First Lady Laura Bush
MARGARET WARNER: Mrs. Bush, welcome. And thank you for
LAURA BUSH: Thanks. Thanks, Margaret.
View of first lady
WARNER: Tell me what your concept of the first lady's role
is. In other words, what do you think is the most important
thing - most important part of the job?
LAURA BUSH: Well, obviously, the most important part of
the job is to support your husband and, you know, that's
why you're here in this beautiful house - because your husband's
been elected. And I think that's the most important part.
There also is a wonderful role for first ladies to be active
in the United States, to talk about issues that are important
to the first lady. For me, that's been education and reading,
and it's been fun. It's been a huge privilege, really, to
be able to talk about issues that I think e important.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think the American public expects of the
BUSH: Well, I think the American public really wants the
first lady to do whatever she wants to do. I think they
- you know, if women are activists, I think they think that's
great. If women stay home and support their husbands, I
think they think that's fine. I don't think there's a real
defined role, obviously.
It's not an office. You're not elected to it. There's nothing
written in law about the role of the wife of the president
- ahem. Or, maybe I should the "spouse" of the
MARGARET WARNER: So, you don't think there are boundaries around the
LAURA BUSH: Well, I mean I think there's criticism around
the role, certainly, you know; but I don't think there're
boundaries. I think that the fir- -- the spouse of the president
can do anything they want to and can work on issues that
they're interested in, or can have a career and not work
on any issues. I mean certainly we see that among first
gentlemen in our states where we have women governors. And
the - the men just go ahead with their career. And I think
that's what the American public think women should be able
to do, too.
MARGARET WARNER: So, do you think, for example,
that if a woman, say, were a doctor and her husband were
elected president, that the American public would be comfortable
with her just going - continuing to - practice as a doctor?
LAURA BUSH: Absolutely.
MARGARET WARNER: And what did you take away from the controversy - as
you said, sometimes this involves criticism. What did you
take away from the controversy that Hillary Clinton generated?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I don't know that she really generated
that much co- -- much controversy. I mean I don't know exactly
what you're speaking about, but there is criticism. There's
always criticism. And a lotta times, it's personal. It's
criticism of your hairstyle, or the way you dress, or things
that really are not important. And that's what I see as
sorta trivial, but also just a fact of life in American
politics, or in American public life. Anyone who is in the
public eye is subject to that kind of personal criticism.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think, for instance, that the public is uncomfortable
if, say, the wife or the spouse of the - of the president
assumes a - a job in government in some fashion?
BUSH: Well, no. I mean I wouldn't say that. I mean it depends
on what that job is. If it's a job that they think only
an elected official should do, then maybe there's criticism;
because as I said already, the spouse is not elected. But,
certainly you see spouses of senators and congressmen and
governors who have jobs - have actual government jobs of
various sorts. And I think that's all right.
MARGARET WARNER: So, you don't think that the public has a kind of contradictory
role of the first lady, where on the one hand, they know
what they're doing in their own lives and their husbands
lives; and on the other hand, though, the first lady's also
a little bit of - of royalty, or there is a sort of persona
LAURA BUSH: Well, I wouldn't say that, but I would say
certainly that people look at the first lady - they look
at the way they live their lives. And I think that's important
to the American public. And I can think of a lot of first
ladies who faced challenges in their own lives and have
ended up being great role models for the American public
- Betty Ford, for instance, when she had breast cancer.
And it was a time when people really didn't mention breast
But she was very public about it. Her husband had only
been president for a very brief time, after President Nixon
resigned. And she faced that on the American stage. And,
you know, people do look at the way the families that live
in this White House live their lives; and I think that,
you know, in the end, you can be a really great role model
just by the way you live your life.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that confers a certain duty, both on the
first lady and the other members of the family?
LAURA BUSH: I would say responsibility, whether - a responsibility,
for sure. And you do feel responsible when you live here,
and you wanna be as constructive as you can for your country.
And you know your spouse has been elected for a term, and
you know you have those four years to be constructive as
you can. And I think there's a great urgency when you live
here to get as many good things done as you possibly can
What do you bring to
MARGARET WARNER: Let's back up a little bit and talk
about you now. What - what - what is it in your Midland
background, or your upbringing, that you think you specially
brought to this job, or gave you a certain strength for
LAURA BUSH: Well, George and I both grew up in West Texas,
where people are very, very optimistic. It was a very --
pretty desolate part of the state. There's no native trees
in West Texas. It was pretty much desert and -- but because
of that, there's a huge sky. And the, um -- actually, Mid-
-- Midland's motto was "The sky's the limit,"
and I think Midland attracted people who were risk takers,
who were optimistic, who saw a better day; and - and so
I think that was something we really both were brought up
- this idea that, if you work hard and - you know, you can
succeed, and that there is a better day coming; and that
Americans are very, very decent and very generous. And that's
certainly what I've seen all over our country.
MARGARET WARNER: How about the fact that you were an only
BUSH: Well, I don't know about that. You know, I'm not -
you would think that people who run for president are very
competitive and, probably, their spouses are very competitive.
And, you know, certainly my husband is very competitive;
but I never have felt like I was, particularly. I didn't
really have to compete, obviously, at home. I got all the
attention, and so I don't know if that made a difference
I certainly wanted to please my parents. I knew how important
I was to them, and I grew up wanting to please them.
Meeting George Bush
MARGARET WARNER: Now, when you met George Bush, from meeting
to marriage, it was three months. Tha- -- was that out of
character for you?
BUSH: I don't think so, not really. I mean it wa- -- in
many ways, it was like we'd known each other all our lives.
We'd grown up in the same town and lived in Houston at the
same time. We even lived in the same apartment complex in
Houston. We had many of the same friends, who, by the way,
are still our best friends or people that we were in the
first and second grade with in Midland. And so - and - and
we gra- -- had the same values. We'd grown up in the same
So, I don't think it was as impulsive as it sounds like
-- just three months of dating.
MARGARET WARNER: And you - immediately, though, you had an advanced degree
- you -- teacher and librarian - but you gave up your professional
career right then and there.
BUSH: Well, I'd been teaching in Austin. And when I loved
to Midland, of course, I gave up my job because I moved
to another town. But George was running for Congress, and
it was fun to be able to travel again, and that's what we
did. We traveled around this district in West Texas. It
was the same district my dad had grown up in, Lubbock, Texas.
And there was a - a wonderful sense of nostalgia for me
as we drove up and down from Midland, Texas, to Hereford,
Texas, on the north; because this was the - my home. This
was the part of the country I'd grown up in. It was where
my grandparents lived, and - and, you know, it felt very
natural - really - to be with him on that campaign trail,
and it was also a wonderful way for us to really get to
know each other after our short courtship.
MARGARET WARNER: So, you knew from the start that he had political ambitions.
LAURA BUSH: I knew he was running for that office. You
know, I had no idea what would later transpire. And after
he lost the race, people would say, "Do you think George
will ever run again?"
And I used to joke and say, "Yeah, maybe when we're
And as it turned out, we were pretty close to 50 when he
ran for governor.
Becoming a political
MARGARET WARNER: So, are you a reluctant political wife
-- or quite the opposite?
LAURA BUSH: No, not at all. Not at all. The - the reluctance
that I know anyone has when they - when they enter the ring
- the political ring - if it's -- there is so much criticism
and there's - you know, you - you put yourself on the line,
really. And that's a part of it.
And you finally just become - you don't - you never become
inured to it. It always bothers you, but you - you just
learn to shake it off and - and have it not really matter
to you, because - and certainly for us - for both of us
and for my husband, he has a very strong sense of who he
is. And I think I have a very strong sense of who I am,
too. So, it's easier to - maybe I should say "to put
up with" the what I call "unfair criticism"
of political races.
MARGARET WARNER: Harder for children.
BUSH: Harder for children. And we found it very difficult
when we were the children of the president. You know, we
had - we have an experience that a lotta people don't have,
and that made us very careful with our own girls; because
we didn't want to in any way use them or set them up for
criticism, because they were little when - they were 13
years old when George was elected governor, compared to
us, who were in our forties when his dad was elected.
MARGARET WARNER: Your husband once described you as "the
perfect wife" of a governor. And another time, he said
- he said, "I have the best wife for the line of work
I'm in, because she doesn't try to steal the limelight."
LAURA BUSH: (Chuckle)
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see yourself that way?
BUSH: Sure, absolutely. I mean I would never run for president.
I would've - that's just not something that's in my temperament.
And I'm very glad to support him. But also, I am aware that
I am in - that I do have a spotlight on me and that I do
have the opportunity to speak out about issues that I think
are important. And, you know, I've done that. I've taken
advantage of it.
MARGARET WARNER: People - many people who know you well
say he wouldn't be in this White House -
LAURA BUSH: (Chuckle)
MARGARET WARNER: -- if he hadn't married you. Do you think
LAURA BUSH: Oh, I have no idea, you know, whether or not
that's true. Who can say? Who can say that?
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think he would've found the focus
in his life, as he did?
LAURA BUSH: Sure. I'm sure he would've.
WARNER: Do you think he would've stopped drinking if he
weren't married to you?
LAURA BUSH: Probably.
MARGARET WARNER: Why?
LAURA BUSH: Well, just he has a lotta discipline. He is
a very, very disciplined person. And, you know, he's a disciplined
athlete. He has been his whole life. He's very focused,
and I think - I'm sure that he would've done a lotta the
same things, even if we hadn't been together. But I'm glad
I got to be with him.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think he would've realized, though, that he had
to make a choice?
LAURA BUSH: I have no idea; but, yes, I prob -- I think
he probably would've.
View of the title first
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you have said in many interviews
- you've said on many occasions you don't like the title
of first lady. Why not?
LAURA BUSH: Well, it's - there -- there's something artificial
about it. I think -- I think that's what I don't like about
it. I'd like to just be "Laura Bush" and "the
wife of the president," because that's what I think
I am. And there's sort of a - a title. You know, first lady
seems sort of artificial to me.
MARGARET WARNER: When he was contemplating running for president, did
you two talk about the role of first lady for you? Was that
part of the equation?
BUSH: Not really. I mean we talked about the effects of
running for president on the family, and we were - you know,
we - we knew about what those were. We - you know, we had
a lot of experience. And I think because we knew what they
were, we knew that they were difficult. And we know how
difficult it is to run for political office.
We know that it's difficult to serve in this house and
that you face a lotta challenges. A lotta challenges you
never expect come to the president's bed[?] and come to
the families that live here. And we all know that from our
history and from reading about all the families that have
But we also knew that you could make a really great contribution
to your country.
MARGARET WARNER: You have also said you don't see yourself
a t -- as a traditional first lady. Why not?
BUSH: Well, I mean, I think I'm a contemporary woman, you
know. And I just feel like I am. I've - I had traditional
jobs, traditional women's jobs; but, you know, I don't think
you have to be a lawyer or - or a journalist to - to not
be considered nontraditional. And I hope that all of us
in the United States respect the jobs that women have traditionally
LAURA BUSH: And one of the things I've worked on is to
try to encourage people to choose teaching as a career,
because teachers are so important in our society.
MARGARET WARNER: But how about in the role of first lady?
Beause that's really the phrase? You're not a traditional
LAURA BUSH: Well, I mean, you know, I think - I mean that's
- I think they're speaking about me. I think that's a --
it's not in the role of first lady they're talking about.
They're talking about me as a person when they say that.
MARGARET WARNER: And - and when you say that, but you don't
see yourself as a traditional first lady. You're talking
about just you as you're - as a person.
BUSH: Yes, exactly, because I speak out about a lotta issues.
I talk about a lotta things. Do I do things that first ladies
have always done here, like host state dinners? Sure, absolutely.
And we would expect every other spouse of the president
to continue to do that. That's a part of living in this
beautiful and elegant house.
And that's also something that the American people look
at. They wanna see a beautiful White House. They wanna see
elegant entertaining here. They wanna - they want the White
House to look great when foreign heads of state are entertained
here, or brought here - or even when American tourists come
to tour the White House. The - the White House itself is
a symbol of our country, and that's something you have to
be aware of when you live here.
Dealing with a public
MARGARET WARNER: Do you find it in any way difficult to
have a public identity that is completely true to your private
LAURA BUSH: Completely what?
MARGARET WARNER: True to your private self.
BUSH: No, not really. Not really. I mean I think people
have a sense of the who I am, the - you know of who I really
am. I think they do of both the President and me. We do
have a private life, and we have a private life upstairs.
We have a private apartment. Secret Service agents don't
stand around in - in the rooms with us. We have normal,
family dinners, just like everybody else.
LAURA BUSH: We have a home in Texas that we go to, and
- where our own furniture is and our own things are. So,
we really have a private life, and I think people know that.
I think they get a sense of what our private life is.
WARNER: Was there anything - even though, as you say, you
kn- -- you knew probably more than any other incoming first
lady what the role entailed because of your mother-in-law.
Still, was there anything that surprised you at first?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I think the - and I think this happens
to every first lady, but it takes a little bit of a while
to really realize what a forum you have. And when I made
the radio address - the presidential radio address - about
the plight of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, right
after that I happened to be in Austin, and I went shopping.
And the women who sold cosmetics in - in the cosmetic counter
as I came into the store said to me, "Thank you so
much for speaking out about the women in Afghanistan."
And I realized two things: first, the solidarity that American
women felt as they looked at Afghanistan. And the idea that
- that - that we just couldn't believe, that little girls
were forbidden to - to be educated, were condemned to ignorance,
was very, very affecting to American women. We didn't like
But I also saw that because I spoke out, I had a forum
that I really hadn't realized, maybe, the power of that
opportunity to be able to speak out before then.
Helping President Bush
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about what you said was
the most important, which was to help your husband do his
job the very best. How do you do that?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I do that just by living our life in
a normal way, you know, trying to have a normal life and
MARGARET WARNER: Do you give him advice?
LAURA BUSH: Sure. You know, I give him some advice, but
I don't give him a lot of advice. He has plenty of advisors
that are experts in a lot of fields. And I really think
that it's not just a great thing for spouses to give each
other a lot of advice. Nobody really wants a lot of advice.
BUSH: I've noticed that my mother-in-law is very wise about
realizing that her daughters-in-law don't really want a
lot of advice from their mother-in-law.
MARGARET WARNER: Unless they ask.
LAURA BUSH: Unless they ask. I mean everyone knows from
telling their own children, "You should do this,"
or, "You should do that," how children don't like
MARGARET WARNER: How often does your children ask?
LAURA BUSH: Well, we talk about it. I mean I don't know
how often, but we talk about various issues. We and -- you
know, we talk about personalities. We talk about people
that we meet, or - you know, that we've been privileged
to meet over these years.
WARNER: His staff and even he, though, has credited you
with - one, with your steadiness in tough times; and, two
- and I'll read you a quote from him - but in telling him
privately when you think he's gone -
LAURA BUSH: Who said that?
MARGARET WARNER: -- over the line. The better [unintelligible]
quote comes to mind. He said, "If I do something that
needs to be toned down, she tells me."
LAURA BUSH: Well, I mean I do that - but not all the time.
Very - not that often.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, do you - do you discuss your policy
views with him?
LAURA BUSH: Sure.
MARGARET WARNER: So, that's changed.
LAURA BUSH: No, I've always discussed my policy views with
him. I just haven't discussed them with you. (Chuckling)
WARNER: Well, I'm gonna get to that. (Chuckling) I mean
you told The New York Times once - you said, "Well,
I'm really not terribly knowledgeable about a lot of issues."
And you told Oprah Winfrey - but this is before you were
first lady - "Well, we never sit around and discuss
policy, because the last thing George wants to do when he
gets home after a whole day of doing that is to sit down
and discuss it with me."
So, you're saying that's changed a little bit.
LAURA BUSH: Well, no. I mean in - in tho- -- both of those
statements are true in the sense that we don't sit around
at dinner every night and talk about policy; but we do,
of course, like any other family in America, talk about
specific issues that might be on the radar screen right
now - or, on the television screen, maybe I should say.
And we do that. We've always done that.
I - I mean I think that's a very common thing. I think
pay- -- people do that everywhere. We talk about that with
our children over the years, talk about a lotta different
issues with them. They bring up issues, and we talk about
How much influence does
a first lady have?
MARGARET WARNER: But there's great fascination, of course,
as you know, through history, with how much influence or
impact a first lady and her concerns have had on presidents.
How much have you had on him, and in what area?
BUSH: Well - (chuckle) - you know, on education, I think.
I think early childhood education - all the Reading First
initiatives. I'm not saying that I originated those. I certainly
didn't. He was very, very interested in those issues, anyway,
when he was elected governor. And he has a number of very
expert education advisors.
We both do. I mean I've done summits around the country
and here in Washington, bringing in a lotta the researchers
that know the new research about how children learn to read.
But education is so important to a governor's role, because
education is the single largest issue for a governor. And
both of us worked on those issues a lot in Texas, and we
saw the success of 'em - which is why I think he had the
No Child Left Behind Act as a very, very important part
of legislation - federal legislation. And he already had
an interest in it, but we'd already seen a lotta the results
of what can happen if you focus on those first, few years
to make sure every child learns to read by the third grade.
MARGARET WARNER: So, if he's approaching a decision, or
in the midst of a decision - say, a budget decision - and
you know issues you really care about are being affected,
do you ever weigh in?
LAURA BUSH: Sure. But, you know, we're not - we don't talk
about the minutiae of one, you know, issue; one budget issue.
I mean we - it's -- our discussions are much more general
MARGARET WARNER: Well, I'll ask you a minutiae issue just
LAURA BUSH: (Chuckle)
WARNER: Take the Reading is Fundamental issue, which - his
first budget, whether he knew it or not, proposed essentially
eliminating directed federal funding. Were you - were you
contacted by advocates on the outside?
LAURA BUSH: I heard from some people about that, but that
I -- you know, that happens to be not just a government
program. It's a very highly funded program by private funds.
And I didn't know. I didn't know about it before it happened.
And I'm not sure that he knew that that one, specific program
MARGARET WARNER: So, then, when they contacted you, did you talk to him?
LAURA BUSH: Sure, um-hum. I mentioned it to him. But I
also was very knowledgeable about the foundation itself
and know that they have plenty of private funds - a lot
of private funds. And they also have a very good way to
continue to raise funds.
Addressing the issues
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you - when you speak - and I haven't
heard you a lot on the stump, but enough - you mostly talk
about issues - one that you know about, and also that reflect
his interests; but I'm thinking of other issues. For instance,
the environment - you built this state-of-the-art - I was
fascinated to read about that - environmentally high-tech
house in Texas. Yet, you don't go out and talk about the
environment a lot.
LAURA BUSH: Well, I do. I mean I've done a radio show about
the native grasses that we've replanted at the - at the
ranch. We're pl- -- cultivating 50 acres from seed, from
an intact prairie that was left there, and al- -- also worked
a lot with Preserve America, which is a program to make
sure communities and states preserve their natural environment,
as well as their historical treasures.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, you have made it clear - and you
just did to me, though - that you aren't going to speak
publicly whe- -- on matters where you disagree with him.
I think -
LAURA BUSH: Well, lemme just say - and that isn't really
true. But lemme just say this: my husband has a very, very
good environmental --
MARGARET WARNER: -- I'm sorry. I'm not talking about the
LAURA BUSH: -- And I would speak about that.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. Excuse me. I was - I was shifting
gears here. You - for instance, you did once let on, I think,
in one interview that you thought Roe v. Wade should be
left alone; but I think you've also said, "If we have
differences, I'm not gonna air them publicly." I guess
my question is, why?
LAURA BUSH: Well, I mean what - do I wanna get into a debate
with my husband? Is that the point? No, of course not. I
mean, you know, that - that's just not the issue here. And,
you know, I feel - he and I really share the same values.
We really do. And we may feel differently about specific
issues, but the fact is I know why he believes why he believes.
And I respect that.
I also know I'm not elected, and he is. He's the one who's
elected, and so I really feel a responsibility to support
WARNER: Let's talk about after 9/11. And we have briefly
here, but it appeared you suddenly became - you became much
more visible. I think at one point, "Newsweek"
called you the CO -- nation's "Comforter-in-chief."
Did 9/11 give you a greater sense of mission about this
job that you have?
LAURA BUSH: Well, sure. I mean I think it gave everyone
in the country a greater sense of mission and, certainly,
gave us all a new respect for the freedoms we have and the
blessings we have in - in the United States of America -
many of the things I think we had taken for granted before
that. But also, it gave everyone an idea of the responsibility
we all have to our country.
But I - that morning, I was on Capitol Hill. I was in the
Capitol when - when we got the word about the planes hitting
the Twin Towers. And I was there to brief the Senate Education
Committee on the result of a summit that I'd had that time[?]
on early childhood education. So, I already was active,
I think. I just hadn't really gotten that much coverage.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you think that it transformed your role, or expanded
the role in a way that continues to this day?
LAURA BUSH: Well, sure. I think so.
MARGARET WARNER: How so?
BUSH: Well, I mean I think -- you know. I think one ha-
-- one thing that happens to the spouse of the president
when you live here is that when our country faces challenges
- and this happens in every presidency in our history -
that there is a role for the spouse of the president to
play, and - in trying to meet those challenges, trying to
overcome those challenges. And, you know, we see it in the
actions of Eleanor Roosevelt, or - or so many of our spouses
- first ladies. You know, I think that just happens.
MARGARET WARNER: And you've also been more visible, I would
say, in this campaign in a - in a partisan sense. I mean
you've defended - not only defended your husband on, say,
the National Guard charges, but you've called it a "political
witch hunt" on the pat of - part of Democrats. You
weighed in on the CBS memos, saying they were probably forgeries.
What led you to do that?
LAURA BUSH: Because I know. I mean I'm the one who can
defend my husband. You know, I certainly am one that can
defend him, and I'm glad to do that - to defend him.
MARGARET WARNER: But you've also weighed in, for instance, with critics
of John Kerry, saying you didn't think the swift boat ads
were unfair. That's not just defending your husband. That's
- that's lending legitimacy -
LAURA BUSH: What I actually said was, "When you put
your hat in the ring, you're gonna be criticized for things
you've done and for things you haven't done." And that's
just a fact of life. And there already were a lot of - many,
many negative ads against my husband that I knew of, and
I - I never heard anybody really complain about those.
WARNER: Do you think the American public is comfortable
with seeing the first lady speak in a partisan way?
LAURA BUSH: Sure. Absolutely. You know, I think they are.
MARGARET WARNER: Last question: do you think the role of first lady,
in the public's mind and in - in our cou- -- nation, is
LAURA BUSH: I think it will continue to evolve and - you
know. But I also wanna say that throughout our history,
the women who have lived here have also been activists -
from the very first, from Abigail Adams, who was the first
one to live in this house. They've been actively engaged
in the life of our country. They've been actively engaged
in the life of the president and the policies of the president,
and it's just a fact of life.
And so if we say it's evolving, in many ways, it's always
been like this.
MARGARET WARNER: Mrs. Bush, thank you.
LAURA BUSH: Thanks.