First Lady Laura Bush
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JIM LEHRER: Mrs. Bush, welcome.
LAURA BUSH: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Are you enjoying being the First Lady?
LAURA BUSH: I am enjoying it. I really am enjoying it. I’m having a good time talking about teaching all over America. I was in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, this week, and the San Diego Naval Yard a few weeks ago to talk about the Troops to Teachers Program, which is a federally funded program that actually pays a stipend to retiring military so they’ll get their teacher’s certificate or a masters in education and come into the classroom and teach after they’ve retired.
JIM LEHRER: What about the spotlight on you personally and your family and all of that, is that bothering you?
LAURA BUSH: Well, not really. I think George and I were so aware, because his dad had been President and we had been up here a lot and then really because the spotlight was similar when he was Governor of Texas, of what the spotlight would be.
JIM LEHRER: Anything happen so far that you find over the line, a little bad taste, or a real serious invasion of your privacy?
LAURA BUSH: No, no, not really. I hate the stories – all the stories about how I dress.
JIM LEHRER: There was a story in the Washington Post this morning about your beige now – you’re not wearing beige today.
LAURA BUSH: On purpose I’m not wearing beige.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think the press overdid it in the coverage of your daughter, Jenna’s arrest on a minor drinking.
LAURA BUSH: Not arrest, Jenna wasn’t arrested.
JIM LEHRER: No, but I mean a citation, whatever.
LAURA BUSH: Citation.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think they should have covered that at all and made a news story out of it?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I understand why they did. Our girls are doing great, though. Our girls are really good girls, and they’re – we want them to have as much privacy as they can possibly have. So I hope, and I actually think the mainstream media has been pretty careful about leaving them alone, and I hope they’ll continue to do that.
JIM LEHRER: And the girls are adjusting to this all right?
LAURA BUSH: They are, they’re doing great. They’re adjusting to finishing their freshman year in college and they’re doing great.
JIM LEHRER: Now you mentioned education and things like that that you’re interested in. Libraries and reading seem to be the main focus, am I right about that?
LAURA BUSH: Well, that’s right – and teaching. I hope to recruit teachers. We’re going to be in a desperate shortage of teachers in a few years as our student population increases. And I think a lot of people who might have chosen teaching have chosen other careers now because of course a lot of other careers pay better than teaching. But I think teaching is really one of the most important professions. Teachers impact children everywhere and they certainly impact our whole country and our future, so I hope to recruit people to become teachers.
JIM LEHRER: You’ve said that many times – and everybody says that – teachers are very, very important.
LAURA BUSH: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: But they don’t seem to get the appreciation of our society. Why not?
LAURA BUSH: Well, maybe because in our society we value the people who make a lot of money and they don’t. But I do think that most children’s parents really admire their child’s teacher. And I know all of us remember a teacher who changed our lives in some way. All of us have learned something from a teacher that, that made us learn something about ourselves that we didn’t know before. Certainly, my life was influenced by my second grade teacher. After I had her as a teacher, I wanted to be just like her. So I grew up and went to college and became a teacher. So I think that teachers are really important, and I do think we value them.
JIM LEHRER: We do value them — you really do believe we do?
LAURA BUSH: I think we do, although in our society, like I said earlier, we value most the people we pay the most – sports stars.
JIM LEHRER: You’ve said many times that books are one of the most important things. Where did that come from?
LAURA BUSH: Well, my mother loved books. My mother read to me all the time, and I just love to read. I learned to love to read. And reading has just been one of the great joys of my life. And I think that it really can be the great joy of everyone’s life. I hope that other people, children learn to read and learn to love to read, but I also hope that parents realize how important it is to read to their children. It doesn’t just let your child know that reading’s important, but it lets your child know that they’re important. When parents take the time to sit with their arm around their child everyday and read daily to them, it’s really a wonderful message, and it’s a great chance for parents to have some intimacy with their child while they read to them.
JIM LEHRER: Would it be an invasion of your privacy to ask what books you’re reading now?
LAURA BUSH: No, it wouldn’t be.
JIM LEHRER: What are you reading?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I have several on my bedside table. I’m reading a biography of Edith Wharton that happened to be here in the White House collection, which I’m enjoying.
JIM LEHRER: Do you like Edith Wharton?
LAURA BUSH: I do like Edith Wharton a lot. And I’ve never really known that much about her life, and so this is the first biography I have of her. I have a new book from Thomas Mallon who Lynn Cheney just sent me one of his books, his newest book, which is called “Two Moons.” But this one that he then sent me is called “Henry and Clare,” and it’s about the couple who were with Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln in that box in the Ford Theater when Lincoln was assassinated, and I think –
JIM LEHRER: Great idea for a book.
LAURA BUSH: most of us don’t know about what that couple – what happened to them. It’s historical fiction. But I’m interested in reading that. Yesterday, Nathaniel Philbrick, who’s the new National Book Award Winner, visited the White House and his book is a book that the President immediately picked up. It’s on the Essex, which was a whaling ship that was sunk by a whale, by an enraged whale. And then the survivors went off in whaleboats and then were rescued after months. But, anyway, I think it will be a very thrilling and interesting book.
JIM LEHRER: That’s terrific. You were also a librarian, a school librarian, and, as I’m sure you know, the librarian community right now is involved in a big debate about what are called filters.
LAURA BUSH: Internet filters.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. What do you think about that? Let’s explain what we’re talking about here. It’s filtering out the material that would be considered inappropriate for children off of computers in public libraries. What do you think?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I think there’s actually legislation or a law that has to do with libraries, public libraries or school libraries, making sure that there’s a filter on the Internet on computers that children have access to. I see the point of that. I understand that people don’t want their children to be exposed to pornography, for instance, that might be on the Internet. I think librarians always have picked materials that are appropriate for their audience. Children’s librarians, for instance, pick good children’s books that are appropriate for children, and so I can see why the – why some people want there to be Internet filters — so that children see material that’s appropriate for children.
JIM LEHRER: The American Library Association, among others, object to this very strongly -
LAURA BUSH: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: — on First Amendment grounds. What is your own view?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I think that – I actually think that they should use things that make the Internet appropriate for children on computers that children have access to.
JIM LEHRER: On another issue: Your husband’s budget has cut the funds for a program called Reading is Fundamental. Now, this is a program that you and your mother-in-law, Barbara Bush –
LAURA BUSH: — have actually been on the advisory board.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think of that? What do you think about it?
LAURA BUSH: Well, he didn’t really — his budget didn’t really cut funds for Reading is Fundamental. The funds are still there, but they’re earmarked for states, rather than being earmarked for Reading is Fundamental, they are there for states to access that money. I think that’s an important program. I also think many programs like Reading is Fundamental should raise private funds, which they do; they also raise private funds to make sure books get into the hands of children who might not have books in their home. But I do think Reading is Fundamental is a very important program.
JIM LEHRER: Bill Truehart, I’m sure you know, is the head of this.
LAURA BUSH: I do.
JIM LEHRER: — says 70 percent of their funding comes from the federal government and they’ll have to shut down if they don’t get the federal funds.
LAURA BUSH: I hope that’s not the case, and I don’t think that’s right. I think Reading is Fundamental still can get funds from the federal government, money —
JIM LEHRER: A different route?
LAURA BUSH: A different route. Money that’s going to states, states can earmark that for Reading is Fundamental, and also, I think, they can raise money like many other non-profits do.
JIM LEHRER: But this is not something you’re going to do something about as First Lady to try to change the federal government’s funding on this?
LAURA BUSH: Well, actually, I don’t know if I’d say that; I might try to do something about that if I can.
JIM LEHRER: I just read – tell me if this is right or wrong – there is a historical preservation program called Save our Treasures.
LAURA BUSH: Saving America’s Treasurers.
JIM LEHRER: Saving America’s Treasures. And the story said that you really did intercede in that to save that money, $30 million, is that right?
LAURA BUSH: Well, yes, I guess that’s right. I’m very interested in historical preservation and so is the President. In fact, in Texas, one of his initiatives was to save our county courthouses, and, I know you know as a Texan, what those old county courthouses are like.
JIM LEHRER: A terrific program.
LAURA BUSH: And so I’m very interested in that and I wanted to continue with Saving America’s Treasures.
JIM LEHRER: The question is where I’m leading to, of course, is that – do you feel an obligation to use your clout as First Lady?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I wouldn’t say an obligation, but I have a wonderful opportunity. When I was the First Lady of Texas, Linda Gail White, a former First Lady, one of my predecessors, called me and she said she always worked on a particular program that she worked on as First Lady and she continued lobbying for money for that program after she was not First Lady and she called me and she said, Laura, you just don’t know what a forum you have; you really have an opportunity. And so I don’t see it as an obligation as much as an opportunity.
JIM LEHRER: So if anybody thinks you’re not going to do that, forget it, huh?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I don’t know about that, but -
JIM LEHRER: No, but I mean there are a lot of people who thought you were going to be laid back and you were not going to involve yourself.
LAURA BUSH: Well, I think people know that I’m going to work on issues that are important. I’ve always done that. I did that long before I was First Lady of Texas. The issues that are important to me are what I think are some of the most important issues in our country and that’s education and teaching. And I’m going to continue to work on those. And I hope after I’m not First Lady, I’ll be able to still work on those issues.
JIM LEHRER: But as First Lady you would not hesitate to speak to your husband about something of great concern to you?
LAURA BUSH: That’s right. Not just as First Lady, as his wife.
JIM LEHRER: His wife. Got it.
LAURA BUSH: Before or after First Lady.
JIM LEHRER: A little bit longer than three months now that you’ve been in Washington – what are your impressions of what goes on here and your lifestyle and the lifestyle of the people in Washington, the attitudes here?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I love Washington. I think it’s such a beautiful city. It’s like a beautiful national monument and all the tourists that you see lined up here to see the White House and to see all these monuments that are right outside our front door – to have the chance to live here and to live in this beautiful house is really so fabulous, and I’m so fortunate to have this chance.
I think that what I see right now with the Congress and the President is also another time for people in the Congress and the President to work together, to try to put aside partisan difficulties, and I really see that in working on education because I think education is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue; it’s an American issue. And I know from the way my husband worked with the Texas legislature that people can come together. All of us want what’s best for our country. We may see different ways to get there, but in the end we all really want what’s best for our country. I think this is a very good time for Republicans and Democrats to put aside partisan difficulties and work together.
JIM LEHRER: Your husband as a candidate was harshly critical of the way things happened in Washington, the attitudes in Washington, points of view in Washington, et cetera. Did you share that?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I shared the criticism of the rancor, what looked like from the outside partisan rancor and, you know it looked like people, rather than working together on what was best, wanted to take credit or cast blame and I don’t think that’s really necessary. I don’t think Americans want that. I think they want to see a government where people work together and they want to see a country where there is a lot of civility.
JIM LEHRER: In your own life here. Your lifestyle, I don’t mean necessarily here in the White House but in Washington generally, what’s it been like?
LAURA BUSH: It’s been great. I’ve had friends up. Tonight, actually, our good friends who introduced us from Midland, Texas, are coming to spend the night. My Garden Club came up from Austin. Introduced us when we met each other.
JIM LEHRER: Introduced you to the President.
LAURA BUSH: — introduced us – when we met each other in Midland at a backyard barbecue where we met. My Garden Club came from Austin; that was a wonderful chance for me to show them my new hometown but also for me to get to tour gardens and Mount Vernon and really beautiful new places in my new hometown. So I’ve had in a lot of ways a very similar lifestyle. We’ve moved three pets here, which has made this house our home, to have our three animals here. It’s been fun. I’ve loved it.
JIM LEHRER: Generally speaking, do you think the press, the public, the Congress, add them all together, are giving your husband a fair shot at being a success as President of the United States?
LAURA BUSH: I think so, generally speaking. My husband is very focused. He’s paying attention to what he thinks is important to the things that he campaigned on, and the priorities that the American people know he has, education and tax cuts, and so I think so. I don’t actually watch that much of the press. I read the newspapers but I think so.
JIM LEHRER: How do you react to criticism of your husband?
LAURA BUSH: No one likes criticism of their husband or of anybody they love, or of themselves. You know, it’s just a fact of life in American politics.
JIM LEHRER: You don’t internalize it and make lists and stuff like that -
LAURA BUSH: No.
JIM LEHRER: Are you keeping a diary?
LAURA BUSH: I’m not keeping a diary. I should be keeping a diary. I’ve had really, really wonderful experiences. George and I went to the Day of Remembrance ceremony, the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust in the Capitol Rotunda, and my mother happened to be here that week, and so she was there with us and at the very first, when they present the colors, they walk in, soldiers walk in, with each of the company flags of American companies that opened camps at the end of World War II. For instance, the 88th Armored Division – and then they would name the camp Auschwitz. And then they marched in with the flag of the 104th Infantry, which was my dad’s infantry and his company, the 104th had opened Nordhousen [ph] and they came in with that company flag and my mother was there with me. It was just a very, very moving experience. And then the whole rest of the day of remembrance ceremony was lovely – Elie Wiesel spoke, and he had a really beautiful speech and my husband spoke and then I got to light one of the candles of the menorah with a Holocaust survivor, and to have those sort of really moving experiences, is really the best part of this job.
JIM LEHRER: Are you going to write them down?
LAURA BUSH: I’m going to write them down.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of your mother, Happy Mother’s Day.
LAURA BUSH: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you very much.
LAURA BUSH: Thank you very much, Jim.