I was excited to learn that Oprah would interview President George W Bush in connection with his new memoir, Decision Points. However, I was curious: would the Oprah interview be fair or biased? After all, Oprah had broken her no-endorsements rule to jump on the Barack Obama bandwagon, supporting him in 2008.
Here is my take on the interview; judge for yourself whether Oprah’s questions were fair:
The interview began with Oprah showing footage of George W Bush leaving Washington on Obama’s Inauguration Day. She asked what he was thinking at that moment, and he replied, “I was thinking about the peaceful transfer of power in our nation.” Oprah, seemingly unmoved, looked at him and asked “Were you?” in a monotone.
Bush went on to say that he wanted the new president (he did not mention him by name during the interview) to succeed (was this a deliberate contrast to Rush Limbaugh’s hope that Obama would not succeed?), because “I love our country.”
Oprah asked Bush about the many criticisms heaped on him, notably that he was stupid. Bush replied that the criticism hurt his family, but not him personally, because he felt that history would judge (and vindicate) him.
Oprah went into a fairly lengthy discussion of Bush’s famous drinking days, at one point asking, “Were you that bad of a drunk?” and laughing.
Bush Reflects on 9/11
Asked about his first reaction when he learned the country had been attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said he was angry, yet also aware that as a leader he needed to project calm. Advisers wanted him to be flown immediately to a bunker in Omaha, Nebraska, but Bush insisted on returning to Washington since he was the nation’s leader.
Oprah asked whether Bush had ever felt personally afraid during the attacks, and Bush said no – although he had been afraid for the country.
Bush said that visiting the Twin Towers site was like “walking into hell,” and reported feeling palpable anger and desire for revenge from the survivors he met on the scene.
Oprah then asked whether Bush was thinking about “kicking their ass (of those responsible)”: “You said it!” she accused.
Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)
Oprah asked about the decision to go to war in Iraq, based on the now-known-to-be-erroneous belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Bush stated that “everyone” including intelligence felt at the time that Saddam did have these weapons. When he later learned that Saddam had deceived the world regarding WMD, Bush described feeling “terrible, sick.”
Bush did however say that “the world is better today with him (Saddam) gone.”
Bush spoke of his sadness regarding the American lives lost in the war. He recalled a conversation with a soldier’s widow. She told him, “John did his job, now you do yours.”
Bush and Hurricane Katrina
I felt that the whole interview could have gone downhill fast when the subject of Hurricane Katrina came up. Oprah began by showing a photo of Bush looking out a plane window at the devastation and spoke of Bush “looking at what happened beneath you.”
Bush said that he “made a mistake” and should have landed, although he said he had not wanted to because of the additional expenses that a landing would have incurred.
He said that Katrina was a prime example of how local, state and federal governments work (or don’t work) together. He spoke of a meeting with the mayor of New Orleans and the mayor of Louisiana, and it sounded like a yelling match where not a lot was accomplished. He said that he needed permission from the governor before doing anything on a federal level, and this permission was slow in coming.
Amazingly in my opinion, Oprah at this point said that this part of the book had been an “Aha!” moment for her, showing her the way various government levels work together. She did not seem to blame Bush, although she did ask, “Do you not see how you flying over all these disenfranchised black people could lead to a charge of racism?”
Bush strongly denied this conclusion.
Oprah, tight-lipped, said, “We’ll be right back.”
At Home with Bush 41 and Bush 43
The next segment visited the 2 Bush presidents and Barbara Bush at their Maine home. George W Bush said that he often said he had his father’s eyes and his mom’s mouth, to which Barbara quipped, “You should be so lucky!”
Oprah asked if there might be more Bush presidents, given the large size of the family.
“I think people are bushed right now, ” Barbara said, although she speculated that maybe the Bushes would produce the first woman president someday.
“Mom, are you announcing your candidacy?” George W Bush asked jokingly.
Oprah and President Bush: Interview Conclusion
Oprah mentioned that Bush’s brother Jeb had spoken favorably of a Sarah Palin presidency, and asked if George W Bush supported Palin as well.
Bush demurred, saying, “I’m not a political person – I am through!”
He also declined to speak about his successor, saying “I want to treat my successor as I would like to have been treated.” This comment drew applause, and I wanted to applaud as well. To not blame one’s successor (or predecessor) is the classiest road for a former president to take.
Bush closed the interview by saying he was proud that he hadn’t sold his soul for popularity, and that principles lasted forever. Oprah thanked him, and it seemed to me that as the interview had progressed, she genuinely seemed to warm up to President Bush.