who you with?" Taliban or the United States. President Musharraf said the United States.
And that began a very important relationship because Pakistan had an effect on what took place in Afghanistan. And I describe my relationship with President Musharraf throughout the book and there's a natural tension.
On the one hand there's the tension of convincing the Paks that they needed our help to deal with the extremists that would murder. On the other hand, there was the tension of President Musharraf being both president and commander of the military. In other words, it wasn't exactly the constitutional form of government that the Pak - the Pak people expected.
And the relationship between Pakistan and the United States as far as your security in the future is a critical relationship. And it's important for the country to recognize that it is a democracy. So, for example, some say well why don't we just send troops in and clean out the extremists? And the answer is because Pakistan is a sovereign nation that doesn't want U.S. troops on their soil and if people in the government would say, "We welcome U.S. troops," they would no longer be governing in Pakistan. The people would throw them out.
The other interesting relationship is with India. And mine was the first administration to prove that you could be friends with India and Pakistan at the same time. And I worked hard to make sure that the leaders of both countries knew it was in their interest that the United States have close relationships with both countries.
And my hope is that over time Pakistan deals with those extremists. After all, the same extremists were the ones who killed Benazir Bhutto. In other words, it's a security problem inside Pakistan. And at the same time, India and Pakistan become closer in solving the problem of Kashmir.
LAMB: Who's got the mic?
ALEXANDER MACE: Mr. President, my name's Alex Mace. I'm a sophomore from St. Louis, Missouri.
Some have suggested that in writing the decision points and establishing the Bush Institute that you're attempt - trying to re-define your political legacy. I want to know how you respond to that criticism and what real impact do you expect your efforts to have on the direction of national policy?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. Interesting question.
Look, somebody the other day said, you know, "Would you like to debate?" I said, "Man, I'm through debating." If you're interested in what I thought, read the book. And so I don't really worry about my legacy because you know, I'm still studying Theodore Roosevelt or Harry Truman. And there's not going to be an objective history done on this administration for a long time.
I mean it's impossible for somebody, for example, who covered the White House as a correspondent to write an objective analysis of my presidency. That person will be colored by the times, the moment, and so I'm pretty comfortable about legacy.
You know, like I've had an interesting - book - people - press - post - presidents are trying to shape their legacy. Well, their legacy's been shaped. In other words, it's done and you know some day, I believe Iraq is going to be a - I know it's a democracy now, I think it's going to be a fully established democracy in the Middle East. I believe it'll have a palliative effect on other nations in the neighborhood. But it's going to take time to - for that to play out.
I recently went to Korea and gave a speech in - an audience of 60,000 practicing Christians and that's not a given that the people would have been able to congregate in a free South Korea 50 years ago or 60 years ago. And yet this democracy's emerged. In other words, it takes time for issues to evolve.
And so I really don't worry about it and you know the amazing thing is, most people in Texas and my friends, they don't worry about it either. You know, they're just happy to have me home and I'm happy to be home. And I'll let history take its course.
The key for me was that I gave it my all. You know, I served. I didn't sell my soul. And history will ultimately be the judge. What was - I can't remember the other part of the question. I'm getting old.
LAMB: Let's move on to this gentleman.
JAYWIN MALHI: Good morning. My name is Jaywin Singh Malhi and I'm a freshman from Garland, Texas.
My question for you is that you've often differed from members of your own party in your views on immigration.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
MALHI: In the upcoming decade, what if any, significant progress in immigration reform do you predict?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Great question.
First, I not only differ from my party but people in the other party too, just so you know, like - the reason immigration reform died wasn't just because of one party. It's because people were nervous about a populism that started to emerge.
My view is, is that we are a land of immigrants and we ought to recognize that. As a matter of fact, I believe America's soul is rejuvenated when people come to our country and work hard to realize dreams.
There is an orderly way to have immigration and that is to recognize people are coming here to do jobs Americans aren't doing, are not capable of doing, are unwilling to do. And we ought to have a process that enables people to come and do those jobs.
It's good for our economy. I think it's - and I think it prevents people from having to sneak in. There are laborers who do jobs people won't do. But there are also incredibly bright students who come. And I think it is a foolhardy policy to limit the number of workers that can contribute, for example, to the productivity of the United States in the internet world.
I do believe there'll be a rational immigration policy eventually passed. I think there's going to have to be some time. What's interesting about our country, if you study history, is that there are some "isms" that occasionally pop up - pop up. One is isolationism and its evil twin protectionism and its evil triplet nativism.
So if you study the '20s, for example, there was - there was an American First policy that said who cares what happens in Europe? Well what happened in Europe mattered eventually because of World War Two.
There was Smoot Hawley which was a part of an economic policy which basically said we don't want trade. In other words, lets throw up barriers. And there was an immigration policy that I think during this period argued we had too many Jews and too many Italians; therefore we should have no immigrants.
And my point is that we've been through this kind of period of isolationism, protectionism, and nativism. I'm a little concerned that we may be going through the same period. I hope that these "isms" pass which would then allow for a more orderly look at immigration policy but I'm - look, I was raised in Texas. And you know, there's a lot of focus on the Hispanic population. I mean, if you're raised in Texas, you understand what it means to interface with Mexican-Americans who are Texan.
And you realize that we share the same values. Faith, family, you know, hard work, commitment to service and I think we ought to welcome people from different cultures to America.
The great thing about America is we ought to be confident in knowing that everybody becomes an American. And we share the same value system. In other words, there's a great capacity for our society to assimilate people.
KRISTY WEBSTER: Good morning, Mr. President. My name is Kristy Webster and I'm a junior here from Brown Deer, Wisconsin.
You said that you wrote the "Decision Points" with the future objective historian in mind. I'm curious what decisions you were hesitant to discuss knowing that the public reading it now is so subjective.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. Interesting.
First of all, I had to limit the number of decisions. In order for people to have bought the book and I'm grateful that so many have, if it looked like a door stop, people wouldn't buy it or read it and therefore, it was important to keep it - the book to a manageable size.
You know, a lot of decisions in there that I actually - I think would have made me - people would say, "Wow, I didn't know that," and might have looked at me in at different light, for example, setting aside the largest maritime national monuments in the history of the world. And I would have set aside more space available for research and conservation in the oceans than any president or the relations with India which is an historic agreement.
I mean there's, and so I had to limit the number of decisions. I didn't exclude decisions thinking that people, you know, might draw a different light on me. As a matter of fact, if I were that interested, I probably could have - should have left stem cell research out. In other words, that was an unbelievably controversial decision.
But I felt it was important to put those kinds of decisions in the book. And I've got to tell you I really - I mean, I don't want to be cavalier about it but I've done what I've done and I, frankly, if people like what I did, great. And if they don't like what I did at least read the book. That's all I ask. And at least be open minded enough to figure out the decision making process. Why did I do what I did?
And so I didn't exclude anything in order to make me look better, let me put it to that way.
MATT GAYER: Mr. President - Mr. President, my name is Matt Gayer. I'm a junior from St. Louis, Missouri.
In light of your own work and that of Mrs. Bush, how do you see literacy in education playing a role in healthcare moving forward within America?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Interesting.
Well, it's not just healthcare, it's all life. You can't - you can't succeed in a - in a - in the world we have today unless you can read. And you know, the whole purpose of No Child Left Behind was to make sure that at the very minimum people learned to read.
That's why, you know, we set the goal of literacy by the fourth grade and that we're going to measure it and determine whether people could read.
You know, I'll never forget as governor of Texas, I went to high school outside of Houston. Sam Houston High School. And I was with Professor Brown and Brown was a geography teacher. I said, "God; it must be great to teach geography." And he said, "It's pathetic." I said, "Why?" He said, "Because my students can't read."
So this guy's a high school teacher and he inherits students who can read. In other words, they were just shuffled through the system and the reason I tell you that story is if you can't read in high school, it's going to be really hard for you to succeed in a world in which you're going to have to succeed - thrive by how you think.
And so literacy is crucial for the ability for this country to compete and the ability for people to realize dreams. It just is. And so we're going to - we're going to - here at SMU we're going to continue to focus on accountability in schools aiming to make sure people can read early before it's too late and we're going to do a joint venture with the Simmons Education School, which by the way, is a reform-minded school. I don't know if you know that. But the Simmons School of Education here at SMU is an excellent school run by people willing to challenge the status quo when the status quo is unacceptable.
ERIKA BRICENO: Mr. President, my name is Erika. Briceno. I'm a senior from Weston, Florida.
In your book you mention the attacks from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and I was wondering what do you see in U.S. and Venezuelan relations coming to in the future and the future of that country in its entirety?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. I also put in the book that I felt Hugo Chavez was the Robert Mugabe of our hemisphere. In other words, this is a case for - where leadership is destroying a country. Zimbabwe used to feed South Africa. Today it's a net importer of food because the rule of an incompetent government destroyed the economy of the country.
Same thing's happening in Venezuela and I'm deeply concerned about it and my hope is that over time, the, you know, that there's constructive change and that this accumulation of power is halted as a result of the persuasion of countries alongside the United States. In other words, the most effective policy's when other countries in the neighborhood become appalled at what's going on which is the near dictatorial powers of a single person.
And the Venezuelans voted. They voted for reform. They voted against the status quo and yet it looks like to me that the president's continuing to accumulate power in spite of the will of the people. And the country's economy is hurting badly as a result of his rule.
LAMB: Almost like asking where's Waldo? Oh. Go ahead.
GEORGE W. BUSH: His name's not Waldo. (laughter)
CARMINE J. CAMERATO: Good morning, Mr. President. My name is C.J. Camarato. I'm from Boston, Massachusetts.
And I'm curious, were or are you concerned that legislation you passed such as the Patriot Act opens the door for potential abuse by future presidencies?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. Great question.
The law that was passed twice by the Congress, once when the republicans controlled the Congress, or we controlled the congress and once after the '06 election when we got soundly thumped, guarantees civil liberties. There's a lot of safeguards in the law and I don't think a president can, through executive order preempt the safeguards in the Patriot Act.
There are plenty of checks and balances in our system. And throughout the book and historians will note that throughout my presidency, that I worked assiduously to make sure that civil liberties were not undermined. And at the same time, provides the tools necessary for a president, future presidents to be able to protect the homeland.
And look, I mean, there are some very controversial - the Patriot Act was one of the least controversial things I did initially. And then it became a - both parts of the political spectrum became a touchstone of too much government and yet the experts will tell you the tools inherent in the Patriot Act were necessary to disrupt terrorist attacks.
And the other interesting point in the book that I learned from history was that a lot of the actions that Harry Truman took made my life easier as president. And therefore, many of the decisions I made through executive order, or the most controversial decisions I made through executive order such as listening to the phone calls that might do us harm or enhance interrogation techniques became the law of the land.
In other words, after the '04 elections and after the '06 elections I went to Congress and said,"We need to ratify through legislative action that which I had done within the Constitution by executive order." And so the Congress, in spite of the fact that we had been thumped, passed law that now enables a president to have these certain tools.
And people say, "Well, why didn't you just leave it under executive order?" And the reason why is in some cases it might be too hard politically for a president to put out an executive order that, for example, authorized enhanced interrogation techniques. But if that were law of the land passed by a legislative body, it might be easier for that person to use that technique.
In other words - and so one of the - I think a solid accomplishment was to get the Congress to pass much of what I had done by executive order. And in so doing, there was embedded in law, concern for civil liberties.
KELSEY THOMAS: Hi. I'm Kelsey Thomas. I'm a freshman from Nashville, Tennessee.
You mentioned your - in your early life a sense of adventure and a lack of responsibility. How did this period of your life affect your discipline in your presidency in your future?
GEORGE W. BUSH: That's a good question.
Well first of all, it affected me in this way, I decided I wanted to settle down and Laura entered - reentered my life. And it changed my life. I mean, when you make a commitment to somebody it is a life changing experience.
And I'm a much better person as a result of being married to Laura Welch Bush. And - but when I look back on that period in my life I had to exhaust this kind of desire to be out there moving around, footloose and fancy free with no tie downs. And in order for me to be an effective spouse it was important, I guess, that that be purged from my system.
And so I became a more mature person and began to understand what responsibility meant. I mean when you're a single guy moving around, it's not that hard to be irresponsible. But I began to learn responsibility. I think it's something you learn and when you learn it then it's important to act upon it.
LAMB: Who's next?
ERIC ALT: Hello. My name is Eric Alt and I'm a freshman from Garland, Texas.
And I would like to know when do you believe it is appropriate for other executive responsibilities to take precedence over a balanced budget?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Very interesting question.
Yes. The - in my - here's what I think and tried to do, I believe that in order to balance the budget you have to grow the economy so that tax revenues are robust and you have to be wise about how you spend money and it's what I tried to do.
Now what complicated my life or the fiscal picture when I was president is I almost felt an obligation as we went to secure the country to make sure our military, for example, had anything they needed.
And so therefore you had enormous pressure to spend money on national defense and at the same time pressure to balance the budget. And if you look at the record, this is going to be a little self-serving here, but if you look at the record that my - the fiscal picture during my presidency was very good.
In other words, the deficit to GDP was half that, for example, of President Reagan's. The debt to GDP was less than 41 and 42. That would be George H. W. Bush and President Clinton. In other words, I believe that the idea of cutting taxes to grow the economy if you can show fiscal discipline on the spending side is the best way to ultimately balance the budget.
The big question, though, is not balancing the budget in the short term, the big question - with - its important question but even more important is how do we fix Social Security and Medicare so that you're not paying money into broke systems which you are now.
And in the book, I describe one of my failures which is to get Congress to look beyond the moment, to join with the executive branch in solving Social Security. So that the government could say, "Go out and work and when you put money aside in Social Security is not going to - it'll be available for you," which is not the case now. The system's broke.
And so the big fiscal question as far as I'm concerned, at least when I was president -- and that's changed a little bit in the post presidency -- but the big fiscal question is the unfunded liabilities inherent in these government programs like Social Security and Medicare.
LAMB: Time for one more student question.
GEORGE W. BUSH: They're not stupid.
LAMB: Student. (laughter)
GEORGE W. BUSH: I think they're great questions.
LAMB: I didn't say stupid.
GEORGE W. BUSH: No, seriously, don't you think they're great?
GEORGE W. BUSH: A lot better than the ones he was going to ask, I can assure you of that. (laughter)
LAUREN LYNGSTAD: Hi. I'm Lauren Lyngstad and I'm from Fargo, North Dakota.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah.
LINKSED: Yeah. (laughter) And I was just wondering how do you think the current state of affairs will affect the upcoming presidential election.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. Interesting.
I am - I am not a pundit nor do I want to be one. I will tell you this, though, that just keep this in mind, things change very quickly in the political process now. Part of the 27 - 24/7 news cycle really kind of creates this whirl in the political system. And what seems real today will not be real a year from now.
And therefore, it's very hard to predict what's going to take place in the 2012 presidential cycle. A year and - right after I left office I don't think anybody would have predicted what took place in the 2010 off years. And therefore, I think it's really difficult to predict what's going to take place in the 2012 election which is very interesting change in this - and, in other words, politics was much more predictable when you and I were younger guys and, which was quite a long time ago in your case. (laughter)
Anyway, so - but it's - politics today is unpredictable. Things change very quickly and - which will make it interesting to watch. Which is what I intend to do.
LAMB: Back to what you said real early in our discussion, you're through with politics.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: Define that.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't want to go out and campaign for candidates. I don't want to be viewed as a perpetual money raiser. I don't want to be on these talk shows giving my opinion, second-guessing, you know, the current president.
I think it's bad for the country, frankly, to have a former president criticize his successor. And look, it's tough enough to be president as it is without a former president undermining the current president. Plus I don't want to do that. I was - despite of the fact that I'm now on TV, I don't want to be on TV. (laughter)
LAMB: It's about over.
GEORGE W. BUSH: It is. It is. But I like - I tell people that one of the interesting - you know, sacrifice, I think it's - I don't think you sacrifice to run for president but to the extent you do is you lose your anonymity. And I like the idea of trying to regain anonymity to a certain extent. In other words, and being out of the press at least in this stage of the post presidency is something that makes me very comfortable. And it's somewhat liberating, frankly.
LAMB: Two years out.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
LAMB: Your wife calls it the afterlife. Howâ€¦
GEORGE W. BUSH: I call it the next chapter, by the way but go ahead.
LAMB: How would you describe what happens to you after 15 years in the bubble?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. I feel - I really do feel very comfortable. I'm a content guy. I don't miss fame even though I'm a famous person. I have zero desire to try to be out there opining about things and debating and criticizing or suggesting. The worst thing that could possibly happen to me is that I sit around a table with a bunch of former leaders and you know, kind of talk about the good old days and here's what they ought to be doing.
And I just don't think that lends much - I think it's more about the person doing that than it is about the contribution that one can make. And it's just an interesting transition. And frankly, it's - you know, somebody asked me an interesting question. He said, "Is this book kind of a - give you closure to your presidency?"
And that's a fascinating question and to a certain extent, I think it does. I hadn't thought of it that way. But sitting there and writing this thing for 18 months or however long it took, 20 months, was not only fulfilling but to a certain extent it did end closure to the presidency.
This is a - this book is an opportunity for me to lay out what I saw, what I heard on important issues and put it in a way that I hope the average reader can understand it and that the future historian will find it useful. And maybe that is a period to the presidency. Although you'd never stop being a former president.
LAMB: I want to thank the students from Southern Methodist University.
GEORGE W. BUSH: You can see why Laura and I decided to put our facility here.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Place is full of incredibly bright people. We're honored to be associated with SMU. I'm looking forward to more engagements with the student body.
LAMB: What years is - does your library open? Your center?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Thirteen. The center's open now. I mean we're doing some interesting things. We've got fellows in place. We're - I mentioned Mark Dybul for example, working on how to develop an effective strategy for dealing with malaria and HIV AIDS and other issues.
But the building itself will be up on 2013.
LAMB: Mr. President, thank you.
The book's called "Decision Point". George W. Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Appreciate you. Thank you all.(Applause)