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First Lady Laura Bush

August 31, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Mrs. Bush, welcome.

LAURA BUSH: Thanks.

JIM LEHRER: This commotion today about what the president said about winning the war against terrorism, and then he clarified it today, what’s that all about?

LAURA BUSH: Well, I think what it’s all about is that this isn’t a conventional war. You know, it’s not a war where some country is going to surrender and there’ll be a peace signing, you know, somewhere. That’s not what it is. This is a built in struggle. It will be in for a long time, but I think we’re already winning.

When you look around and see what’s happened already, when you look at 10 million Afghan citizens who are registered to vote, women make up 40 percent of that number. When you look at Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s in a prison cell and the Iraqi interim governing council in charge of things there, and then when you look at Libya, where Gadhafi is dismantling his nuclear program, and when you imagine that Pakistan is our ally in the war on terror, and there are really very many really good things.

We made progress very quickly in a really short period of time, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of challenges left and that there won’t be a long struggle.

JIM LEHRER: But nobody should interpret what the president said as some new change in policy or point of view or anything?

LAURA BUSH: No. Absolutely not. I mean, he said all along that we can win it, and we can, and that we’ll prevail, and we will.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have any concern about these thousands of protesters here protesting against your husband and his policies?

LAURA BUSH: Well, sure. I mean, of course, you know, no one wants protesters against somebody they love, I mean, somebody I love; I really don’t like that.

But at the same time it’s so — you know, this is one of our freedoms. And as you look around the world and certainly when we look at Afghanistan the way it was under the Taliban or Iraq under Saddam Hussein where the people who lived in those countries didn’t have the opportunity to protest or to speak their minds or to say what they really thought in any way, and I think that’s one of our most cherished freedoms.

There are plenty of people around the United States supporting my husband, and I’m glad about that.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have any understanding for, or sympathy – I guess just leave it at understanding – not sympathy – for the people who do not understand or do not agree with the president’s decision to take military action in Iraq?

LAURA BUSH: Sure, I understand why. You know, no one wants to go to war. Nobody wants to go to war. Everyone wants peace, and – but I wonder, do those people wish Saddam Hussein was still there? You know, do they wish that his torture rooms were still there and I don’t know. You know, I don’t know if that’s what they mean with their protests; if they’d rather have Saddam Hussein still in power, I’m not really sure.

But I understand the antiwar sentiment, and, you know, everyone understands that.

JIM LEHRER: The protesters aside, these – I checked today, in fact. All of the recent national opinion polls show the country pretty much divided now on this question of whether or not invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam Hussein has been worth the cost, both in lives, American lives and American resources. Does that surprise you?

LAURA BUSH: No, not really, I don’t think. I mean, it’s a sacrifice; it’s a huge sacrifice from the families who have lost the person they love best. And no one knows that better than the commander in chief who made that decision to send them into harm’s way, send the young American men and women, military men and women into harm’s way.

But I also think and truly believe that good will come of it, and that Iraq will be able to build a free society and a stable society. And will it be easy? Of course not. But it is possible, and it’ll make a huge difference in the middle of the Middle East for Iraq to be a democracy and a liberated people and a stable society, just like it makes a huge difference for the people of Afghanistan to – to not be under the tyranny of the Taliban any more.

JIM LEHRER: Does it disturb the president and disturb you that the country is so divided about this?

LAURA BUSH: You know, remember the last election? The country has been very divided and really for a long time, I guess, but certainly the last election was so close it wasn’t even – it wasn’t even decided on election night.

And that’s just a fact right now in American politics, our United States Congress and the Senate are very, very evenly divided, and that’s just how it is. Right now there are 28 Republican governors, which means they’re almost half Republican, half Democrats. And, you know, it’s just a fact right now in American history.

JIM LEHRER: What do you say to those folks who blame your president for dividing the country – I mean, your husband for dividing the country?

LAURA BUSH: Well, I mean, I just don’t agree. I really don’t agree. My – you never hear my husband say things that other members of other parties like you heard people say about him for the first six months of the Democrat primary — and during the Democratic primary, and I know that it is a very big disappointment of his because that was not how it was when he was governor in our home state. Democrats and Republicans worked together.

But I also think it’s a symptom of what Washington is like now, and it started long before George became president. I think because of airlines, now a lot of congressmen and senators don’t move to Washington, so they don’t get to know their colleagues in a personal way; they don’t go to Little League games together like they used to before airlines made it easy for people to get back to their districts.

And I think, you know, it started a long time before he was president, but I also know and I think everyone saw this, that Americans are really united in their love for their country.

And after Sept. 11, when all of us were reminded once again of how fortunate we are to be Americans and how many freedoms we enjoy because we are Americans, and what our responsibility is because we’re Americans, there was a time in there when there was a lot of unity, and I really feel like underneath the political divisions there still is a lot of unity of Americans.

JIM LEHRER: It’s not fair, then, in your opinion, to blame President Bush for that unity – there was that unity after 9/11 – now it’s gone – and it’s not his fault?

LAURA BUSH: I don’t think it is. I really don’t think it is. I think the country was very divided, as we know, from the last election, and, sure, people had different opinions about how we responded to Sept. 11, but it was my husband’s responsibility because he took the oath of office when he was sworn in as president of the United States to do everything he can to protect our country.

And that is his solemn responsibility, which he’s taken very, very seriously, and he’s made tough decisions, there’s no doubt about it, but you know what, Americans can do tough things, and we know that.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. McCain said the other day, in fact, he repeated it on this program last night over in our convention coverage last night, that this is shaping up to be one of the bitterest, most unsavory presidential campaigns in recent U.S. political history. Does it look that way to you?

LAURA BUSH: No. Not really. I mean, I think we think that every time, and certainly in our history there have been some very bitter campaigns in our whole history, if you look at all of it, and that is just part of American politics.

Now, this is the seventh Republican convention I’ve been to, and I remember one in ’92, which I thought was pretty bitter, because my candidate, the person I love -

JIM LEHRER: Who’s that?

LAURA BUSH: My father-in-law, whom you might guess –

JIM LEHRER: Indeed.

LAURA BUSH: — was the one being criticized.

You know, I think when you take the long view of American history, certainly this is a bitter campaign, but we’ve had a lot of other ones too. I mean, can we think of a really nice campaign? I don’t think so.

JIM LEHRER: Probably not. Finally, in a nutshell, what are you going to tell these delegates tonight?

LAURA BUSH: Well, I’m going to talk about my husband. I’m going to talk about what I’ve seen in the quiet moments, because I’m the one there with him when he’s made the tough decisions he’s made, and that’s what I want people to know about and to hear about. I want to — I’m actually going to try to let people know what I think about why President Bush should be reelected — if somebody asks me, you know, over coffee, why should we reelect your husband — so it’ll be a personal speech.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Mrs. Bush, thank you very much. Good to see you.

LAURA BUSH: Thanks, Jim.