CNN LARRY KING WEEKEND
Encore Presentation From November 2, 1999: Former President George Bush Discusses His 'Life in Letters'
Aired August 19, 2001 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, George Bush in his own words. The former president shares personal letters and private journals, next on LARRY KING WEEKEND.
Thanks for joining us. We've known George Herbert Walker Bush as a president and a patriot and a proud father. In the fall of '99, we were privileged to get some intimate insights into the former leader of the free world. We learned he has a very emotional side, especially when it comes to family.
The occasion for our interview: The release of a remarkable book, "All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings." We sat down at Mr. Bush's one-time home, the Houstonian Hotel.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE, NOVEMBER 2, 1999)
KING: Do you ever think, before we talk about the book, that your family, like the Adamses, Kennedys and Roosevelts, have become an American political dynasty?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we don't like the word dynasty. I'll tell you what we do, now that I'm out of politics -- and literally, I mean. I don't go to Washington. I don't testify. I don't write op- ed pieces. I had my chance; it's my son's chance.
And what Barbara and I do is just take pride -- you showed me a picture of your kid. I take the same pride in George and Jeb, as I did when they could hit a triple in Little League and as the governors of two big states.
KING: But you don't think about your father and the whole family was in politics?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No.
KING: I mean, when you think about, the Adamses, Kennedys, Roosevelts and Bushes are four American political families.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, we haven't got that far along when we think about it in that legacy or dynasty term. But it is hard to differentiate. It's more...
KING: Do you ever think about being first father?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, I do...
... with enormous pride in our son who is trying, and you know, respect for anybody that gets into this tough arena these days: those on the other side. I mean, I...
KING: Do you miss it?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I don't. I, honestly, Larry, I don't. I had my chance, and I don't miss it.
I miss some things about it. I miss dealing with our military. I miss the people in the White House: the butlers, the house men, and the curator, and you know, the usher that runs the place. They treat us as family.
KING: How about decision-making? Don't you miss...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No, no.
KING: ... being the heat of it?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I miss some of it as it relates to big, great big stuff, you know: Desert Storm kinds of things. But I don't -- no, I don't miss it anymore. I'm 75 years old, and I don't care about sitting at the head table anymore.
I've been here for a few years.
KING: How do you -- first, when I read this book -- this book's incredible, except I don't have any of the letters I've written. How do you have all these letters?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, we -- Jean Becker (ph) did all the work, this women that works for me. She's so good. But she just put out a wide map to friends, because we had all the letters I wrote when I was vice president and president and a lot that I've written subsequently, but the earlier ones were hard to come by, even where -- and she went up to the CIA, and we had to get some things unclassified. And she went to the United Nations. And she just cast a wide net with friends, and in they came.
And of course, there were a lot of letters that said: "Dear Joe, congratulations on your 13th birthday." And nope, we can't use this. So a culling out process.
KING: Are you an inveterate letter writer? I mean, I've gotten six or seven from you.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes.
KING: Are you the kind of person that goes to -- writes the thank you note in the car after leaving the event? GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Absolutely, and date it the next day, because -- because -- no, I was taught that, and it expanded from there to be something a little more substantive than just thanking the guy for the great fishing trip I had yesterday in, you know, Chico Lodge, you know, in Isle of Maroto (ph).
KING: Isn't it, Mr. President, a lost art? With faxes and e- mails, isn't the act of writing a letter, putting a stamp on it, gone?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I don't think so. I think it's more what you were taught. I know that our sons and our daughter all write thank you letters, and I know that Barbara Bush gets on her e-mail and says to her grandson: You have never thanked us for this summer. Not that we need a thank you letter, but she's trying to inculcate into them the idea that letters are good and you should do that. Thanking somebody, you know?
KING: Will you read some of these for us?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Can I tell you something ahead of time? I'm very emotional about some of the letters.
KING: Do you have a problem with any? We just culled out some from the book.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, yes.
KING: This is the earliest one. We'll do this chronologically. You were 18 at the time. You just joined the Navy. You're writing to your mother.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: All right. Written in 1942: "Dear Mom, most fellows here, true, some are engaged, and some believe, as I do, but most fellows take sex as much as they can get. This town, in particular, seems full of girls working in offices, rather attractive girls at that, who, after a couple drinks, would just assume go to bed with some cadet."
Later on, we skip, and it goes: "Leading the life we lead, one cannot help but feel the desire for a woman." I was 18.
I just want to make the record, I was fairly naive.
KING: Nothing wrong with that.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: "I would be most facetious were I to deny ever having experienced said feelings. Boys, you know, boys I like very much, and even boys I admire, have had intercourse with women. Some guys, you know, one perfect example in New Haven, because they love a girl, believe in relationships before marriage. This seems to me more excusable than just plain sex, sex to satisfy physical, biological emotions. Yet, I know it is not right."
KING: What did you do with the desire? GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Hey, Larry, come on.
Are you some kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He's trying to stretch me out on a couch here.
KING: No, no.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Took a cold shower. Now let's go on to another letter.
KING: Did you question about putting it in the book?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No, I mean, it was a frank book. And people will look at that and say: "God, this guy is out of touch. I told you when he was president he was out of touch."
And I'm saying I was 18 years old. I had had a rather, you know, privileged upbringing in ways, but I was taught values.
Now, they might change some as you get older, but this is the writing of an 18-year-old kid away from home for the first time serving his country.
KING: Values -- values that wouldn't hurt everybody to have.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well...
KING: If they had them, you couldn't argue against them.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Today, you'd be laughed out -- laughed out of the -- you know, young people look at, hey, this guy, my God, because there's been a change in mores and folkways in this country.
KING: Here's another one to mom, and this I think is about, I think, falling in love.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: This is in June of 1943, and I was just about to get my wings or I had just done it. Perhaps at that time, I know, I was the youngest Naval aviator, because I had my wings and ensign's commission at 18. But anyway, here we go: "Mum Dear" -- we were kidding her about her accent -- "Mum, I'm really worried. I hope it's one of her lapses, which she falls in occasionally, either because she's busy or just to keep me anxious and interested. But I've gotten but one letter in 3 1/2 weeks. Before, there were a couple of two-week famines, but never this.
"I don't know, hope it's not the fluff." That's the word we used for getting brushed off. "Being away from all nice girls, I worry more than usual over Barb. It's silly, but that's how it's been. As I've said before, she's a really smart girl in that she can be sweet and all out without committing herself to any degree.
"Oh, well, not much I can do now. Much Love." This was written to my mother from Corpus Christi Air Station.
KING: Why do you call yourself "Pop"?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I was named for my grandfather. I'm G.H.W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush. My grandfather was George Herbert Walker. His sons, four of them, called him "Pop" or "Poppie."
I was born, and they called their nephew "Pop" or "Little Poppie" -- "Poppie." And it stuck until the war, and then as soon as I got in the Navy they called me "George."
KING: Here's a great love letter to Barbara. Was it tough to get her? It seems like, you know, three weeks she hadn't written.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, you know, that -- you know, a lot of people don't write for years, so maybe I was overstating my case.
KING: Let's close this segment with a wonderful romantic -- I love this letter.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: This one was December of '43: "My Darling Barb, this should be a very easy letter to right. Words should come easily, and in short, it should be simple for me tell you how desperately happy I was to open the paper and see the announcement of our engagement. But somehow, I can't possibly say all in a letter I'd should like to.
"I love you, Precious, with all my heart, and to know that you love me means my life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours someday. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you."
And then later in the letter: "Good-night, my beautiful. Every time I say `beautiful' you about kill me, but you'll have to except this. I hope I get Thursday off. There's still a chance. All my love."
We were -- I was up in -- up in Hyannis, and our squadron had just formed a new torpedo-bomber squadron, and we were sent up there to learn how to drop torpedoes.
Environmentalists would have killed us in Cape Cod now, but that's what we did. And the engagement came out at that time.
KING: Still feel the same way about her?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, 56th wedding anniversary in January coming up.
KING: We'll be back with the former president of the United States, George Bush, and more of this wonderful book. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 20, 1992)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: There are times in every young person's life when God introduces you to yourself, and I remember such a time. It was back many years ago, when I stood watch at 4:00 a.m. up on the bridge of a submarine, the United States Finback, USS Finback. And I would stand there and look out at the blackness of the sky, broken only by this sparkling star above, and I would think about friends I lost, the country I loved, and about a girl named Barbara.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something is happening outside. The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Just two hours ago, allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. These attacks continue as I speak. Tonight, the battle has been joined.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Former President George Bush, this wonderful book. We have it out now on the set. "All the Best," with that famous signature.
George looks like "Sy." Every time I read that, it looks like "Sy Bush."
And by the way, what a Christmas present: not just selling the book for you. It's a great book. I don't promote books myself.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Gee, thanks.
KING: George Bush is no stranger to war. We have two letters dealing with war. You'd read them, written to mom and dad?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Let's see, Larry. This one was in May 24th, out in the fleet. I was under Admiral McCain -- way under Admiral McCain.
KING: He was in charge of that fleet?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He was in charge of the Task Force 58, I believe, which my fast carrier San Jacinto was a part of.
KING: What a weird like six degrees of separation?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: That's right.
KING: This guy's running against your son...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I have great respect for him.
KING: ... and his father was in charge of your fleet.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Hey, listen, I have great respect for the McCain family. I love the book that he wrote. KING: What a book?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It's a wonderful book, and he's a fine fellow. And you know, running against George, fine, but they're going to be friends when it's over, and I'm going to be his friend when it's over.
KING: Might even run together.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, this is May 24th, '44, around the Pacific: "Dear Mom and Dad, I can say that I've been in battle against the enemy. It's quite a feeling. Quite a feeling, mom, to be shot at, I assure you.
"The nervousness which is with you before a game of some kind was extremely noticeable. But no great fear, thank heavens. I wish I could tell you more about it, probably will be able to later. Must stop now. Much love."
KING: And this is a perfect follow-up to that.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, this one is September 3rd, our fleet, we had gone through a lot of the Pacific campaign. Before the 5th Fleet went down and became, under Halsey, the 3rd fleet, we were up their under Mitcher (ph), I believe.
KING: We were behind in that war in the Pacific for a time, weren't we?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, but Admiral Mitcher had the 5th Fleet. I think I said McCain commanded it. McCain had part of it, I think.
But anyway, this is -- this is the day after I was shot down over the island of Chi-Chi Jima, September 3rd, and I was picked up by a submarine. So I'm writing in a submarine.
"Dear mother and dad, this will be the first letter you've gotten from me in a long while. I wish I could tell you, as I write this, I'm feeling well and happy. Physically, I'm OK, but I'm troubled inside, and with good cause.
Then we go on. "Now, I'll have to skip all the details of the attack, as they would not pass censorship, but the fact remains we got hit, the cockpit filled with smoke, and I told the boys in back to get their parachutes on. They didn't answer at all, but I looked around and couldn't see Ted in the turret, so I assumed he'd gone below to get his chute fastened on.
"I headed the plane out to sea and put on the throttle, so as we could get away from the land as much as possible."
And then later on: "There was no sign" -- explaining what happened after ejecting -- "there was no sign of Del or Ted anywhere around. I looked as I floated down, and afterwards kept my eyes open from the raft, but to no avail. I'm afraid I was pretty much of a sissy about it because I sat in my life raft and sobbed for a while.
"It bothers me so very much. I did tell them, and when I bailed out I felt they must have gone, and yet now I feel so terribly responsible for their fate oh so much right now."
KING: They died?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Both died. One of them did get out. The Japanese reported it. And thank God. But the parachute streamed (ph) and...
KING: One would imagine that the hardest thing of all, maybe as hard as being in war, is sending men to war? Is it...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It's the toughest decision a president makes. And maybe it was because I've been conditioned by war, but there is no decision, domestic or foreign, that came as close to when you send somebody else's son or daughter these days into combat. And it happened to me twice: Panama, and of course, Desert Storm. But I felt it, I felt this. Even 50, 60, 70 yeas later...
KING: Do you have to feel 100 percent?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: You have to know you're -- you have to be convinced you're doing the right thing. And -- but in this war, World War II, service wasn't -- wasn't any controversy. Nobody was running away. Nobody was burning the flag. Nobody was trying to duck out of it. I mean, everybody was together.
A letter in this book said I really want to go soon, I want to go out and fight for my country. I hope I'll be OK. I hope -- I hope I'll, you know, do the job.
KING: Do you think, Mr. President, we've seen the end of -- by the way, would you have favored the nuclear treaty they just turned down?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I didn't when I was president.
KING: Didn't favor...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I'm the president who put this kibosh on testing. But I was worried about the security of the force. I was worried of the security and stability of the force. I was worried about the deterrent. I was worried about -- if we complied and had to get others then that haven't signed to come along.
So I was, you know, I was -- as I say, I ended testing. But I didn't -- I felt the treaty was flawed, but that has very little to do with...
KING: Do you think, though, we've see the end of war as we know it?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I think we've seen -- I think -- I'm an optimist about the next millennium, and what kids in college are going to be going into when they get out of college into the next chapter in their lives, because we have no other superpower adversary. And I think that's a big jump forward.
But there's still problems. You've got nuclear proliferation and terrorism and narco-traffickers and unpredictable leaders. You've got all kinds of problems.
KING: Presidents also tend to support presidents in areas of things like sending men to battle, don't they?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Once the -- once the troops are -- yes, once the troops are...
KING: Once they go, they don't stand up and criticize.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I've tried not to criticize President Clinton much on anything.
KING: Why don't you speak out?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, one, I told him that he wasn't going to have a lot of grief out of me. And two, I had my chance, and I know it's a tough and big job. And three, we've got loyal opposition spokesmen who've been elected. My sons can speak out and be critical.
And you know, look, Larry, I've got plenty of differences, plenty of areas where if I didn't feel constrained I would be critical. But I -- I just don't think it's seemly for a former president to always be carping away at the president.
KING: We have another letter. You may not want to read it, but we'll get to it. If he doesn't, I will, right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 3, 1992)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: For those who voted for us, who voted for me, here -- especially here, but all across the country -- thank you for your support, and we have fought a good fight and we've kept the faith and I believe I have upheld the honor of the presidency of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There's not only letters in this book. There's accounts, there's analysis of things. You'll have a phone call with a president of Germany, and then give his analysis into a tape machine, and you get that too. This is warts and all, by the way. George Bush letting himself out in these letters.
None more so than in this one to your mother about the loss of your daughter.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Larry, I couldn't read that letter.
KING: I'll read parts of it. This is a letter to his mother after wanting to have another daughter. Their daughter, Robin, had died of leukemia in 1953 at age three. The letter was found among his mother's things after she died. And you believe you wrote this in 1958? That's a guess.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: A few years, yes.
KING: "We need a legitimate Christmas angel, one who doesn't have cuffs beneath her dress." Have to be a father to notice (ph).
"We need someone who's afraid of frogs. We need someone to cry when I get mad, not argue. We need a little one who could kiss without leaving, egg or jam or gum. We need a girl.
"We had won once. She'd fight and cry and play and make her way just like the rest. But there was about her a certain softness. She was patient. Her hugs were just a little less wiggly. Like them, she'd climb in to sleep with me, but somehow, she'd fit. She didn't boot and flip and wake me up with pug-nose and mischievous eyes a challenging quarter inch from my sleeping face. No, she'd stand beside our bed 'til I felt here there. Silently and comfortable, she'd put those precious, fragrant locks against my chest and fall asleep.
"Her peace made me feel strong and so very important. `My daddy' had a caress, `my daddy' had a caress, a certain ownership which touched a slightly different spot than the "Hi dad" I loved so much.
"But she is still with us. We need her and yet we have her. We can't touch her and yet we can feel her. We hope she'll stay in our house for a long, long time. Love, Pop."
How were you able to write that?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I don't know if I could read it. We're very emotional in our family, and this was a long time ago. I've gotten over being a sissy about it, because that is very personal. And we hurt. But now, you know, a lot of families, Larry, when they have...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, a loss, they go apart. In ours I think it's closer together.
KING: And you have granddaughters. How many grandchildren? How many...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: We've got 14. Fourteen, and we've got a couple of granddaughters in there. So life's pretty good.
KING: Do you ever really learn to get over...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Sorry to be such a sissy.
KING: No. What sissy? Do you ever get over the loss -- I could not fathom the loss of a baby.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It's tough.
KING: A child. I can't -- it's against every law known.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It is. It really hurts. But Barbara was the strong one.
KING: Stronger than you?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh God. We'd go up. We were living out in West Texas, and we'd fly up to Memorial Hospital, great cancer center. And they'd come in with these bone marrow tests and this little child. Oh boy, she was -- and I've got to go. I had to go home. And Bar stood -- hung right in there.
And the -- the kid stayed alive. But now, Larry, if that -- if that -- stayed alive for a year. And now if a child contracted the same kind of leukemia that Robin did, she could live the rest of her life.
I'm the chairman coming up of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: huge, wonderful, world-famous cancer center. And they are doing the most miraculous things in cancer.
KING: Especially childhood leukemia.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: And this baby that meant so much to us would still be alive. That would be George's younger sister, probably bossing him around like his mother now does.
KING: Do you think she's watching you?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Who's that, Robin? Probably. I don't know. That's a good question. I don't know. I hope so.
KING: We'll be back with more. I don't know either. I hope so, too.
Back with more of President Bush on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George, just one person request: Go out there and win one for the gypper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with former President George Bush and this wonderful book, "All the Best."
A letter to President-elect and Mrs. Reagan written November 10, 1980. You are vice president-elect.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Now this one will be all right for me, I think.
KING: I don't think you've have to...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: "This is just a quick thank you. Thanks for making us feel so welcome, thanks for the joy of working with you, thanks for those little touches of grace and humor and affection that make life sane.
"Please let us know that we both want to help in every way possible. I will never do anything to embarrass you politically. I have strong views on issues and people, but once you decide a matter that's it for me.
"And you'll see no leaks in `EVANS & NOVAK,' bitching about life. At least you'll see none out of me."
And he didn't.
KING: What were -- I just had lunch a couple of weeks ago with Nancy Reagan, and she said they always had an excellent time with the Bushes. What did you make about this book, "Dutch," saying that you were sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, the first -- the thing that offended me the most was less about his, I think, his improper portrayal of the relationship with the Bushes, but the use of the word "airhead" to describe Ronald Reagan.
I mean, I have not read the book, and I've learned in public life not to be critical until you actually see it. But when somebody read that part of it -- or somebody says that the Reagans treated us with disdain, we never were upstairs in the White House. There were plenty -- every state dinner, for one, we were up there with the head of state and all. And I was up there with President Reagan a lot.
So I don't know where it came from. But he was -- he was so kind to me, Larry, and so...
KING: He was?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, gosh, and I learned so much from -- about -- just about decency and humor. And his jokes are better than your jokes, by far.
KING: By far?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: By far, Larry.
KING: He could laugh at himself, too. GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He could laugh at himself, and he was always considerate and kind.. And I don't know -- I think people saw that at the election time and all, but I don't like it when he's attacked.
KING: Before we take a break, what's the toughest part about being vice president?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, you're not your own person, if you believe in loyalty. And if you want to go out and carving your own track, fine. But then you don't get anything to do, because the president must know that the vice president is not going to be out there leaking or trying to make himself look good to the detriment of the president.
KING: So you understood what Gore...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: And I was blessed by Dan Quayle, in that sense.
KING: You understood what Gore faced, then, during the Lewinsky thing. What does he...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I understand what he faced, but I also understand that you're bound by what the public has seen. I mean, if Ronald Reagan had been a disgrace in office and done some real bad stuff...
KING: What would you have done?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I would have -- I don't know what I would have done. But I was never presented with that problem, because -- but I think if I'd cut and run, I think there would have been all kind of hostility. And I would have found myself up there agreeing with...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: ... John Nance Gardner.
KING: Warm bucket of spit is what he described...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I think he said spit, yes.
KING: Yes, I think he said that.
We'll be right back with the former president of the United States, George Bush, and more of these great letters.
Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 20, 1989)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: There is a man here who has earned a lasting place in our hearts and in our history: President Reagan, on behalf of our nation I thank you for the wonderful things that you have done for America. (APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with these wonderful letters and comments from the former President of the United States George Bush. This is your -- from his diary as president. This is from -- you kept a diary?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes.
KING: Every night?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Sporadically. No. I thought I would, and I just missed, and that's one regret I've got, that I didn't keep a better one.
KING: New Year's Eve, 1989.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: New Year's Eve, December 31st: "One of the greatest highlights was the day after Christmas. I was getting ready to go to the office, and Ellie (ph), beautiful Ellie, who lights up any room she's in, said, `Gampy (ph), come here.' So I went into the bathroom. She pointed in the toilet and said, `Did you leave that poo-poo?'
"Not many people would talk to the president of the United States like that."
KING: Was there a question about putting that letter in?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No. Larry, you know, I have no grudge to complain, because I kept a lot of stuff inside when I was president. I wasn't good about talking about faith. I wanted to protect my family. I didn't want to talk about what it felt like when we lost a daughter or when a 3-year-old granddaughter did something like this.
I had too much of a -- maybe not too much, but I kind of did it my way, but it was to keep a lot of personal stuff personal. But I'm not going to write a memoir, and thus -- and I -- and I think, for my own fault, people didn't know what my pulse what or what my heartbeat was. And so these letters say it.
And this letter's funny, and it -- this little girl is very close to me. She took it to school now -- she's now 13 -- read the letter. And they wanted her to read the whole book.
I mean, this is life. This is our family. This what makes me tick. It's not -- it's not politics anymore.
KING: But you say that, and you use the word "fault." Should you have been more like this, tonight, in the Oval Office?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, not necessarily. I did my job as president. I just didn't expose my inner feelings.
And I think people liked me. I think people were disappointed. I think people wanted change. I think when I said the economy has recovered -- look at this guy. He's out of touch.
I've got a whole rationale of reasons why I did not get re- elected, but maybe if I'd have been a little more emotional or more revealing of the person, why, maybe it would have helped. But it never occurred to me then. I mean, I...
KING: No regrets, then? No regrets?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No regrets about anything. No regrets about one single thing in my life that I can think of. I mean, I've made mistakes, but they don't -- they don't measure up to regrets now. We're unbelievably happy.
KING: How do you feel about -- before we get to the next letter where you write to your sons -- seeing things -- "I drive down 123, and I pass by the George Bush Center for Strategic and International Studies. I land at the airport, and your name is on the airport.
Being a former president, seeing your name on buildings, what's that like?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Overwhelming, because my mother taught me from a little boy on until the last day she -- of her life, practically, don't brag about yourself. Talk about how the team did, not how you did.
Once I said, I was off my game. She said, you didn't have a game. Get out and practice. I mean, we -- we -- so when I see these things, it's great.
KING: I mean, you land at George Bush International Airport.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes. And you hear the pilot say "George Bush," and I lean over and...
(LAUGHTER) KING: When you land at Ronald Reagan, going the other way.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: That's right.
KING: Governor Richards said the other day, "I left Ronald Reagan and landed in George Bush."
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Hey, you've got a silver foot.
KING: That didn't work.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No, it didn't.
KING: We'll be back with a letter to his sons, right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 18, 1988) GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I will keep America moving forward, always forward. For a better America, for an endless enduring dream and the thousand points of light, this is my mission and I will complete it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, SON OF GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Madam Secretary, the great state of Texas proudly casts 111 votes for a man we respect and a man we love. Texas casts all its votes for her favorite son and the best father in America, George Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: This is the book. It's "All the Best, George Bush: My Life in Letters and Other Writings," a major bestseller.
You've written others. Is this the best-selling thing you've ever written?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I haven't heard that. It's our dog did the bestseller, Larry.
KING: Oh, that's right.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: And my wife.
KING: You can't -- you can't top her. Maybe this will, by the end of Christmas. Don't bet against it.
OK, a letter to George and Jeb, governor and governor -- not yet governors when this is written.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, this was -- well, the letter speaks for itself. But they were both running. George was governor of Texas. And Jeb was running...
KING: George was. Jeb had lost one race.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Jeb lost in '94, running again '98. It's the summer. "Dear George and Jeb, your mother tells me that both of you have mentioned to her your concern about some of the political stories, the ones that seem to put me down and make me seem irrelevant, that contrast you favorably to a father who had no vision and who was but a place holder in the broader scheme of things.
"I've been reluctant to pass along advice. Both of you have been charting your own course, spelling out what direction you want to take your state: in George's case, running on a record of accomplishment.
"But the advice is this: Do not worry when you see the stories that compare you favorably to a dad for whom English was a second language and for whom the word `destiny' meant nothing."
Then we skip.
"It's inevitable that the new breed of journalists will have to find a hook in stories, will have to write not only of your plans and your dreams, will have to compare those with what in their view I failed to accomplish.
"That can be very hurtful to a family that loves each other. That can hurt you boys, who have been wonderful to me, you two of whom I am so very proud.
"But the advice is: Don't worry about it."
KING: How do you feel about George on the national stage now and all the things that go -- and the other day I saw a panel of people, four of them, all said the only -- he ducked the debate. Nobody believed that he went to be with his wife.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: But do you know he did...
KING: That was the -- that was the reason.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: But you know, he did something smart. He attached to a press release a letter to SMU accepting this event for his wife. And the letter was dated June of last year. And to George, maybe you get the feeling -- the same about me after today's interview -- the family's everything. It's very, very important.
KING: You would have gone if Barbara were being honored and you were...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, no question about that.
KING: No question.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I hated the damned debates anyway, hated them.
KING: But you would have gone?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: But -- yes -- but he did the right thing, and you know, people are going to -- you know, I remember different debates when I was running at different times. Four runs for national office: '80, '88 -- '84, '88 and '92. And somebody's always telling me you've got to have more debates.
The American people -- well, it's show business. You'd do much better learning about their views sitting right here on LARRY KING LIVE than they would lining up, answering a bunch of questions at -- in a town hall.
But that's my personal opinion. KING: All right.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: That's not why George wasn't there. He wasn't there because he made a commitment to be with his wife when she was being honored.
KING: As a father, are you pained when they keep bring up these things about his past and all this kind of -- you know it's going to come.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: No, I'm not pained.
KING: You're not in pain?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I'm not pained because I think there -- I'm upset for the people that do it, that deal in rumors, that are not constrained by facts. And I think there's kind of an intrusiveness in journalism, particularly in Washington, you know, around the Beltway stuff. Maybe it's getting a little better, I don't know. But...
KING: You think he's doing well with it?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: George?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I'll have to -- yes, I think. Larry, I'm so proud of the guy that there's not an objective bone in my body. I mean...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: On that subject.
KING: We'll be right back with President Bush after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 13, 1999)
GEORGE W. BUSH: I've learned that life doesn't end if you lose a campaign. I've learned that the most important things in life are much bigger than winning and losing a political race. That's why I feel comfortable about what I'm getting into.
I've seen a really good man win and I've seen a really good man come in second place. But he never lost his perspective and his values. He's a great dad. And that's the most important thing to a son.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 3, 2000)
GEORGE W. BUSH: And I want to thank my dad, the most decent man I have ever known.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
All my life I had been amazed that a gentle soul could be so strong. Dad, I am proud to be your son.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Speaking of family and feelings, a letter to Hugh Sidey of "TIME" magazine on Election Day, November 3, 1998.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: "How does it feel? Well, I'm nervous and I'm proud. My mind goes back to six years ago. I honestly thought I was going to win. No one else did. The polls had gone south after Mr. Walsh's indictment of Weinberger was handed down on the Friday before the election. But I still thought I'd win. I lost big time, and it hurt a lot, and I don't want either of my boys to hurt that much ever.
"Should Jeb lose in Florida, I will be heartbroken, not because I want to be the former president with two governor sons. No, heartbroken because I know Jeb will be."
And then later, talking about George W.
"He's good, this boy of ours. He's uptight at times, feisty at other times. But who wouldn't be after months of grueling campaigning? All the talk about his wild youth days is pure nuts. His character will pass muster with flying colors." And it will.
KING: Even in the days when he was in college, the character was there? I mean, he was a very...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: He's a leader. He had friends and they rally around. And they've helped him all his life.
Barbara -- you know, you've heard rumors about the dancing nude on the bar and pictures. My wife put it well. She said, "I hope it's not a frontal shot."
But this is crazy. You keep reading rumors. Nobody has a picture.
KING: But it's one thing when it's about you, but when it's about your son...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: It hurts.
KING: That's what I mean. Doesn't that get you more ticked?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes. Not so much to want to do anything about it, because it's their turn. They can handle it.
KING: Are you going to campaign for him?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, I've done some.
KING: Supposing he asked you to -- pop -- pop to pop, I'd like you to tour?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes. Well, I don't think he would, but I'll do whatever they want me to do. I've already done some fund-raising events and things like that.
KING: But I mean, you'd do a commercial or make a speech...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, but it doesn't -- he's his own man, his own destiny, his own position, his own leadership, his own record as a successful governor of this state. And the same is true of Jeb.
So they don't want me -- I mean, they want me as a dad. They want me to pick me up if -- pick them up if they get hurt.
KING: Do you think you could live to see president of two sons being president?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Jeb's awful good, Larry.
KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with President George Bush right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 3, 1998)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: May I introduce to you the next governor of Florida, Jeb Bush?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Introduced by his proud father, former President George Bush.
JEB BUSH (R), GOVERNOR-ELECT OF FLORIDA: I want to thank the best parents in the world, by far.
But mostly -- but mostly...
CROWD: Four more years, four more years, four more years, four more years!
J. BUSH: OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with our remaining moments with former President Bush. The book, "All the Best."
One other political thing in there. I want you to read this great letter.
What do you think of Buchanan leaving your party?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, Larry, I've been so disappointed in him. I mean, his views as they've evolved. And you know, and it's not personal in me. He went after me with a vengeance, and "Lord George" and all that stuff. But that was politics, and I brushed him off pretty early in the primary stage.
KING: What did you make of this Hitler thing?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all.
KING: Do you think it's better off not being in the party?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Well, ex post facto, I guess so. I guess so.
KING: Here's a letter to a friend and former speechwriter, Chris Buckley, on grandchildren and fishing. This is the Chris Buckley, right?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, he's Bill Buckley's son, who...
KING: Bill Buckley's son and a great humor writer himself.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: "I want to teach Gigi (ph), our youngest" -- this is September of 1998. "I want to teach Gigi, our youngest grandchild, now 2 1/2 years old, how to fish. When the fish aren't biting, I want to listen to her tell me what makes her happy and what makes her cry.
"I won't tell her I was president. I'll just tell her about the wonders of life and have her understand that our family is what matters.
"On the boat she's a captive. She can squirm, but she can't hide. I will tell her I love her, and when she..."
Oh, here it is.
KING: "I will tell her I love her, and when she says, are you crying? I'll say yes. But these are tears of joy. Older guys do that, Gigi. See, you can do that kind of thing when you go fishing. Though you're too young for the tears, Chris, be sure to take Connor (ph) and Caitlin (ph) out fishing."
What does it do when you go fishing?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, it's total relaxation and enjoyment. And it's wonderful, whether you're with the grandkids or -- I do it all by myself now.
KING: When you see, Gigi...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes.
KING: Do you see your daughter in her?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, yes -- you mean the daughter we lost?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: As a matter of fact, this one's also very beautiful and an enormous comfort to us. She's about the same age as the child we lost.
But it's -- there's. you know -- these are the sad -- I'm afraid I've gotten too emotional here with you. But if you get the feeling that this is what matters to me now rather than...
KING: More than anything.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: ... nuclear test ban treaty or something like that, you're absolutely right.
KING: And does it get more so -- I mean, you mean must retain your interests. You must read all the...
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Oh, I have interests and I read serious papers and I talk to Brent Scowcroft and Ernie Cadder (ph) and all these guys I love and respect and Colin Powell, and you know, Condy Rice that's helping George. And I get opinions and all, and once in a while they ask me for mine.
But my heart's not in that anymore. My heart's in my grandchild, fishing, or my boys that are in the "arena" that Theodore Roosevelt talked about.
KING: With it's ups and downs -- we only have about a minute, a little over a minute left -- are you still optimistic about where we're going?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Very. We have no superpower enemy. We've got to stay involved. We've got to lead. We are respected, the United States is.
We've got an obligation to help others. But boy, I wish I were 35 instead of 75. It's going to be a great millennium.
KING: Would you go into politics again?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Yes, I'd do it...
KING: You would?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: ... in a minute. And I hope others -- you know, I hope honest -- I hope other honest people would do it. And if they don't, you leave it to the lowest common denominator and you get the lowest kind of government.
KING: Thanks, Mr. President.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Since that 1999 interview, George Bush has become the second president in the United State history whose son was elected to the Oval Office too. But first, of course, John Adams.
That's it for this edition of LARRY KING WEEKEND. Thanks for watching. Good night.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: I, George Herbert Walker Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH: George Walker Bush.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Do solemnly swear.
GEORGE W. BUSH: That I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: And will, to the best of my ability.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: So help me God.
GEORGE W. BUSH: So help me God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.
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