tv The Chris Matthews Show NBC April 29, 2013 12:00am-12:31am PDT
>> this is "the chris matthews show." >> ask not what your country can do for you -- >> tear down this wall. >> i can tell you the time for change has come! chris: shorthand what we know of him even now is an open question. what's the impact? who was really setting the lead? were those his hands or vice president's cheney's? were the moves his own or reaction to what his father did or didn't do. father and son, george w. bush's confidence simply from one and what was about his faith that he said got him through so much? he did explain this president's success. finally, today's republicans are animated by the tea partiers,
still angry at the big spending of the bush years. past of the history, foreign wars and what about religion out right? is today's g.o.p. indebted to the group that w b to roughte dance. hii'm chris matthew welcome to the show. today "the washington post's" bob woodward and "the new york times"'s and cnn's gloria borger and "time" magazine's michael duffy. first up, so much of our politics and supreme court rulings were shaped by the george w. bush presidency. the president talked about how he saw it in his dedication. >> future generations come to the library setting this administration, they will find out we stayed true to our convictions. when our freedom came under attack, we made the tough decisions required to keep the american people safe. chris: today a special extended look at the force that's propel bush, personally and politically, with foreign
corespondents who covered bush. two of whom wrote books about him. we will do this with a series of questions today. first, bob and everyone, was george w. bush a better president then most thought he would be when he came in after he lost the popular vote to al gore and took office for the u.s. supreme court settled the florida recount, bob? >> first of all, i hate to do this and argue with your notion that the two wars, iraq and afghanistan, in leading us into them that, that was successful. chris: that was successful -- >> but those wars defined his presidency and we do not know the outcome of either of them. i remember asking bush once, how do you think history will judge your iraq war? he stood in the oval office, shrugged through his hands in the air and said, history we won't know. we will all be dead. this is quite true. >> when he first came in, he had
theowest pectationsiminable. he would be an inconsequential one-term president. don't forget then 9/11 happened and there was a time as we all remember after 9/11 when he had soaring popularity ratings. the world was and country was bound and then the iraq war and everything changed after that. >> i think the america public made judgment but history has not yet on the iraq war and the judgment is overwhelmingly negative. i think to a great degree, look at george w. bush's popularity rating now, which is still not high, it's defined not only by the war but also by the economy. and he left his presidency, we were on the verge of an economic collapse. that country in fact deteriorated and i think the american public had not yet been able to step back and take a look at what else occurred during the bush presidency that might have been up from value and there were -- there were someems ate made that
i give him -- chris: you like the entitlement effort there. >> and immigration. chris: as early as november 2001 who saw the world coming and opposed it. >> i remember a moment in august 2001 when they had done the tax bill early on and cut the taxes and we're all writing and saying, ok, now what? what's what do you have left? what else is coming? what else is on your agenda? there wasn't much. they scarfed around looking for what to do. in a way 9/11, as horrible as it was, gave him a purpose that he had otherwise lacked at that point. chris: there was a sense it was fading. next, let's look at one of the huge questions about the bush years. it was president bush's own reaction to the 9/11 attacks proportional? did it make sense both at the time and retrospect. listen to how he related 9/11 and invasion of iraq. >> the terrorist attack killed 3,000 of our citizens. they were -- what did iraq have to do with what? >> the attac on the world trade center?
>> nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody ever suggested in this administration saddam hussein ordered the attack. iraq was a -- the lesson of september 11 was taped to us before it fully materialized. chris: of course, major effort to tie a prague meeting together with intelligence forces of saddam hussein administration and al qaeda. that went often and on. >> and dick cheney, vice president would advance that agenda, long after everybody else in the b abandonned it. deep down they were thinking something different. the world changed. there were a series of threats that were not state tied, that could come together at any moment and cause great harm to people not between governments or countries or just actors and they are trying to figure out how to stop that. >> i agree with you. we just saw bush say iraq had nothing to do with this. ok, but it had a lot to do with their thinking and mindset, which after 9/11 they know what
they missed. they know all of the clues that were there in the summer of 2001, that quiet summer and in their minds it was never again on our watch. no matter what it takes. chris: looking back, when in the fall of 2001, in the weeks thereafter, when there was fighting with wolfowitz trying to raise the issue at camp david and being pushed back and then somewhere bush said, ok, i want to hear more about this. >> november of 2001, beginning of war plans or beginning preliminary plans being asked for. >> but there was some rational for it. in other words, when after the fist gulf war, they discovered that oh, my god, there was much more of an effort on weapons of mass destruction. so that was a wake-up call to the cheney mindset of ok, we need to preempt. they had even written books about this. i think what happened is bush kept getting convinced by the military and rumsfeld and cheney that it is going to be easier.
in facol is telling people, oh, if we invade iraq, the war will last two weeks. i remember talking to bush about this and he said, well, i need to see an effective war plan? and they gave him one and they sold this as something, as cheney said, it will be flowers and song that we're going to be greeted with when we go into baghdad. chris: there's a great cost benefit argument. the dangers of not doing it were always raised up and ease of doing it raised down. anyway, next question, this was an extraordinary competent president. we all know that and some say too confident. and george w. contributed or attributed some of that to his strong religious faith. here's how he, the president, described to you, bob, which you wrote about in "state of denial" back in 2006. quote, the president made it clear that he felt no doubt that a higher authority was looking after him. and guiding him. quote, i get guidance from god in prayer, he said. stpwhob >> i remembehim, what
advice did you get from your father, bush sr., who had gone to war against saddam in the first gulf war? and bush sat there and he said, well, i rely on a higher father rather then the earthly father. so i -- chris: that's like the hebrew national tv commercial. i answer to a higher authority. >> and he -- i think to a certain extent he did answer it that way. if in your mind you track this and i was able to track it almost day by day and hour by hour in the decision-making process going to war, i think he thought it would be a liberator. i think he thought he was going in and take down those statues of saddam and they're going to actually erect statues of me. chris: anyone else understand the religious piece? >> there was always a sense he was on something -- i don't want to go too far -- of a sacred mission, particularly the
freedom agenda. he gave many speeches about this. freedom was given by god and that in to some extent he seemed like he was jahr carrying it out. there were other people who saw that and said let's caboose our agenda on to it. let's make them at least whole and free or something. but it was -- it was a mixture of agendas. but he's the one who spoke more publicly about it. >> that's why i think the religion -- i don't think he was taking orders from god. i think that's overstating it. but i think that when he stopped driving, he had never been especially successful up until the time he was driving. he stopped drinking and at the same time he became more religious. and i think he always felt -- chris: that happens a lot. >> because of the stopping drinking and the being more religious, that was why he -- >> i don't know -- mos presidents and you would know this, you have written a book about former presidents, don't know if most presidents don't become more religious when they're president. they're usually the highest authority in the room when they're in the room.
they are. and they have a need to look somewhere else for guidance. >> it's a lonely job. >> it's lonely, it's difficult. >> who can you confer with? who do you -- where can you get sustenance? and religion works. >> life and death and senting people to war. >> this is a good discussion. usually discussions about w are either smackdowns or trying to defend him and this is -- i'm learning a lot. one question people are fascinated by is how much was bush's assertiveness shaped by his thoughts about his fathes presidency? here's a review -- revealing interview i think with matt lauer back in 2010. >> there's a lot of psychobabble out there he and i compete. and w's trying to overshadow his father. look, i wanted to run. i had an agenda. i had a team of people. the truth of the matter is the final motivating factor was my admiration for george bush and i wondered whether or not i had what it took to get in the arena like he did. chris: so interesting use of the third person, george bush.
proper nouns. >> talking about how he wanted see if he can do as well as dad did. he got from his father a great name, supreme sense of confidence. certainly an understanding you could not ignore the right wing of your party. that was the manifest lesson of the first bush's term. and there have been books wriven about how this is one gigantic, you know, freudian -- chris: what about the scene of the driveway when he comes home one night blasted. his old man confronts him. he said i will take you on here mano a mano, dad. >> having three sons, this sounds totally normal. nothing unusual about that. chris: what about the actual fact, bob, you know this, everybody does but you acutely, saddam hussein tried to kill his father. >> right. >> and that's part of the back story here but i don't think it was a motivation. i think it was he wasn't -- this wasn't a vengeance war. it was an atmosphere then of, gee, we're still in danger.
let's go do something. this is going to be simple and the afghan war initially looked like it was going quite well and made sense and cia and military delivered. so let's lean on them again. >> bush wasn't supposed to be the son that became president of the united states. it was supposed to be jeb. jeb was the star. bush was the -- chris: it happens that one. one expected to star, how did you do at home? >> i
term was overpowering. very powerful. in the second term it was much -- very much a lot left to the point where they had a big fight, bush and cheney had a big fight at the end over the pardon of scooter libby, which didn't happen and they're not speaking today. chris: was that the reason for the breakup today? or was the breakup between first and second term? >> i would add by about '06, they were members of the family and other people in the public had begun to say to the president, his advice is really good on foreign stuff . when turn to cheney for domestic stuff, it's not good advice. he doesn't have the public voters, politics. >> and here's the thing -- >> and was rumsfeld, cheney's, you know, finger like that and rumsfeld wasn't doing very well and a lot of people in the white house, bush circle saying, you have to dump rumsfeld and cheney did not want to. chris: was there a sub audible thinking that maybe he was wrong to go to iraq and that was part
of -- >> no one's ever documented that. chris: not documented it. >> rationally you would say there would have to be second doubts but if you ask bush, i mean, he kept saying about iraq, we're better off that saddam is gone and that saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but had weapons of mass destruction programs, which is true. is that sufficient reason for war? gloria is quite right. the public says, kind of overwhelmingly, that was not a necessary war. >> here's the interesting thing about dick cheney to me. i spoke with him early on in his vice presidentsy. he said you know, this is why it works so well. because i told the president i have no am bicks for higher office. and i can therefore give him my unvarnished advice. i'm not going to worry about the political ramifications. that is exactly the problem, as it turns out. >> everybody was changed in the country by 9/11 but nobody
changed like these two guys changed. the reason we talked about. they were on the line. i think cheney was, you know, when bush leaves down, goes away, stays silent five years, cheney moves across the river and basically is in obama's face almost from day one. >> that was a break with tradition. >> that defines the men. >> the big problem bush had with cheney is a lot of the advice, particularly in the second term was not very good. cheney wanted to take out 0 the syrian reactor. i talked to people who were there when cheney was just, we've got to do it and bush was quite reluctant and cheney won't give up. and at the meeting bush rolls his eyes when cheney is just overadvocating. i think that was a break and i think people -- chris: what time was that? >> let's see, was it '07?
i'm sorry -- >> you have a way, bob. that's great reporting. >> but no, that's -- when you roll your eyes -- chris: oh, yeah. >> at your vice president in front of the others, that's kind of the partnership is over. chris: when you leave town, you better have a rear guard left behind you and cheney left himself behind. i think it was smart to stay over on the eastern shore. most presidencies have a lot of people, like kennedys and reagans, they do well in history because they have a lot of people making sure they do. cheney is the one out there i think. when we come back, did president george w. bush set up the problems his own
>> welcome back. there are at least three ways the bush presidency was a precursor for the divisions in the republican today. big spending drove up the deficit those years and pretty much ignited tea part movement. wedge politics, especially in the 2004 election activated the evangelical right and adventurism abroad wars we have been talking about led to the divisions with those like john mccain, who supports the wars and libertarians like rand paul, who certainly does not. these are fascinating. let's talk about the tax thing. a lot of people forgotten but tea partiers haven't. their own republican president was not vetoing spending bill. >> big-spending republican, new phrase. nobody had ever heard of one of those. but because of the explosion of government after 9/11, number of tax bills, tax cut bills passed,
the deficit exploded under bush. and that made the economic wing of the republican party, which had liked its policies up to a point and this other group of folks who worry about debt and deficits, that made them unhappy. >> don't forget prescription drug benefits for seniors. chris: unfunded. republican party used to be a party i was growing up party to easily vote for. wasn't a big deal. they were not hard right. now it's narrowed down because of the bush years, he supported it, if you don't pass must with the evangelicals, pro-life, same sex, in the platform. sent that one of the residues of this presidency, you have to toe the line on the culture issues or you will not be a nominee? has that changed? >> yes, but on some of the culture issues like immigration, bush was way out in front. to the left of the party. what's going on now with immigration is very much what bush was promoting in 2007. i also want to go back to the wars. here's what i think is a legacy.
in the 2012 election, obama god very little flak for wanting to pull out afghanistan from the right. and that is a reflection of, you know, a decade of war because republicans are no longer supporting these wars. >> and on immigration in his own book, bush writes one of the gets of his presidency is he tried for social security reform and he should have flipped it and done immigration reform. >> the legacy which we're live wk right now is the uncontrol spending. he really in this is what upsets sop many people in the republican party, and the whole kind of paul ryan movement is based as a reaction to the bush spending on prescription drug benefits and -- chris: the big tax cut. >> -- and never paid for those wars. chris: wars, prigs drugs and spending bill. when we come back,
chris: welcome back. our time question in this special show about the bush years. ronald reagan and bill clinton were like bush two-termers and history has been kinder to them, of course, when they left office. the same happened for w. who wants to take this one? up in history or down in history, stpwhob >> i'm going to fall back on my normal position but i'm going to quote george w. bush. we won't know. we will all be dead. chris: oh, god. >> curious, history will get written sunday night. >> you have to always think about what we don't know. maybe someone will surface in iraq and say saddam had four nukes stowed away in some mountain and the invasion kept them from being used. >> short of that, i think it's really hard in the immediate future to revise that presidency
because it would be very hard to get around cherry-picked intelligence on iraq and those mistakes that were made and, you know, right now iraq doesn't look so good as the legacy. >> don't think it will be like harry truman, ok. i don't think so. chris: pretty good. >> whoever spent 30 years and he never really got it done. the difference between hoover and bush, bush doesn't seem to care about furnishing the story so i guess it doesn't change very much. chris: thanks to the great round table. bob woodward, gloria borger, look at them kids. [ sigh ]
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