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tv   First Ladies Influence Image  CSPAN  February 8, 2014 7:00pm-8:31pm EST

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>> tonight c-span's first ladies series continues with a discussion about the life and career of laura bush. followed by an interview with the former first lady at the george w. bush presidential center in dallas, texas. and later the 70th annual washington press club foundation dinner. featuring members of congress, journalists and other dignitaries. >> i'm here to voice my strong support for the courageous people of afghanistan. women and men who have suffered for years under the taliban regime. each and every one of us has the responsibility to stop the suffering caused by malaria. because every life in every land matters. and all of us can do something
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to help. >> after studying first ladies and knowing some of them well like my own mother-in-law or one that i admired very much, a fellow texan lady bird johnson, is that we benefit our country benefits by whatever our first ladies' interests are. >> she is the wife of one president and the daughter in law of another. laura welsh bush became first lady after a controversial election brought her husband george w. bush to the white house. laura bush helped comfort the nation pursuing interests including education, literacy and women's health. good evening and welcome to c-span series first ladies, influence and image. tonight we'll tell you the story -- the wife of our 43rd president. laura welsh bush and here to do that are two people who know her well through their work. ann gearhart at the "washington post" is a laura bush biographer and her 2004 book
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the perfect wife tells the story of laura bush and covered the former first lady since 2001. welcome to the program. >> thank you. mark updegrove is a presidential his torn and author of several books about the presidency and currently is working on one on the relationship between presidents bush 41 and 43. nice to see you this evening. in your biography, you refer to the role or the job of first lady as this is a quote the most bizarre volunteer job in the world. and we heard laura bush talk about having her mother-in-law as a role model, whatever thoughts she had about how she would perform the role of first lady were upended september 11. and we talked to her recently. i would like you to watch that and talk about how she responded to that and how it redefined what her years as first lady would be. let's watch. >> i was on my way to brief on
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early childhood education and hosted a summit on early childhood education that summer. and i was going to brief that committee on early childhood education. when i was getting into the car and my agent secret service agent leaned over to me and said a plane has just flown into the world trade center. we went to the capital. we assumed as we started driving it was some strange accident. by the time we got to the capital, we knew the second plane had hit the we knew what it was. >> how did you leave? the secret service came to get me. at first they were thinking it would take me to the white house. they had to regroup and figure ut where it was. the staff was getting word to run.
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and they were kicking off there have high hills and running from the white house and i know they expected to have glamorous and interesting jobs at the white house. no one ever thought they would have to run from the white house like they did. so anyway, the secret service came to get me. and senator gregg and senator kennedy walked me out to the door. and then i drove to the -- where i went really was the secret service building which had been reinforced and after the terrorist attacks. and -- in our embassies. and really i guess after the oklahoma city bombing, the federal building. a lot of them had been reinforced. and that one had been. so that's where i went. spent the day. >> had you talked to your husband or your girls at that point? >> you know, i can't remember. i wrote this down in the book because i had the logs from the
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day to remember. but i did talk to george once i got there. and the girls. and then of course my mother was the one i really wanted to call. because i wanted my mother to say everything is going to be all right. and of course i called to her and said everything is going to be all right. and i wanted to say, well, certainly it is. >> how did she respond? how did she redefine her role after that day? >> well, i have to say i was with her that day because i was covering her as first lady for "the washington post." and so there was some confusion initially as to whether anyone was going to -- and the hearing was suspended and she and senator kennedy made a brief statement to the press were there. and i can remember looking at her. and she -- it's always remarkable composed but twists her fingers at her side. when she's struggling with something that was clearly very dramatic and i remember thinking she is wise enough, her mother-in-law was in this
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white house. she knows her life has changed n this moment. she said what she came to say over and over again we have to make sure we tell children we love them and that america's a strong country and we will get through this. it was spontaneous and sincere. very much in keeping with her as a librarian and teacher. and i think she dedicated herself to that. but things were very different immediately. >> and in fact laura bush wrote a letter to the children of america the day after 9-11. and here's some of what it said. i want you to know how much i care about all of you. this is a personal message from the first lady. be kind to each other. take care of each other. and show your love for each other. mark, as a nation, we had not experienced anything of this level of catastrophe since the attack on pearl harbor. there wasn't a role model for this. what do americans want from the white house, from their president and first lady in times of extreme national crisis like this? >> well, we're fortunate, there are many moments when we have
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-- the right person for the right moment. she was the right first lady for that moment. because i think we forget now but we -- we didn't know what to do after the attacks. and she mentioned this in a clip you just showed. she said comfort your children. go out there and reach out to your kids. your kids want you right now. they need you right now. and i think that that helped us to get through that very trying moment. she -- laura bush is the very picture of equanimity. she is -- she served texas strong. there's a strength that emanates from her. and i think we benefited from having her in the white house during that period. >> that texan connection is where we're going to go next as we learn more about her life. both bushes say that to know them you must know midland, texas. so where was laura welch born and tell bus her early childhood. >> well, midland, texas s. west
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texas. it is boom and bust oil country. it is the kind of place that you can see it from miles away. it's kind of shimmers like oz. from 30 miles away on the horizon and very wide and very flat and very much big sky. and her father was a builder. her mother was home maker. her mother came from texas strong female stock. her mother had managed a dairy farm. when her grandfather -- when her -- was away. and i think that it was very much a place of who she was. and gave her a sense of strength about the land and the prairie and doing for yourself. i can remember when i went there the first time. people talked about -- always saying they cried and a friend of barbara bush said she moved from western pennsylvania having been educated at smith, and her husband came back and said we're going to move out there to make our fortune in oil, and she said, what's it like? he said, well, let me say this. a town nearby called no trees.
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and her friend jan o'neil who introduced her to george bush came home from the supermarket and a tumbleweed the size after volkswagen and couldn't get in her house. so harsh and forbidding in that way. so i think that you have to have the special appreciation for it. and i think that it made her tough. >> in her book, her book is really a love letter to midland, texas, in a way. it's so much a part of her as you suggested, susan. but she talks about the sky. and how her mother and she used to just look up at the sky for hours on end and how important that is to that part of the country. and i think -- what george w. bush mentioned to me one time is that kind of country broadens your horizon. you sort of see people for who they are. there are no trees. and the sky is the limit. >> well, midland, you write, in the 1950's, was supportive. but it also could be insulating.
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>> in what ways was it insulating and how did that shape her? >> well, she's an only child and i think that's also insulating in a way. it can be a lonely existence. and there weren't a lot of folks who came in from the outside. or when they did could the-from-the oil business it took them time to get adjusted. people had their own hide bound ways of being and their own divide as to where you were in the social stratosphere or whether you were a wildcatter and say about owe desa that you were raised hell in odessa but raised your kids in midland. so there was a certain way of behaving. and a propriety for that. and went to the methodist episcopal church and you had to depend on each other and you had to because it could be harsh. >> midland today has a large hispanic population as much of texas does. what was it like in terms of
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minorities when laura welsh was rowing up? they all got together for a reunion, when the bushes were in the white house, it seemed that nobody can really remember about the -- i don't think it was a matter of overt separation as much as within a certain class of people. there was almost an obliviousness and when i went back there to do reporting, i would say i was going across town to do an interview and what are you going over that-to-that part of town for? so i think that in many ways people kept to their own lanes as it were. and that had its own shaping. when she went off to s.m.u., you know, she had said -- some of her friends that they didn't
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necessarily have a remembrance -- of some of the race riots that were going on around the world. there were the sock hops. and there was the sodas at the drive-in and in that way it was isolating. >> we want to put their parents' names on the record because we didn't do that. her father was harold bruce welch. 1912. died in 1995. and her mother, jenna louise hawkins welch was born in 1999 and is still very much alive. right after the age of turning 17, laura welch was in a car crash. in midland, texas. and it resulted in the death of a very close friend of hers. she spoke about that. she wrote about it in her book. and she spoke about that in a recent interview. let's listen. >> mrs. bush, you write and spoken from the heart about difficult period, november, 1963. and a loss of faith. your faith. why? >> well, i was in a car wreck
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that i wrote about extensively. in my book. and the whole time i was in the hospital, not injured really. i had a cut on my leg. and a broken ankle. and i was praying that the other person in the car would be ok. and the other person in the car was one of my best friends. which i didn't know. i didn't really recognize that. at the site of the crash. his father came up. his father happened -- they litched -- and just passed where the corner with her. where the car wreck was. and i recognized his father. but i didn't understand that that was mike that was there. and i think because i prayed over and over and over for him to be ok and then he wasn't. i thought, well, that -- nobody listened. god was not listening. my prayer wasn't answered. and so i went through really a very long time of not believing.
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and not believing that prayers could be answered. and it took me a long time really and a lot of growing up to come back to faith. >> the car wreck shaped her in what way? >> well, i think what she has said about it and what she mentioned to me about it was that we do grow up. and when you're young, and you expect that the world is going to be a certain way. and she would have attained that maturity but it came to her pretty quickly. i think that she is an empathetic person by nature. and i think it probably made her less judgmental about other people. in a way that we don't often see in washington. i think she is much more given to thinking people may have entiror backgrounds and things that shape them that we don't know. so i think that that is certainly made her the kind of
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person. i think she worried more about her own daughters. i think she worried about her husband. because she had seen at a very early age how an instant miscalculation can change everything. >> mark updegrove, in that clip she talks about her faith. would you spend a little time talking about faith and george and laura bush. >> sure. let me just mention, though, she said in an interview i did with her, that she sort of grew up out of that experience. and there were things that happened in your life that you can't change and you have to find a way to move on. and that experience very formative for a girl in midland, texas, in 9-11, the role that fate can play. and you have to move on and you have to be strong and you have to move on. so i think it's very helpful. and i think faith plays a great role in both of their lives. george w. bush became a born
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again christian when he was in midland. i think it changed his life. in a lot of ways. she is less i think vocal about her religious faith than he is. she's a little bit more low-key about it. but i think it's important to both of their lives. >> she is the second first lady to have a postgraduate degree. can you tell us what's important to know about her education and her early jobs. >> i think that people frequently overlook that. because they make the mistake of thinking that she is a conventional woman which she is not tall. she is quite interior and has a certain modesty if that word really means much anymore. so that she didn't ever really boast about it a lot. but she was very self-directed and she came back from s.m.u. and teaching and said she
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wanted to go on to the university of texas and get her library of science degree. and she said her father said now we'll never get her a husband. to go on and get her master's degree when many people thought if you went to college at all, it was for an m.r.s. degree. and then she very purposefully moved into a part of austin which is still the barreo on the east side and taught at an almost entirely spanish speaking school. and in a very dedicated fashion deliberately chose a school where she thought she could have impact helping kids learn to read and to feel as if they were exposed to other kinds of parts of life they weren't getting. and you know, i think that's a part -- that's a part that's important and she maintains to this day. >> let me tell you how you can be involved in the program. there are three ways you can do it. we have a robust conversation going on on facebook. if you go to c-span's facebook page you'll see the picture of laura bush and join the conversation there. you can also tweet us.
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using the twitter handle @firstladies. and we'll mix as many tweets as you can and you can call us use the old fashioned telephone to be part of the conversation. we would like to hear your voice. there are two phone lines if you live in the eastern and central time zones 2025853880. if you live in the mountains pacific time zones 202-585-3881. we'll get to your calls in just a little bit. the question from twitter. someone named muppet fan 1968 asks i have a question about laura bush. was she always a republican? >> well, let me just start off by saying i'm not a fan of the muppets but i will answer the question. >> a movie coming out. >> everyone is a fan of the muppets. no. i think she supported uejoon mccarthy. i think she was a card carrying democrat for many years. i think she married into a republican family. and loves her husband. has great faith in him. and his judgment. and i think supported his
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platform. but no. she is not a -- a natural republican. >> before we leave the midland days, what's carried her through her entire life a group of gifrl friends she made in midland. how important are they to her and what do they provide for her and she for them? >> i think both she and the president have a very strong set of friends who have been thr their friends forever. and that have been really sustaining aspect for them. and come to washington, it's best to import your own friends. they've been with you at the beginning. and you know where they stand. and you know that they trust you. and you have their loyalty. and she particularly has always treasured going off with them. did that even when she was in the white house once a year they would go and have these trips where they would go rafting in the wild. and they would care for each other. >> you notted that they are mostly progressive democrats, the scope of girlfriends. what clue should that give us about her own politics?
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>> it's interesting. i think that she as mark said, i think that she -- she's very loyal to her husband. and one of the things that i have come to admire and appreciate about laura bush as she has navigated this bizarre volunteer job in the aftermath is to find areas of commonality with people with whom she might find differences. so she would campaign for republicans, for instance, but i saw her once change a speech in -- in script because the person who she was campaigning for, she was not going to attack the texas democrat. this person was running against in that specific way. i think that she has things that are very interesting to her with her friends. they care about literature. they care about the book festival. she's very much is an avid conservationist. an environmentalist. and so she finds those ways. she's pretty active in women's rights and taking those things on. >> that set of friends that you
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referenced from midland, texas, really kept them grounded, too. and those are people who knew them when. and that gave them great comfort when they were in the white house. and those are the bushes talk about the story of bringing their friends in. and president bush having his pals in the oval office. and one of his friends looks in and says, gosh, bush, can you believe it? i'm in the oval office. and they looked at george. and you're in the oval office. and they sort of -- the bushes are both very self-deprecating. and having that circle of friends around gave them great comfort during the stresses of the white house. >> laura welch and george bush were both young persons in midland, texas, did they ever meet as children? >> they did not, actually. they attended the same schools. but she says that she doesn't recall him. and they didn't -- then i think she knew who he was after a time.
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he was a roustaabout from a good family and well-known family in midland and at one point they lived in the same building at the chateau marmont in houston. but i think she thought he was a bit rascally and had other pursuits. and then her friends from midland fixed them up. and they were both -- she was 30. and he i guess was about the same age. he was ready to settle down. and they got engaged and married very quickly. in three months. >> that's one thing i wanted to ask you about and the portrait you have painted of a woman, a librarian, who is very orderly. very measured. and she did something that seeps very impetuous marrying after four months after meeting someone. how did she describe the courtship and the decision to marry so quickly after she met george w. bush? >> she had a lot of suitors in her life but none of them quite clicked. and in texas at the time, talks about feeling like kind of an old maid.
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and by texas standards, she probably was. and here comes this -- this guy, george bush, who was so different from her in so many respects. and yet so complementary. they really clicked. and so it was somewhat uncharacteristic that she would be swept up in this romance. one of the things that she talks about is that they went out on the campaign trail right after they got married. george bush campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat in congress in west texas. and they got to know each other so well on the campaign trail. they would have these endless hours of driving around the plains of west texas talking. about their lives. and i think that really helped their marriage begin on the right footing. >> what attracted laura to george they asked on twitter? they seem so different in their younger years. >> she always said he made her laugh. and she said she wanted somebody who would make her laugh. and again, she had grown up in some ways as a sort of lonely only child. she didn't have a brother or a
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sister. her mother had some miscarriages. i think she really longed to have a sibling. and she really liked his boist russ kind of cutup nature and he wanted someone who was steady. laura is steady as she goes and would settle him down. and i think that -- i see that in them still. you can never know what's in someone else's marriage. but i was struck when i saw them recently on "the tonight show." he said something and she started -- tossed her head back and giggled and laughed. and they still have that bond. that he's funny. >> one of the great moments i think for her during her first -- her tenure as first lady when she was at the white house and correspondents dinner in 2005, and she took the podium in place of her husband. and talked about the fact that he goes to bed at 9:00. and she stays up to watch "desperate housewives." and then says i am a desperate
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housewife. and have this great rapport. and again, they can sort of rib each other and very sweet. > jane is watching us in kaleen, texas. >> good evening. is it true that laura's interests in afghanistan actually began in the sixth grade? >> i've never heard that. can you tell me a little bit more about that? >> it's in her book. i can't give you the page number. but she had to write a report on a country. and she and her father, mr. welch, went to the globe and spun the globe and her finger landed on afghanistan. and she wrote that in her own book. >> i think she was talking about how exotic it felt to write about afghanistan at that time. >> i do think that when she -- i traveled with her to europe. and she toured the museum in paris, the gumet, i'm probably not pronouncing that right,
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where there are a lot of antiquities from that country and some of the artifacts that had been saved. pieces of the buddhas that had been destroyed by the taliban. she's very taken by this idea that you could have this robust civilization and then it could be blown to bits in a matter of days. and really was quite compelled by that. i mean, certainly might have been in her roots from early on, too. but she thought that was a cause worth being engaged in. >> so he ran for congress right after they got married. when she married him, did she know she was going to be marrying a politician? >> well, not exactly. i mean, he promised her she would never have to give a speech. and he broke that nearly immediately. so i think she knew he was from a very political family and describes herself as not being very political. when people use that it means that they find politics distasteful usually -- saying not very political. it means they just don't like
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it. it seems like it's nasty. and full of one upmanship and didn't have much appetite for that. and i don't think she did. >> gary robinson wants to know was laura interested in monthly particulars or thrust into it because of her relationship -- in politics or thrust into it because of her relationship with george w.? >> thrust. in a -- and no sooner had they married and hit the campaign trail in west texas. >> was that campaign being unsuccessful what was it like for them after that? >> i think he sort of had to figure out what he wanted to do. and he went into the oil business in midland. that's where i think they were there for the first 10 years of their marriage. where their daughters were born and where they raised and toddler. and childhood years. so it was -- it was -- i think it was a pretty middle class existence for a long time. until he decided to do other things. later in his life. >> was it milleds class by choice or by necessity? they came from a very -- he came from a very wealthy family. and he was in the oil business.
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did they choose to live more modestly? >> well, i think they both have a certain modesty about them in that way. that continues today. they don't have the world's hugest most well appointed house in dallas. it's certainly nice. i think he felt a strong need to make it on his own. i would defer to you. because you are working on this book about the relationship between them. but as you find with a lot of sons, he dent want to feel as if he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. or the expression is hit a single -- yeah. >> was born on third base. and thought he hit a triple. >> exactly. >> the other thing is midland is both a boom town, which it is right now. in a bus town depending on the oil industry. when he was coming up in the oil industry, it was really in bus mode. that was not a very prosperous business to be in at that time. so he struggled in that
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business before finding great success as the owner of the texas rangers. >> he always had his father's friends who were there to bail him out. so they were not uncomfortable by any stretch of the imagination. >> but twins barbara and jenna were born on november 25, 1981. and ned considered adoption before the babies were born. what was parenthood for them? and can you talk about how their children were raised? >> well, i think that she very much wanted to have children. she always knew she wanted to have children. and she always imagined herself as having a family. and i think they described that both as being a very idyllic time. and she really loved reading to these darling little girls. and raising them. and being very immersed in caring for them. i think that you -- your children find a way to challenge your preconceptions of what it's going to be like. and they had a set of twins,
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one who probably has her daddy's personality a bit more. and one who has her mother's. i think they delighted in that. and think the years they spent in austin where they were all together in what is in some ways a very close town and a very easy town to be in, they described as being idyllic years, too. >> lucy watching us in wisconsin. hi, lucy. >> good evening. i'm enjoying this. my question is, when you were talking about laura's lack of faith after the accident, was there something that had happened that caused her to find god back in her life or as it -- something like george had -- billy graham. i was curious when she said she later came back and i wonder if there was something that drove her back to believing in god. >> thank you. >> i don't know that there was a catalyst, ann, you do know of
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anything that would have been catalytic in her life that would have led her to god? >> no. i agree with you. i think that the kind of modesty that she projects and shepherds that she means that she's not really given in the same way that her husband is to talking and witnessing her faith in a public fashion. she was raised a methodist. certainly always attended church and it was part of community life. and the comfort of that i think certainly she has talked about the comfort of scripture in a way that is part of her interest in literature. and remember her picking the bible verse out after september 11. she was looking for words to give her meaning and give her strength. so i don't know if there's a catalyst. and probably more complicated than that. and i wouldn't presume to speak for her. in that way as to how she found her footing again.
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>> that caller mentioned billy graham. and aide role to play in george w. bush, embracing faith and stopping drinking. alcohol. you mentioned that when the two bushes, mrs. bush and george bush met each other, that he was a bit of a carouser. and he made that decision to give up alcohol. and i'm wondering if we know whether or not laura bush had a role in that decision or whether that was a personal one for him. >> she said to him familiesly it's either me or -- to him famously it's either me or jim beam. he realized it at a certain point and a conversation that george w. bush had with billy graham in kennebunkport. billy graham was a guest of his father's at their compound, walker's point in kennebunkport, maine. as he began talking to billy graham he began i think embracing god in a way that he hadn't before in his life. and that was -- sort of the threshold of middle age. he had turned 40. when he gave up drinking. and when he took god into his
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heart. and i think -- laura bush was extremely supportive of all the decisions that her husband made ncluding his embracing christianity in the way that he did. >> he made the decision that he wanted to make a bid for the governor's mansion in texas. laura bush, was concerned because of the twins being very young at that point. ultimately, she agreed to support him on this. alleghany wants to know what was skwlaur's experience like as first lady of texas? it seems like she would be embraced easily by the people. was she? >> she was and a low-key position and talked about how she liked ducking out the back door and going to the corner to the drugstore or going to the post office by to buy postage stamps and hard to imagine with everything that's happened after september 11 that somebody could live like that today. and she really enjoyed it and had a rich life and started the texas book festival. she very quietly once again without calling much attention
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to herself, i think had influence on him with his education initiatives. not in the sort of you will do this way. but as is the case with lots of married people, he learned about what role early childhood education had. about environmental -- early literacy and talked about the importance of that and he adopted that. and they very much enjoyed that life in those years. and for the girls, it was a little easier for them there, too. i mean, they could be part of a set of -- well connected, upper middle class kids in austin. kind of knew each other. and nobody really looked at them too harshly. >> as the son of a president, he certainly understood what life would be like in the white house. what the rigors of a campaign would be like. when he decided that he would like to throw his hat into the ring for the presidential election how supportive was laura bush at that point? >> well, i think she was supportive of his intentions. there's no question about that. and i think she was confident
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he would win. when he had his mind set on the statehouse in texas, when everyone thought he was going to lose to ann richards she knew he was going to win and that he was tenacious in his drive for things. and i think she had that same faith when he tossed his hat in the ring in 2000. >> for a woman who was promised she would never have to make a speech in 2000, she was asked to address the national audience at the republican convention. we're going to show you a clip from that when many people in the public got to hear her voice for the first time. let's watch. >> i'm so thrilled and i'm honored to be here. and i'll have to say i'm just a little bit overwhelmed. to help open the convention that will nominate my husband for president of the united tates. the president is our most visible symbol of our country. of its heart and its values and
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its leadership in the world. and when americans vote this november, they'll be looking for someone to uphold that honor and that trust. you can see it in the pictures. the pictures are one of the most compelling stories of this campaign. we first saw them on our very first campaign trip. they're the pictures of america's future. moms and dads and grandparents bring them to parades and picnics. they hold out pictures of their children. and they say to george, i'm counting on you. i want my son or daughter to respect the president of the nited states of america. cheers and applause] >> ann gerhart, that comment about respect came on the heels of the clinton impeachment and
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what would unfold to be a very contentious campaign in 2000. of course with the ultimate recount in florida, etc. can you talk about their transition, the clintons' transition and the bushes and that acrimony politically and how the bushes established themselves in the white house after that election. >> well, a very important advantage. they had been there before in a way. because george bush's father was the president of the united states. and had spent plenty of time there. i think that they had some guidance as to what that felt like and what that looked like with the contours of that are like. running for president is a marathon. and if you get there or you don't, you're in for a surprise either way. that's a very steep learning curve. and i think they had some exposure to that. so that transition was somewhat eased for them by that. it was a famously bitter recount. laura bush spent most of that time in austin. as did george bush. and she talked about how she
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tried to keep herself busy. there was just this time to wait. and not to -- didn't get things started really too much because she wasn't sure what would happen and once they were sworn in she spent many months not being in washington. she had two daughters who were going off to college. she wanted to make sure she got them settled and saw that as her first responsibility. and she was only beginning to figure out what she was going to do and how she was going to focus her attention when september 11 came along. >> so with that theme, mark updegrove, historic proportions. we have second impeesmment in history. just before the election. we have a supreme court making a decision. and the outcome of the election. how difficult is it for a presidency to establish itself in the wake of all of this turmoil? >> well, i think -- i looked up what ann said. they transitioned into the
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white house life relatively easily. and it's interesting. right before 9-11 occurred, laura bush started hitting her stride as first lady. she had just had her first state dinner i think for the president of mexico. she had just done the first national book festival using the texas book festival as a template. she was really starting to hit her groove as -- in that role. and then 9-11 occurred. and it's interesting. she talked about a friend of hers. who had called her and said when you first took on this role, i thought oh, man, i don't envy her at all but now i envy you. because you have a role to play. a very important role to play as our nation picks itself back up in the wake of this tragedy. and she did an admirable job of it. >> michael is watching us here in washington, d.c., hi, michael. you're on. >> i have two questions. laura bush as conservative in
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her politics, like abortion, gay marriage, she recently spoke out on gay marriage as her husband is? and does she still smoke cigarettes like she -- like jackie condition did i, a closet -- kennedy, a closet smoker? >> she began smoking as a teenager in midland, texas, does she still smoke today? >> we don't know that. there are some people who said she will sneak a cigarette once in a while but she said she gave that up. because knew it wasn't good for her and her daughters didn't like that. and she knew that it wasn't healthy. and politics, i think that she like many -- her mother-in-law before her, barbara bush, who was married to a congressman rom houston, who championed, you know, funding for planned parenthood 40 years ago, like
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those women, they sometimes will give that sense that they are more liberal than their husbands. and that can work well for the party. there's not necessarily evidence that that is true. so i don't know that we can really answer that. i think that in terms of her personal view of the world, i would say that she is not a judgmental and harsh person. but i think that she also certainly has never felt that it was her role to crusade on behalf of causes. such as reproductive rights. or benefits for same sex couples. i think she has tried to have her impact in areas which we might consider safe subjects that everyone can get behind. but which she would feel and i would argue correctly can have impact. you know, her foundation gives $1 million away to libraries
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every year. which are woefully inadequately funded across the country. the book festival remains. and a persistent legacy, 200,000 people went to it last year. and she admired lady bird johnson because all these years later, after what was considered a sort of flimsy initiative to put wild flowers on the nation's highways, they bloom year after year and bring a sense of beauty. so she's tried to make her impact where she could and let her deeds speak for herself rather than espousing political positions. >> i don't think she's an ideologue. i think that's right. what you saw with lady bird johnson and you alluded to this a first lady could take on a cause and they had their own bully pulpit in a sense and take on a cause and make a real difference without world events sort of coming across their desk and they're having to react. and then 9-11 occurred. and instead of getting deeply involved in education, or
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literacy as she would have liked, she had to do other things. >> you both referenced the national book festival. which she emulated on her model that she built in texas. and she was working on it in just days before the 9-11 attacks. we have a clip next from september 8, 2001. when first lady laura bush was on the national mall in washington. she was actually in the library of congress. talking about the first annual national book festival. let's watch. >> one thing that i like about both this festival and the national book festival and the texas book festival is that they're right here in the capital. we're right now on the steps of the library of congress with the united states capital behind us. and i love the whole idea and the symbolism of books and the ideas and books with our national government and our democracy. because the ideas in books are really what are so important to our democracy. >> so both of you are authors. and the publishing industry generally has been thought to
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be a little bit left of center over the years. was there any skepticism on the part of book writers or publishers about a conservative first lady getting involved in the national book festival? and if so, how did she mitigate it? >> i think the texas book festival was enormously successful and gathered writers as first lady of texas. who didn't necessarily share the politics of her husband. and they had a wonderful experience. and i think that might have helped. but it's -- i think books are an easy cause to get behind. whether you're liberal or conservative. and so that was an easy rallying point. >> she did have an issue in the white house then after the war began in which she hasn't had -- a series of symposiums, one on libraries and history of libraries and the role they had played. and one that she was going to do on poetry. and she had invited a number of american poets. some of whom were very much
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left of center. and very opposed to the war. and quite outspoken on that subject. and spoke out about it. said they wouldn't come. if they did, they would protest. and in the end, hue and cry, got loud enough that she canceled it in the face of that. so it was not without controversy. she certainly wasn't universally accepted. and there have been a number of libraries over time who have questioned whether she has thrown her might into the fight over educational texts and the idea of whether we teach evolution or whether we teach sex education and family size abstinence. those kinds of i would say intellectual arguments have sometimes sort of ensnared her. despite her efforts to stay away from that. >> on that note, miguel martinez on facebook references
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that incident. mrs. bush invited and disinvited poets to the white house. has mrs. bush ever commented directly on that debacle as this viewer calls it -- has she ever spoken out about what that meent? >> not that i'm aware of. >> i don't think -- not that i'm aware of. i think that she has a tendency to say that it is unfortunate that people can't come together and have a civilized discussion. that once again, you might be able to find some common ground if you can get beyond that rhetoric. but i don't think that she has spoken about it directly. >> martha is watching us in alexandria, virginia, in the washington suburbs. hi, martha, you're on. >> hey, thank you so much for taking my call. you know, it's interesting. that between laura bush and last week hillary clinton, they are two women of my generation. one has chosen one path.
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one has chosen another path. both women i admire very much. the one success they've had is they have both raised strong, successful young women. can you comment on the difference between the two and why? thank you. >> thanks very much. >> on the difference between the two and why they've both managed to raise strong women or -- >> that's what she's implying. >> very different women and their children are both strong -- >> i guess i believe this myself, i would like to think is a strong woman who i hope has raised strong and successful daughters, i think there should be room in america for all kinds of women to have all kinds of personalities and temperaments and paths. and to devote our attention in
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whatever ways we want to. whether we set aside our own careers for a time. whether we pick them back up again. whether we stitch our lives together through the decades. make it work within our own families. we each have our own ways we can pursue that. and yet we can all reach the same kinds of levels of what we would feel is satisfaction. and success in raising our children. yes, i think they are very different. and as first ladies, i would say a lot of these first ladies, will tell you that they saw their time in office as being primarily to be a support to their husband. and i think there are people that rubs the wrong way. and feel like it's an anti-feminist position. you should be able to work. you should be able to certainly pursue your own interests and maybe you can disagree with your husband. but i think that particularly -- hot house of being in the white house, and the stresses
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on any couple who is in that job, if you don't have a strong partnership, that president is not going to be as successful as he can be, and -- or positive put it another way will be less successful than he might have been. and i think certainly george bush has spoken about that directly. and every one of them has spoken about that. i think it's a partnership that is an integral one to actually the health of the american democracy. >> in november of 2001 just shortly after the attacks, laura bush made a bit of first lady history by becoming the first first lady to deliver the president's weekly radio address. which is a many -- which is a custom and here is a reflection and you'll hear a little bit of that address that she gave. >> laura bush, did it surprise you at first when you first became first lady at the platform? >> yeah. >> that you were given and the voice you had? >> i didn't -- i knew it. i knew that of course. i knew it intellectually
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because i had seen my mother-in-law. and the platform that she had to talk about literacy. which it was her particular interest. i had seen lady bird johnson. and how she had influenced me even here. at home in texas. because of her interest in native plants. i didn't really know it until i made the president's radio address. presidential radio address. and that -- in that fall of 2001 after the terrorist attacks to talk about what -- the way women and children were treated by the taliban. and afghanistan. >> good morning. i'm laura bush. and i am delivering this week's radio address to kick off a worldwide effort to focus on the brutality against women and children by the al qaeda terrorist network and the regime it supports in afghanistan. the taliban. that regime is now in retreat. across much of the country. and the people of afghanistan especially women are rejoicing. afghan women know through hard
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experience what the rest of the world is discovering. the brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists. not only because our hearts break for the women and children in afghanistan, but also because in afghanistan, we see the world, the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of us. all of us have an obligation to speak out. we may come from different backgrounds. and faiths. but parents, the world over, love their children. we respect our mothers, our sisters, and daughters. fighting brutality against women and children is not the expression of a specific culture. it's the acceptance of our common humanity. and that's the first time i really realized that people heard me. and that -- what i said, people listened to. and so then i knew from then on, although i think you don't ever really know it intellectually.
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until maybe after you leave. and see what the platform is. >> that experience helped laura bush find her voice as first lady. >> she did find her voice on that issue. and she talks about going to austin to visit her daughter at the university of texas. jenna was attending college there at the time. and going to -- with jenna to a department store. and there were a couple of middle eastern women behind the counter who thanked her for making that speech. and raising awareness about the brutal treatment of women under the taliban in afghanistan. and she realized at that moment what a profound difference that she could make. when you're in a studio, making a radio address, you don't see the people that it affects. but it was that mofmente that told her that she was making a difference. >> and how did she use that voice when she found it? >> well, i think that she's always been torn. because she is one of the few people i've ever encountered in washington who refuses to take credit for what she has
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accomplished. that is city where people are always taking credit for things they have nothing to do anything with. and for instance, she was instrumental in spurring a program whereby liz claiborne nd the singer sewing machine company donated goods to women in afghanistan so they could become self-sufficient. our previous caller, one of the things she and hillary clinton share as very different women is this fervent belief that societies can't be successful if they don't take a advantage of half their population. and those half of populations in poverty so she was very interested in doing that. although i can remember pressing her repeatedly to say how does secretary chow get involved? how did liz claiborne get involved? and she mumbled out, well, i talked to secretary chow. but i think finding her voice for her, her bully pulpit is
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results based i guess i would say. way he has -- to use it in that gets results and raise money and she does that today. she travels quite a bit i've noticed and speaks on behalf of a lot of organizations who are raising money for things she believes in. like a couple times a month, from what i can see, -- >> connie is watching us in east lansing, michigan. hi, connie. >> how are you? >> great. what's your question for us? >> hillary clinton and laura bush have either a project or a foundation that they both work on or their staffs both work on. and i'm wondering if you could explain or talk about that a little bit. i'm sorry we don't hear more about it. >> ok. both first ladies have foundations. can you talk about how this works even in the world of campaign giving and finance and how one can be in public life and accept contributions like this and what it does politically? >> well, ann just alluded to the fact that laura bush continues to work on the issues that were of importance to her
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as first lady through the bush institute so the bush center is a conglomeration of a number of different interests including the bush foundation which is a benefactor to all things bush including the bush library and the bush institute. and so the bushes continue to further the causes that they began to take initiatives of toward in the white house. >> they do that with the help of donors. >> and the bush institute raises money and in turn goes into the bush institute. and the projects relating it to the bush library as well. >> now, in the case of laura bush, her husband isn't going to be running for president again. and she certainly isn't going to be running for president herself. so in some ways while there could be influence that those donors might gain, if there were another bush, for instance, to run for president, yes, i think that's possible. but in some ways, i guess i think that they're sort of protected at this point from that. that -- however, in the case of
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mrs. clinton, and the clinton global initiative, i think that that remains an area that the public rightfully wants some watchfulness on. and i think those of us in journalism continue to try to track. because if she were to run again, then those people who have paid her money for speeches or have donated to her various causes have a relationship with her that we would want to examine. >> everyone watching this program knows about the many challenges this country faced during the eight years of the bush administration. it was a difficult time for the country. not only the 9-11 attacks but after that, the decision to pursue the wars in iraq and afghanistan. also during that time period, there was hurricane katrina. and ultimately the 2008 financial crisis. and on the domestic policy side, the big initiative, was no child left behind, major
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education -- administration's major education initiative. laura bush continued to pursue her own interests even as the country responded to the various bush administration policies. how challenging is it? this is -- we've seen this the series about first ladies standing beside their husbands as the public opinion of their work changes. how challenging is that for a spouse to see the increased criticism that the person that you're married to is receiving in the public eye? >> i think it's very difficult for them to see the scrutiny examined at their husbands. you know, i think -- because they know the man. they know the real person. and very often we can get caught up in the heat of the moment when we scrutinize our presidents. and if you always become caricatures in a way, and so for laura bush, who is so deeply in love with her husband to say the way he was treated must have hurt deeply. she continued to stand by him. i think she traveled far more
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in his second term than she did in the first term. and she was -- because again, she had found a voice on so many issues particularly relating to women. and tried to further that cause by hitting the road. and trying to be -- trying to better explain his policies to our nation and to the world. >> and in 2004, the re-election bid for laura bush was on the road extensively during the campaign year. and this next clip shows you one of the challenges of being a first lady when you're trying to pursue your on agenda and that pesky press corps continues to ask questions. let's watch. >> i'm very proud of no child left behind act and i'm proud of the way that schools and all across the country are rallying to make the goals of that act. and it's also the same goal. we all have the same goals. and that's to make sure every child has a great education. there's a very large hievement gap between poor
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tle one schools and students -- and that's what we have to address. it's not fair in our country to have that much of an achievement gap. >> in the last couple of weeks for you, watching your husband be criticized so widespread around the world for the behavior of the american military. >> well, i'm sorry about that. but those prison photos don't reflect the vast majority of our military. and they certainly don't reflect the values of the people of the united states of america. terrible that the good news is those people will be prosecuted. there will be transparency in what happened. and that's one of the benefits of living in a free country.
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so i'm sorry about those photographs. i'm sorry about what happened to the iraqi prisoners. because it >> what are you seeing there? >> i think one of the things we never talked much about our qualities of leadership. we talk about leadership in terms of chief executives, people who we elected to put in charge. leadership is also being specific and targeted and focused about how much time you have and what you can accomplish with that time you have. in the case of laura bush, particularly in that second term, when she realizes it is her last chance to have an impact, there are many things she may be concerned about that she may discuss privately with her husband that she is not going to relate to the rest of us. the idea of trying to remain focused on the areas where she
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could have impact in knowing that she could fritter away her time if she doesn't remain what we would call on message, i think with 10 years past, i would leave it to viewers to decide if there is sincerity there or not, whether she does in fact say i'm very sorry about that, or whether she is simply trying to take a pass on it. for the most part it is an anomaly to have her address that there. >> she was speaking about education and initiatives. what was her role in no child left behind?
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as a teacher, did she support the direction the reform policies were taking? >> president bush campaigned talking about the soft bigotry of low expectations. they really wanted to narrow that achievement gap. what she said that night behind closed doors, we don't know. she said if i had differences with my husband, i wouldn't be telling you. she supported his policy by speaking about it publicly. >> on the international front, she traveled extensively, as you mentioned. she ultimately visited nearly 75 countries. she became very much involved in the president's african aids relief and malaria eradication
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efforts and also met with burmese refugees and exiles at the white house. she chose to be involved internationally. >> i think what drove a lot of those decisions was the issue of women's rights, and in this societies in which they work. an extension of that was women wanted to know that they could raise their children to have lives that were sustained and successful as best they could. and human rights flowed out of that, the teachings of the dalai lama he have been of interest to her in a way philosophically there have been a couple of members of the family that have been engaged in that.
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i think she saw a female leader in a country that had been repressed and that moved her. what do you think about that? >> why he got involved in aids relief in africa, where no other president really had given much thought to africa. george w. bush did by far more for the continent of africa than any other president. the reason is, to whom much is given, much is required. he saw that he could do something about aids. he thought if he didn't do that, if he didn't take a chance and invest money in that cause in the eradication of that insidious disease, he would be judged in years to come. i think a lot of it had to do with his religious faith. and i think laura bush shares that.
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>> this is kathy in illinois. >> the reason i was calling is, earlier in this program the question was raised about when laura found her faith once more. i had read her book and she mentioned, i lost my faith that november, lost it for many, many years. if i recall correctly, when she was on the book tour, programs where people were interviewing her about the book she had written, she was asked when did you find your faith? she said it came back to her gradually and she mentioned when her twin daughters were born, she said good things started happening and i found my faith gradually. i found it interesting on that subject in her book, she also mentioned, she said the one fact
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is i had faith that one is never alone. i think that probably sums up how she felt about her faith. >> thank you very much for calling and adding to our discussion. another issue is social policy issues. an earlier caller mentioned, here is what she writes in her memoir. on the issue of abortion, how rarely the alternative of adoption is raised. there are so many family members who adopted. george and i were expecting to be one of those. infertility is the issue that is most personal to them. we are a nation of different generations and beliefs. we have always believed abortion is a private decision and no one should walk in anyone else's shoes. something that she and george w differ on.
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>> a thing she said publicly when she was first lady she was not in favor of overturning roe versus wade. she was asked whether gay people had slept at the white house while she was first lady lady, and she said possibly. the interviewer asked her if she would object if that were the case, and she said certainly not. she let her views be known in subtle ways, i think. you mentioned that she and president bush had trouble conceiving. in fact, they went to adoption organizations to see if they could adopt twins, and ended up having their own set of twins. >> we have been talking a lot in this program about the amount of work she did on the road and throughout the 20th century first ladies, that has been a story told again and again. we asked her about whether or
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not first ladies should earn a salary for all their work. >> should the first lady receive a salary? >> i don't think so. there are plenty of perks, believe me. a chef -- that was really great. i miss the chef. i don't think so. i think the interesting question really is not should they receive a salary, but should they be able to work for a salary at their job that they might have already had? i think that is what we will have to come to terms with. for certainly a first gentleman, they might continue to work at whatever he did, if he was a lawyer or whatever. so i think that is really the question we should ask. should she have a career during those years that her husband is president, in addition to serving as first lady? >> at the state level, some first spouses have been able to
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pursue their own careers. what about conflict of interest? is it possible for someone in this day and age to having a life fully outside the white house? >> i think we have to give it a try and see how we think it works out. i think there are certainly the ceremonial aspects of the job or you might be able to find some flexibility. we have had other presidents who have gotten married and had hostesses who carry that on for them. some of those really old-fashioned ways of being -- i think it is a relational job. it is not a political job in many ways, being first lady. it is a job about tending to the
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principal in its highest form. i'm not suggesting that a first lady is a staff member, but i'm saying that -- she once said to me, being the wife of george bush is her most important job, whether her husband is president or not. by that, i took her to mean that that is her primary relational core of life, and she has other pursuits and she certainly has hobbies, many of which he doesn't share that she takes on on her own. but i think anyone would be hard-pressed to continue, but there is always a first time for everything. >> i would think they would say the most important role they play was at pillar of strength to their husband, being there. >> when we have a female president, which i'm sure we will, i'm sure that spouse will feel the same way about supporting her.
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>> we have a chart about the president's popularity ratings during his eight years in office. as you can see, it peaked enormously after the 9/11 attack and then continued downward through the years of his presidency. laura bush, however, remained popular with the american public. in 2006, she had a much higher rating than the president. what does this say about the american public and their ability to see separately the roles of the people in the white house? >> i think that the american people are pretty wise. in many ways, they certainly know that she hasn't been elected to that position, that she somewhat is there by virtue of her relationship to the president.
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she does what she needs to do. she cannot be held responsible entirely for the political decisions he makes. i suppose that sounds naïve to a lot of people, but people would say she seems so like this or like that. she really likes bob marley, so what does she think when she talks to him because he is a warmongering man? that is the wrong question. you are speaking as a voter and a citizen. but she is his wife. she is a constituent, but that is not her primary role. >> dennis is watching us in brooklyn. >> thank you for this series, it is great.
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my question for the panel is, was she more compassionate and sympathetic than other recent first ladies? i remember her saying she would daily read the new york times profiles of the dead were published at the time and recall her many visits to the walter reed hospital to visit veterans. was this rooted in her being a wartime first lady, or does it fit in with her personality and demeanor in general? >> i think it was both. there aren't too many first ladies who are overtly political. i think she played a more traditional role as first lady then say hillary clinton or eleanor roosevelt. the things the gentleman mentioned were very much consistent with her personality,
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reading the obituaries of the dead and comforting people in need, that was very much part of her personality. >> this was her trip to the white house correspondents dinner. just as nancy reagan had done two decades earlier, she went to the press corps to have people see her in a different light then perhaps they did when covering her regularly. you will remember this time when she spoke up surprisingly. >> the city slicker asked the old guy how to get to the nearest town. >> not that old joke. not again. [applause] >> george always says he is delighted to come to these press dinners. baloney. [laughter] he is usually in bed by now.
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i'm not kidding. i said to him the other day, george, if you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later. [applause] i am married to the president of the united states, and here is our typical evening. 9:00 -- mr. excitement here, sound asleep. and i'm watching "desperate housewives." [applause] with lyn cheney. ladies and gentlemen, i am a
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desperate housewife. >> laura bush at the 2005 white house correspondents dinner. it was well received. one of the things we have talked about with each of the first ladies profiles is her stewardship of the white house. during her time in the white house, laura bush did a restoration of the lincoln bedroom. we will watch as she talks about that, next. >> we have refurbished the lincoln bedroom. i would say that is the biggest renovation project that we worked on. it was last done by truman when he set it up to be the lincoln bedroom, to have the lincoln furniture in it. when lincoln lived here, the room was his office. when truman redid the house in the late 1940's and early 1950's, he set up that room, the room we now call the lincoln bedroom, to commemorate the fact that it was lincoln's office, and it was the room he signed the emancipation proclamation in.
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so the room itself is really a shrine, i think, to american history. truman re-did the room then and it had never been refurbished, so it really needed it. the carpet was over 50 years old. i had worked with the white house historical association, the preservation board who are furniture curators, they are the real scholars, and the white house curator, of course. we looked back at the wallpaper lincoln had in his office, at the carpet he had in his office, and we did reproductions of those. then we had old photographs of the way mary todd lincoln dressed the lincoln bedroom the purple and gold and fringe and lace, high victorian decorations. we did have later photographs with the bed still dressed the way she had dressed it, so we
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did that again. >> how did the bushes used the white house as a social instrument during their years? what was entertaining like while we had wars going on? >> i think they had only really begun to entertain, i think it backfired literally because they had fireworks and they had not warned everybody that it was happening, so they sort of exploded all over town. then after september 11, i think there was a great deal of thought as to what was appropriate and how to do it. i think laura bush was instrumental in seeing the white house as a living, historical institution and using it as a way to help people understand what the lives had been like for people who lived there at the time and the way it reflects the period in the context of the time. the meticulous need to re-create
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what mary lincoln had done is also about showing the tenor of the time and what was considered the right way to be. they favored smaller gatherings, certainly. she was right, he went to bed at 9:00 at night. >> let me take a call from david in utah. >> i was calling to ask about laura bush's influence on all politics or the democratic rights in burma. i know she was championing that at the beginning of the second bush administration. >> i found it kind of curious and i wish i knew more about that. i have not been able to understand exactly what moved her to do that. she really became quite outspoken in a way i would argue
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that is her most forceful and surprising role as a first lady to wade into foreign policy in an area where the united states had been not all that engaged in speaking out against the generals and all that. she is persistent, and i think that continues to this day along with her interest in women's rights in afghanistan. she recently appeared with secretary kerry and former secretary clinton at the state department to make this plea to not leave women behind. the issue about burma is a fascinating one, and i don't know very much about where that is coming from. >> she mentioned the white house historical association. i want to remind you that the white house historical association has been our partner in this series.
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i'm cognizant of our time here. i want to put on the record some of laura bush's accomplishments in office. as we mentioned, the first first lady to deliver the president's weekly radio address, the founder of the national book festival, which continues to this day, visited more than 75 countries during her eight years in the white house, and renovated the lincoln bedroom, among those that we are highlighting. in 2009, she became a private citizen again. how has she approached that aspect of her life? >> they went very comfortably back into their private life. i don't think they missed the grandeur of the white house. i think they eased very gracefully into private life in dallas. mrs. bush continues to be very much involved with the bush center, which i referenced
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earlier, which includes the bush library. she was instrumental in the planning of the bush library and i think her touch can be seen in the ground surrounding it with its native grasses and native plants, something she had great passion for. she continues to lead a very full life. she continues to pursue some of the causes that were dear to her as first lady. >> you think you have just a brief time, but your impact does continue. she actually has more room to continue to be involved in these policy initiatives then a former president does or has suggested he wants to. he doesn't think it is right for a president to be criticizing another. she and mrs. obama have had -- they have worked together on a number of things and she and the
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secretary -- she has been surprisingly and happily engaged in a way she thought she might not be. >> we have a clip of her trip to africa with the current first lady, michelle obama. let's watch that's next. >> that is why we are launching the first lady's initiative. we want to convene this annually to highlight the significant role that they can play in addressing pressing issues in their country. >> i get asked, especially in the first term, are you more like laura bush or hillary clinton? i'm like, is that it? >> everyone said, are you hillary clinton or barbara bush? i said, i think i will be laura bush, having grown up as her.
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>> you have had the opportunity to see these first lady's talking about the role. what you hear is the desire of the part of the public to typecast, and their desire to be themselves. >> they will always be compared to their predecessors, are you going to be a more traditional first lady like mamie eisenhower or an activist like eleanor roosevelt? which one will you be? i think they all put their unique stamp on the role, and laura bush was no exception. >> her memoir, you have talked along the way about what a guarded individual she was. when you read her memoir, was it more -- >> i was interested in hearing from her in her own words what she wants to reveal about who she is and what she reveals about what is important. i think one of the keys to understanding laura bush is that she is a reader.
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that is an integral part. the gentleman david who called in from provo and wanted to know about whether she was more empathetic. i think that she finds power in the narrative and in story and in the human story. that is what she responds to. that is what touches her. that is what compels her to act, in many ways. i gathered from her a deeper understanding from that book the meaning of the west texas land, the sound of the wind, the great giants of texas literature who have come before her that she returns to again and again. that is really a key to understanding who she is. she is not a crusader as much as she is a reader, and that informs the way she looks at life in many ways. >> she talked about the incongruity of being in west texas and reading plato.
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and leaving midland through those pages, through those narratives. i think it is exceptionally well-written. i was far more interested in the first part of it, which is the story of her growing up in midland. she writes so poetically about her duties as first lady which often gets into one ceremony after another. it is difficult to write compellingly about one's tenure as first lady because it is so ceremonial in nature. >> i want to thank you very much for this program. my question is, we have many influential first ladies who go back through history. that could be hillary clinton, michelle obama, or laura bush. what is the most important thing you believe that laura bush has done for women's rights? susan, of all the first ladies,
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which ones have impressed you the most? >> i'm going to pass on that. did she make any advances for women's rights, the caller wants to know? >> i think with all these first ladies, it is really hard to judge them in the contemporary times in which we are in now. i would defer to my historian colleague here. i write about the now, in many ways. i think it's too soon for us to know exactly what kind of impact laura bush has had, in terms of women's rights. i think she has been a representative in her own way for rights in a way that is not as expected as someone who has crusaded. what i'm trying to say is, does it come from a more traditional mean, to speak from that
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position on behalf of women who do not have opportunities? in some ways it makes them more effective because it is not quite as expected. >> both the bushes take the long view of history. laura bush talks about the fact that she admired her husband for taking a long view of history and making difficult decisions during the course of his presidency that would not necessarily manifest themselves in popularity. i think you are right, his presidency, how it is reflected, is very much in the balance. we will see what happens. he knows that and most historians know that. her contributions as first lady will be revealed as we begin to see the forest for the trees. >> we have just a couple of minutes left. people have asked along the way and i have been negligent in asking on their behalf, since
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she is the only first lady to have had a mother-in-law who served in the role, people are curious about the relationship between the two of them. what can you tell us? >> i think they have a good relationship, and a strong relationship, as best as i can tell. i wouldn't presume to say you know exactly what is between a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. barbara bush has a large personality. when she first came to kennebunkport, she was said to say, what do you do? she said, i read, i smoke, and i admire. that was her way of saying this is who i am and what i'm going to be doing, and i may not fit some mold. i think she respected very much her mother-in-law's life.
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barbara bush, for her part, has been very grateful to laura for settling down her boy. >> there is great mutual admiration. they are very different women, but i think that's right. i think barbara bush saw in laura bush the qualities of a great political partner, a great spouse for her husband as he embarked on a political career. >> jenna is an nbc correspondent and they gave george and laura their first grandchild. as we close tonight, i want to say thank you to our guests for helping us understand more about the life and times and the still unfolding legacy of laura bush.


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