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core beliefs and agenda

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One of the president's oldest friends, Clay Johnson, told FRONTLINE a revealing story about Bush. Mutual friends of Dick and Lynne Cheney told Johnson that Cheney decided to be Bush's running mate--after initially rejecting the offer -- after Cheney "came to realize the president wanted to come up here to really make a difference. He was not going to try to play it safe -- not try to extend a moderately successful four years into an easy, moderately successful eight years. He wanted to make dramatic changes to the issues that he thought needed to be addressed."

Discussing Bush's aggressive agenda when he arrived in Washington -- and what lies behind it -- are New Yorker writer Nicholas Lemann, former Secretary of State George Shultz, conservative leader Grover Norquist, author Bob Woodward, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, chief strategist Matthew Dowd, and Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News. These excerpts are drawn from their interviews with FRONTLINE.


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George Shultz
Secretary of state in the Reagan administration and elder statesman of the Republican Party.

…You saw similarities in George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan?

I don't want to belabor too much the parallels between any two individuals when they're different people. Everybody's different. But Ronald Reagan has a sense of mission. And it was obvious to anybody near him that he didn't just want to be president. He wanted to be president because there were things that he wanted to get accomplished, that he thought he could get accomplished.

And so when in response to my question [to Governor Bush] -- what was he pondering in thinking about whether he should run for president? -- when he said, "I have to feel a sense of things that I can do and feel comfortable that I have a mission" -- I don't think he used that word -- I thought, "Well, that sounds like the other guy that I served so well."

Ronald Reagan.

Ronald Reagan.

It's a great irony, of course, that the Bush presidency is seen as floundering until 9/11. Until he found a real purpose.

Well, he worked hard on education. He worked hard on economics and was successful in starting a process of getting taxation down, at least toward where Ronald Reagan left them. They're still well above where Ronald Reagan left them. But, anyway, getting them down there.

So, he had some real successes. And I think the idea that he was floundering is overstated. He got off to a very good start and really got our relationships with Russia straightened around on a very good basis. I thought the initial handling of the China problem was excellent when we had that plane shot down. They handled that very, very well. And it showed the Chinese that they had somebody on their hands who stood up and had to be reckoned with. That was a good thing. And I think our China relations since have gone very well. And that's probably one of the reasons. …

President Bush has gone in varying directions ideologically, I think. And I think in doing so, he's true to himself. That is, what you're seeing is what he believes. He believes that abortion is wrong. And he's clear about that. And that's sort of the main element in what people think of as the conservative right.

He has bothered a lot of people by saying that the federal government has to be more involved in education and be setting standards, calling for accountability. And he has said that as far as older people are concerned, they have to have a break of some kind on the cost of drugs. So, a lot of the conservative Republicans are very uneasy with that.

On foreign policy, he's taken us in a very vigorous direction in saying that forceful action by the United States will be called for under some circumstances. And we have to be ready to put our muscle where our mouth is. So, it's a picture of a person who is doing what he thinks and what he believes in. And I don't think it necessarily conforms to anybody's set pattern. That's one of the things I like. …

related links
see a chronology of bush's life

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read the full interview

Bob Woodward
Author of Bush at War and Plan of Attack.

…if you want to know who George Bush is, look at the Iraq war. It's his war. It was his decision. He went through a very long process. Considered lots of things. Maybe not all of the things that he should have considered. But you ask anyone who's close to him. In his cabinet, in the White House. A friend. And they just jump and say, "This is a George Bush decision."

What does this decision tell you about him? Who is he? How does his mind work?

The first thing is that he is determined to solve problems that he identifies. Once he is convinced something is a problem, if he has the power to solve it, he will try to solve it.

And we know in my business, journalism, that you live in a world of doubt. He has no doubt. I asked him. I said, "Do you have any doubt?" And I asked it in the starkest terms. Because Tony Blair had said when he gets hate mail saying "My son died in your war and I hate you," Blair said publicly "You can't get letters like that and not have doubt."

I read that to President Bush in the Oval Office, thinking he might even say, "Well you know, Blair's got a point." He just ignited and just said, "No doubt. I have no doubt." And I, as a reporter spent a lot of time looking for doubt -- looking for that moment when he kneeled on the floor -- to see if it existed. And you know, asked for guidance or forgiveness or something. And I found no such moment.

Do you know anybody else who's that sure of himself?

I really don't. And Bush's argument is, it was a considered decision. It was necessary. That's his job. Only he had all the information and arguments. And in the end, when you ask him, as I did, "How's history going to judge this? -- he kind of shrugs. History, we won't know. We'll all be dead. …


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read the full interview

nicholas lemann
Political correspondent to The New Yorker

what is the core of him? What does he really care about? Is it just winning? Or does he have core concerns about policy?

I'm obviously guessing somewhat here. I think he cares a lot about winning. I think, also though, he has tremendous policy ambition. I think he really wants to be what they call a transformational president, that grand ideas like transforming the entire Middle East or changing the entire relationship of citizen and state in the United States by fundamentally changing these basic building programs like public schools, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid -- that's tremendously appealing to him.

He really wants to leave a big mark. So in that sense, he doesn't just want to win, he wants to do big things. The big things that he wants to do usually have the quality of making the Republican Party much stronger vis-›-vis the Democratic Party. …

… I see President Bush as somebody who has an enormous -- and sort of slumbering -- ambition and self-confidence. The more he lets out who he really is, the more conservative he gets, partly because conservatism is the path of maximum ambition for him. If you're a Republican, if you want to be a really transformative president, what FDR was on the Democratic side, really change the political landscape forever, you've got to be conservative. You've got to really push the edge of where policy can go, both in foreign policy and domestic policy. If you're a moderate, you don't leave as big a footprint.

I think this is a president who wants to leave a really, really big footprint if he can, both internationally and domestically. Being a conservative is a way to do that. So in a sense, it's that he's a conservative. And in sense, it's that the more conservative it is, the more ambitious it lets him be. By the way, I'm sure this is all instinctive, and not articulated to himself, about himself, in his mind. ….

…When you say he's a risk taker, you talk about him being ambitious, you talk about him wanting to do big things, to be a transformative president. Where does it come from?

I've thought about that a lot. First of all, although President Bush often accuses other people of being members of the elite or the elitists, you can't come from a more elite background than him. Unless you're a Rockefeller or something, it's just very hard to think of more fortunate circumstances than the ones into which he was born, where he's connected from birth to practically everything and everybody. Every possibility is open to him.

Part of it is just that he's raised as a sort of prince to think of himself as a person for whom all things are possible. That's just woven into his life so much that it can't not express himself in ambition as a governing leader. …


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read the full interview

grover norquist
President of Americans for Tax Reform

…What do you say to the view that the administration was drifting and lost until 9/11 gave it a mission, which was to be foreign policy hawks, basically?

The suggestion that the attack on Sept. 11 and the war was a boon to President Bush or his administration is obscenely stupid. … The Bush administration started off extremely successfully. It got its first major tax cut through. It made it clear that there'd be a series of tax cuts. On principle, we abolished the death tax. We got the capital gains tax reduced. We expanded IRAs. We cut back the alternative minimum tax. We reduced marginal tax rates. We took five steps towards a flat-rate income tax. We clearly laid down the markers of moving towards a single rate tax, a taxed income, one time.

We began the negotiations on regional, bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements. Work was done to prepare for immigration reform, first with Mexico, and then with other nations. The base closings bill was put forward. The reforms for the Pentagon were begun, and the competitive sourcing efforts were rolled out. So the entire progress of a Bush campaign-- Social Security reform commission was put together. All the things Bush campaigned on and said he was going to do were either passed, enacted or begun in the first six months of the Bush term. ….

…A second Bush term will see more tax reduction, greater expansion of the ownership society, allowing people to take some of their Social Security -- FICA taxes -- and put them into a 401(k) personal savings account. Separate from that, allowing people to have medical savings accounts that will eventually, I believe, displace Medicare, because people will have enough money in medical savings accounts that they'll be in control of their own health needs when they're older. The same thing with more retirement savings accounts and lifetime savings accounts -- two ideas the Bush people introduced in their first term.

The second term will see the base reduction commission enacted. We'll see competitive sourcing sweep, not only the federal government, but out into the 50 states. We'll see dramatic expansion of free trade throughout the hemisphere and worldwide. I think we'll see reform of immigration, as Bush had started the discussion with Mexico prior to Sept. 11….


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Matthew Dowd
Chief campaign strategist for President Bush.

…He has a very clear sense of where he wants to go, a very clear sense. And it doesn't waver a lot on what's going on in the day, the week, or some pundit saying something. And I think that comes from both a real clear sense of himself, a real confidence in himself, and a real ability to sort of get to what he thinks really matters. I think it also comes from understanding having watched his father … there are a lot of people that say a lot of stuff, that if you get bogged down into that, you're never gonna sort of get to the goal. …

Can you give an example of a time when somebody would come to him and say, "You've got to tack this way because this is happening…."

…there were people that said he shouldn't have pushed the tax cuts that he pushed in the second round. That no, that was enough and we need to not push more. And his whole philosophy was "No, I ran for office saying I was gonna do this, I'm gonna follow through on this. I believe in this. I think it's good for the country. "

On the things he wants to accomplish, obviously, the two biggest things today are how do we function as a country in an economy that is a very different economy than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. And in a world that's now faced with a global threat of terrorism…. 3,000 people dying on our homeland, that's never happened before -- even Pearl Harbor, which was an island at the time, it wasn't on our homeland.

I think he has a vision about what he wants to do on the economy. And a big part of that is giving people more control over their own resources, which includes tax cuts and decisions they make on health care and other things that are affecting the economy. But also, he feels that he has an obligation to protect this country, and protect people from the threat of terrorism. And he's gonna try to do it in any way he can. …


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donald evans
U.S. Secretary of Commerce and longtime friend of President Bush.

…You talk about him being a big risk taker. That's what he's being rapped with now -- that he's taken too big of a risk in Iraq. He certainly has had a bold presidency with a lot of very big moves.

Leadership is about big ideas. It's about vision. It's about uniting people in America and around the world. It's about compassion. … And the president knows that freedom is not free. We have been making sacrifices in this country for well over a couple hundred years. To defend freedom, to protect freedom and to expand freedom. And so first and foremost is the president's responsibility to protect the freedom and liberties and safety and security of the American people.

And that's what he is doing. This country is safer than it was prior to 9/11 because of the president's leadership. But, at the same time, this country has a responsibility to expand freedom to protect freedom around the world. And that's a big idea that will have big impact for generations to come. You have to look beyond today. You have to look into the years. Is this the kind of decision that means that the general well being of the American people, of the children of our children and grandchildren will be better, because of the decision to go after the terrorists, and expand freedom? …


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read the full interview

wayne slater
Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News.

..He absolutely believes that he is at a moment in time -- with the presidency and the attack on 9/11 -- a moment in time in which he's an instrument of God; that he hopes he has God's will; believes he has the hope and the trust of God; that he's carrying out the divine design in whatever he does. It gives him a lot of solace. It gives him a lot of certitude. So where some people see arrogance, people who know him see a kind of solemnity and certitude.

I saw him at the White House after Afghanistan and the war there, and shortly before we had gone into Baghdad. I have to say, after all the years that I'd seen him -- and I hadn't seen him for about a year -- this is a man that was absolutely at peace with himself, even though he had enormous energy, even though he was the President of the United States. Even though he was at the center of this giant swirl, of political policy and issues that were so important, [he was] absolutely at peace with himself in a way I think that I had not seen, really, in years.

Even as a governor, where I think he didn't talk about his faith as much-- I think this faith, the idea that he's an instrument of God, is what he not only frames what he is doing, but he has to frame it. Without that, I think he would be lost. I think he would be adrift. But I think that's an anchor for him.

God has become more important to him.

God is the source of his strength. I'm convinced of this. Again, I want to say it isn't that he thinks that he is carrying out God's will, because God whispered specifically which military actions to take. He doesn't believe that. But he does believe that at this moment in time on Earth, there is a battle. He has been put in a particular position -- that he has to follow the will, that he believes is God's will, that he is God's man and at a historic moment.

That gives him enormous strength and enormous certitude. He does not believe that he is wrong. He does not give second thought that what he might be doing in terms of a pursuit of the war is the wrong thing to do. …

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posted oct. 12, 2004

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