tv CNN Newsroom With Ana Cabrera CNN December 1, 2018 5:00pm-6:00pm PST
>> thank you for joining us tonight. i'm ana cabrera. a cnn special report, "remembering 41," starts right now. >> announcer: the following is a cnn special report. he had the best resume in town. >> he never put his own self-interest ahead of america. >> i, george herbert walker bush. >> led the nation through tumultuous times. >> i tell people, if you want to know how to fight a war, take a look at the way george bush fought the first gulf war. >> the battle has been joined. >> driven by duty and destiny. >> the bush code was always,
look ahead. >> he gave his word and he was a man of his word. >> he was the complete package. >> i want a kinder and gentler nation. >> he was fiercely competitive. >> you would have horseshoes, they would go out on the boat, play tennis. i thought, this is exhausting. >> and wickedly funny. >> wouldn't be prudent at this juncture. >> i don't think there was any end to his self-effacing sense of humor. >> beloved by his family and friends. >> he was as close to perfection as any person i've ever met. >> i think it would be difficult to know him and not love him. >> a revealing look inside the life of an american original. >> we honor george herbert walker bush for service to
america that expaspanned nearly years. >> now a cnn special report. "remembering 41: president george h.w. bush." they displayeeployed. >> i got 'em. >> 1997, near yuma, arizona. the nation's 41st president, 72 years old, and 12,000 feet in the air, jumping out of a plane for the first time since world war ii. >> outstanding. >> i get an exhilarating feeling out of it. it also has some memories of a parachute jump that went very badly. >> he wanted to relive the moment of when he got shot down. >> his crew members lost their lives. he was almost captured. that experience, after an incredible life of purpose and
accomplishments, starting to jump out of planes maybe to get that right, made sense to him. >> when his whole family tried to talk him out of it, george herbert walker bush responded with this letter. >> dear kids. okay, so you might think i've lost it. i plan to make a parachute jump. so there. >> it didn't seem like the best idea in the world to me. >> even his former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff couldn't talk him down. >> i said, mr. president, do you really want to do this? he said, yeah, i want to do this. i said, you know, we don't think it's a great idea. colin, i want to do it. it was so typical of him. >> because? >> i haven't done anything like this before, i want to try it, and that's what i want to do. >> all right! [ applause ] >> why does he jump out of
perfectly good airplanes? >> it's the thrill of the jump. and once he did it the first time, he became a natural for the next times. >> and so he kept jumping. over and over and over. >> on his 85th birthday he said, i'll be jumping when i'm 90. george bush is a man who keeps his word. >> the 41st president of the united states. >> that promise from bush put the pressure on sergeant michael i don't tell. -- elliott. >> there's nothing like having a president strapped to you. his entire family is watching you. >> especially his wife barbara. >> where's my hero? >> mrs. bush, she runs the family. >> i brought him back to you safely. >> she was concerned on each
occasion, the first time i jumped with him she said, if you hurt him, i will kill you. she was serious. >> two of my boys on my birthday. just because you're an old guy, you don't have to sit around drooling in the corner. get out and do something. get out and enjoy life. >> for him to do it on his 90th birthday and he's disabled, it's pretty remarkable. he does it for his own benefit, to live life to the fullest. but it also is inspiring to everybody. he's always looking for the next big moment. he never likes to miss out. >> that was just one of the traits ingrained early on. george bush, nicknamed "poppy," was raised in a tight knit privileged family in greenwich,
connecticut. from his father prescott, a businessman who later became a u.s. senator. >> i am prescott bush, republican candidate for the united states senate. >> he learned the importance of public service. but his greatest lessons came from his mother dorothy. >> he loved his dad a lot. but he was very close to his mom. i think the lessons that his mom taught him early in life stayed with him his entire life. >> she emphasized character, conduct, and competition. wh win, absolutely. but above all, be humble. >> my mother told me, george, nobody likes a braggadocia. okay, mom, we won't talk about ourselves. that kind of hung over me for my entire public life. >> bush was ambitious and a
natural leader. from senior class president at the prestigious phillips academy, to captain of his baseball team at yale university. >> i said, my goal has always been to be number one, to be the captain of the team, that big left fist punching the air. that's the character melded with this deep ambient sense of service. >> qualities that immediately caught the attention of a smart, attractive girl named barbara pierce. at a school dance, sparks flew. but world war ii intervened. >> i was 17 years old. it was a sunday. somebody came running by and said pearl harbor had been attacked. >> against his parents' wishes, bush put aside college and enlisted in the navy on his 18th birthday. >> it didn't matter how old i
was or what experience i had not had. i didn't know anything about flying. i was just determined to do it. >> years later, with characteristic modesty, he downplayed his military service. >> i knew fact certain that i wanted to serve. duty, honor, country. but again, i hate telling you this because i don't want to be sounding like i'm different. i'm not. >> but he was different. when we return, the day that changed george bush's life. and later, the truth behind the special relationship with the man who would defeat him. >> he thought i talked too much. but i never talked too much on the boat, because he was going 60 miles per hour bumping us to death.
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♪ in 1943, george bush postponed college and went to serve his country. >> i got my wings a few days before my 19th birthday. i think i was the youngest commissioned officer and pilot in the navy the day i got my wings. >> but bush missed barbara pierce, the girl he left behind. >> this one was december of '43. >> he began writing her letters, a tradition he would continue with family and friends his whole life. >> my darling barb, i love you, fresh precious, with all my heart, and to know that you love me means my life. i've had the best of all worlds but i never had any question
that i was doing the right thing, that i was lucky to be a pilot in the u.s. navy on this team. >> just a few months later, bush and his crew were shot down. >> the antiaircraft fire was much, much heavier this day. we started our dive and suddenly i saw these puffs all around me. you just felt the plane go forward like this. going down, it goes up like that. and i knew something bad had happened. the cockpit literally filled up with smoke. >> bush ejected from the plane but barely survived being hunted down by the japanese. >> i felt sick to my stomach. i was crying, throwing up, swimming like hell. i could have made the olympics that day, because we had to get out of there. >> while bush was rescued, his two crewmen were never found.
>> there was no sign of dale or ted anywhere around. i looked as i floated down and afterwards kept my eyes open for the raft but to no avail. i'm afraid i was pretty much of a sissy about it because i sat in the raft and sobbed for a while. i feel so terribly responsible for their fate. this is for ted white. and for dale delaney. there we go. that's beautiful. i think about it a lot. still do. i wonder if i could have done something different. i wonder why the chute didn't open for the other guy. why me? why did god, you know, let me survive when they didn't? that, that has plagued me. because as each day went by, i think i realized more and more how lucky i was to be alive. >> what's so fascinating and generational and characteristic of george h.w. bush is, he would talk himself back into the game,
just push forward. >> when we come back, bush pushes forward and finally gets his girl. >> i knew he was going to come home. that was stupid, but i knew he was going to come home. he was superman. still is. and later, 43 on 41. the endless fascination with father and son. was it hard to live up to him? there's no excuse for what they did to you.
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after returning home a war hero, george bush married the love of his life. >> i kissed barbara and i'm glad of it, i don't believe she will ever regret it or resent it. i'm certainly not ashamed of it. i never kissed another girl. >> when i tell my children that you were the first person that i ever kissed -- >> i was the second, darling. eamon abbott. >> oh, he was not. >> she loved us, of course, but she adored dad. >> soon after, they started a
family. their firstborn, george walker bush. next, the couple had a little girl, robin. then three more sons, jeb, neal, and marvin. >> we're blessed that we had such an amazing set of parents that raised us and guided us and have given us these values. >> and then tragedy. >> they would come in with the bone marrow tests. >> 3-year-old robin had leukemia. >> and, i've got to go, he have to go home. barbara hung right in there. >> dad was just a whirlwind of activity. and mom was the rock of stability, she was by robin's side the whole time. when robin finally died, mother cratered. and dad became the rock. >> robin died before her 4th
birthday. and bush once again wrote to his mother. years later, a letter still too painful for him to read. >> we need a legitimate christmas angel. we need someone who's afraid of frogs. we need someone to cry when i get mad, not argue. we need a girl. >> they had another girl, dorothy, in 1959. >> i believe the death of my sister strengthened their marriage in ways that's the hard to fathom. >> and family played a key role in bush's political career. barbara was there every step of the way. >> she had a foot with the family and a foot in his career. an essential political partner. >> barbara was someone who could tell george what she thought, just like she would tell everybody what she thought. and she would.
>> and while george bush usually led the fun, barbara ruled the roost. >> one of the many nicknames she had was "the enforcer." there were unwritten rules, and if you violated them, she would enforce the rules and do it in a way that was pretty effective. >> let me guess. your parents had very different parenting styles. >> mother was on the front line and expressed herself frequently. and we -- look, we were a rambunctious lot, pretty independent-minded kids. and, you know, she had her hands full. she was the sergeant. >> how did you know when he didn't like something? >> oh, he made it clear. he didn't yell, scream. the worst words you could hear is, "you've disappointed me." if you love a guy and admire a guy and he says i've disappointed you, that's pretty stinging. >> i would avoid everything to
get the look. he would high expectations for how we would behave. >> even when behaving was a challenge. >> what is your earliest memory of your dad? . >> i think it was the 1964 election. i would have been 9 years old. all of us were dressed up for pictures for advertisements. i remember we had to sit on the back of an elephant. marvin and darrow were scrunching up against each other. i remember there being tears and harsh words. it turned out to be a good picture. >> there would be many picture perfect moments as bush's political career took off. >> this is dorothy bush. she's sure she wants her dad to become a united states senator. >> from congress to the u. new. as envoy to china. to running the cia. bush had the resume, the reputation, and the relationships. >> and he knew that you need friends and allies. and he worked on that all the
time. but it was not just he's doing it because it was smart foreign policy. it's just him. it's the way he is. >> that's one of the reasons why in 1980, ronald reagan, after a bitter primary fight, picked bush to be his vice president. and eight years later, he became the candidate to beat. >> i want a kinder and gentler nation. like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky. coming up, the highs and lows of the bush presidency. >> read my lips. no new taxes. a september to remember, starts with a december to remember at the lexus december to remember sales event. lease the 2018 rx 350 for $429 a month for 36 months. experience amazing at your lexus dealer.
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when you saw that, how did you react? >> i thought it was so stupid. i've never seen anything as far off base. he was a strong man, a fearless man who always tries to do the right thing. >> his pick for a running mate surprised many. >> give me a few words to describe him. >> honorable. decent. caring. >> even when quayle was repeatedly attacked, bush stood firm, refusing to take him off the ticket. >> we talked about it. and if he wanted to replace me, fine. i'll be a soldier, salute, and move on. he knew that. but he had my back. >> he was a person of enormous consideration of others. he showed us loyalty and we gave him loyalty back. >> the thing that surprised me about george h.w. bush is he
really is a people person. the fact that i was young and different and the soviet specialist, for goodness sakes, the black female soviet specialist, never fazed president bush. this is a man who takes every human being on their own terms. >> including his controversial nominee to the supreme court, clarence thomas. >> i barely knew him when he nominated me. so i'm clueless as to why he did. >> you get the call to come to kennebunkport. and what did you think? >> it's all surreal. when i got up there, i saw mrs. bush. she had a big hat on. i greeted her and she said, congratulations. and that's when i knew. and she said, oh, i guess i let the cat out of the bag. so i see him on the deck. then we go to the sitting area
in their bedroom. and we talked, couldn't have been any more than five, ten minutes. and he said, if you become a member of the supreme court, can you call them as you see them? and i said, well, of course i can do that. and -- excuse me. he said, can you and your family get through a tough confirmation? that was a good opportunity to say no. >> how old are you, judge? 42, 3? >> well, i've aged over the last weeks. >> tough turned out to be an underestimate. >> do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you god? >> i do. >> when thomas' former colleague anita hill accused him of sexual harassment. >> after a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. >> bush called thomas to the white house. >> he says, i got you in this,
and i will be with you 'til the end. when things got tough, he was the same honorable person. dear justice, dear clarence, dear friend. >> a decade later, the president sent justice thomas this extraordinary personal letter, never before made public. >> i will never forget our chat right here in our house in maine just before you were thrown to the lions and put through a cruel exercise that only a strong and principled person could have survived. you didn't have to say you would serve with honor and respect for the court. i knew that all along. >> he had your back. >> he stood shoulder to shoulder. >> when i would be attacked in washington, he made come to my defense. he said, don't worry about it, we'll make it. and we did. >> many a time when i had done
something that had gotten me in a little trouble with somebody or the press, and i'm in my office saying, oh, dear, i could expect a call. colin, president. don't worry about it. everything's fine. >> even when there were disagreements. in his diaries, he called you "iron ass." >> right. >> i know that the two of you have joked about it. >> he sent me a nice note. >> and the note says? >> he questiokwe confessed, he d it. "iron ass"? appropriate. >> it carried over into his domestic policies, the clean air and americans with disabilities act. >> let the wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. god bless you all. >> it's changing the culture of
how people with disabilities can shine and have jobs in places where they might not have jobs. they have all these big kind of liberal advocates that advocated for their movement. but my grandfather is the guy who got it done. >> and in the international arena, he was the ultimate diplomat. >> when you think about what he did on foreign policy in just four short years. >> the unification of germany, abolition of the warsaw pact, and the implosion of the soviet union itself. if this is not historic achievement, then i don't know what the hell is. >> on the day that the berlin wall came down, we all went over to the obviousval office to tel president bush that you wanted
to go to berlin. >> he said, this is a german moment. >> everyone was glad the cold war was over. but he didn't gloat, because it would not be in his nature to gloat at someone else's misfortune. >> and in 1990, when iraqi dictator saddam hussein invaded kuwait, those same relationships helped bush put together an unprecedented coalition and war cabinet. >> i tell people, if you want to know how to fight a war, take a look at the way george bush fought the first gulf war. >> he was intimately involved in each step of the process. >> we would all sit there and argue about something trying to get the right answer. but he would listen to the argument. and he was so open to us that we really could disagree with each other in public. before the president. >> this will not stand, this aggression against kuwait. >> yet the decision to go to
war, the burden of sending young men and women into harms way, weighed heavily on him. >> he calls me, hey, bake, come on over and have lunch with me. i could tell he was worried, he was anxious. >> so anxious that on the eve of desse desert storm, the president made this private recording of his inner most thoughts. >> my mind is a thousand miles away. i simply can't sleep. i think of what other presidents went through, the agony of war. >> the skies over baghdad have been illuminated. >> that same night, the president watched the war start live on cnn. >> i've done everything. now it's in the hands of these
young kids, the military. >> it worked and it worked beautifully. he told the world what he was going to do, went in and did exactly that, and brought our troops home. that's the way to fight a war. >> was it a mistake, not going into baghdad, finishing off the job, taking out saddam hussein? >> and the answer very simply is, it was not a mistake, because we were never going to baghdad. >> bush's approval ratings skyrocketed to nearly 90%. when we return, george bush, mr. competitive. >> he liked to win. >> and a cut-up. >> i don't think there was any end to his self-effacing sense of humor about himself. he would say, it wouldn't be prudent at this juncture.
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it's where he proposed to barbara. >> whenever they talk about k kennebunch port. >> i think back to it very fondly. he would tell you faith, family, and friends were what's important in life. it made him a happy man. >> a happy man who never let up. >> when you were around him you felt this immense energy and excitement. >> he had this kind of itch that he needed to scratch through activities. >> the most competitive human being i've ever known in my
life. i used to be his tennis partner. >> his boys are throwing up these lofts over his head and he's running all out to go and get these lofts that i wouldn't even run after. >> boy, oh, boy. he would never, never, ever give up. >> he liked to win. and he played fiercely. >> one thing thing after another. >> we would go fishing in the morning, 8 or 9:00 tee time. his nickname playing horseshoes was, mr. smooth. >> i thought, this is exhausting. >> he's a hell of an athlete. i always wondered why he played so fast. i think i tthe answer is he wan to get to the next event. >> including racing around on "fidelity," his speedboat. >> he would do hairpin turns as
fast as he could go. >> it scared the heck out of me and the secret service. but it was a lot of fun. >> he never wasted a moment. >> and bush had a great sense of humor. >> he loved to laugh. >> especially at his pal, comedian dana carvey from "saturday night live" who did bush almost better than the president himself. >> they'll beat you bad, bad. they're bad, bad. >> first take john wayne, let's go over the ridge, uh-huh. then mr. rogers, a beautiful day in the neighborhood. that thing going up there in that whole area. that quadrant right there is what hooked it. >> bush, always a great sport, went on "snl" poking fun at himself. >> "saturday night live" made fun of me on a fairly regular basis. do i have any hard feelings about that? yes, i do. and i'll have my revenge when
the time is right. not now. wouldn't be prudent at this juncture. >> whatever reason, he loved it and never stopped loving it. >> but no amount of levity could prevent the turning tide as the president set his sights on a second term. >> 1992 is a perfect storm. you have ross perot rising up through the 24-hour cable news cycle. >> if there's a fair way, i'm all ears. >> you have a formidable politician in bill clinton. you have a mild but enduring recession. and you had a candidate who was not fully engaged in the minutiae of the politics. >> americans began to view bush as out of touch and blasted him for breaking this campaign promise. >> read my lips, no new taxes.
>> it was a problem. there's no doubt about it. look, we had to get a budget deal. so we sat down with the democrats in the congress. they said, if you want any kind of a deal, you've got to have some taxes. he says, that's the only way i'm going to get the deal? country comes first. my political career comes second. that's the kind of man he was. >> the 41st president would not serve a second term. >> i just called governor clinton over in little rock and offered my congratulations. >> bush once again turned to his diary, late at night, exhausted and clearly devastated. >> it hurt, hurt, hurt. i don't like to be a failed president. i was absolutely convinced we proved them wrong. but i was wrong, they were right, and that hurts a lot. >> in public, even with his own family, bush never let on. >> self-pity is not a part of his being.
he didn't want to impose how badly he hurt on anyone else. >> i never saw my dad depressed. that's not my dad. dust yourself off and get back in the game. >> i'm prepared to face tomorrow. finish with a smile and some gusto. do what's right and finish strong. >> and he did. worried about white house morale, he had an idea. >> he just out of the blue called me. he was very charming, how are you doing. people think we're a little down out here, thought you would come out here and cheer up the troops. he was thinking of his staff more than anything else. they're a little down, he want to bring them up. >> so the two men plotted a surprise show. >> i was staying in the lincoln bedroom last night and i couldn't resist getting on the phone. i called the secret service. i feel like going jogging
tonight. in the nude. >> he got the humor in it and he did not take it seriously. there was a carefulness to him. you know, a gentleness. that's why, kinder, gentler, thousand points of light, you know. coming up, those thousand points of light define his life after the white house. plus the surprising letter he left for bill clinton. >> you will be our president when you read this note. >> and the real relationship between father and son. >> people say, just run on his daddy's coattails. i had to figure out ways to defuse that. 4-w-p is more than a store.
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january 1993, his final days in office. president bush was thinking of someone else, his successor. >> i'm sitting here now, the desk there, the pictures gone. i'm dreading the next few minutes, walking over and saying good-bye to the staff. i leave the note on the desk for bill clinton. it looks a little lonely sitting there. >> president clinton still has the letter. >> dear bill, when i walked into this office just now i felt the same sense of wonder and respect that i felt four years ago. there will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. i'm not a very good one to give
advice, but just don't let the critics discourage you or push you off course. i'm rooting hard for you. good luck. george. >> how did you feel when you read that letter the first time? >> i was moved by it. he revealed his true self. he made us feel at home, as much as he could, total class. >> at his most painful political moment, bush was gracious and a gentleman. >> he was someone for whom the office was never too big because he rose to the moments when it was most needed. but he never tried to make himself bigger than the office either. >> and that sensibility carried over to his life post presidency. as he and mrs. bush helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for charity. sometimes by doing this, and sometimes this.
and while he vowed to stay on the sidelines, he was thrilled to watch his sons pursue politics. >> so help me god -- >> from the governor's mansion. >> i george walker bush do solemnly swear -- >> to the white house. >> he's not the kind of guy to sit down and say let's discuss how i feel today. but you could tell that he was very proud, as was i. i decided i was going to go see what it was like to be in the oval office as president. and i was in there taking in the moment and dad walks in. i said, welcome, mr. president, he said thank you, mr. president. >> did he give you any advice? >> no, no. and he was very guarded about giving me advice unless i asked for it. >> was it hard to live up to him? >> no. >> because? >> of unconditional love. in other words, the message from george bush was, i love you no
matter what you do. >> and he knew exactly when to provide support in the wake of 9/11. >> not sorrowing as those without hope, but in thankful remembrance. >> one of the more very dramatic moments for me came on september the 14th at the national cathedral. i was very fearful of bursting out in tears and the country didn't need to see a weeping president trying to rally the nation. i felt his hand reach across laura and grab my arm. it was a small gesture, but it meant a lot to me, a very sweet moment of fatherly love. >> while 41 was careful not to cite size 43 in office, years later the elder bush did admit to some concerns. >> he worried that the atmosphere around 43 created a cowboy culture. >> there's an old poster out west as i recall that said wanted, dead or alive.
>> he doesn't think presidents accomplish very much by swaggering. they should be strong, but they don't need to be needlessly provocative. >> even his own son? >> even his own son. >> he sometimes thought your public tone -- >> yeah. >> was a little too harsh. >> probably. i got my daddy's eyes and my mother's mouth. i'm sure of all the millions of words i uttered some of them came out in a way that might have been a little overpowering. >> at his son's request, president george h.w. bush reentered the spotlight. >> i'm honored to be standing here with two former presidents. >> joining with bill clinton, the man who defeated him, to raise money for victims of disasters like the 2004 tsunami. >> hi, how you doing? >> from here, the unlikeliest of friendships grew. >> i just enjoyed being with the
guy. old enough to be his dad. and he's very considerate of me in every way. >> i love george bush. i do. i think it would be difficult to know him and not love him. he's a good man. he's devoted to his family. he's devoted to his friends. he's devoted to his country. >> those of you who know him, this is a gentleman. >> in 2011 bush came back to the white house to receive the nation's highest civilian honor, the presidential medal of freedom. >> inspiring citizens to become points of light in service to others. his life is a testament that public service is a noble calling. >> and despite suffering from a form of parkinson's, even at 90 he kept his promise and jumped again. >> i remember him saying the 90th jump, he goes i'm going to do it again at 95.
>> he's been a great kind of a role model for how to live your life to the end with grace and dignity and caring for others. >> when barbara, his wife and companion of 73 years passed away, he insisted on personally greeting the public who came to pay their final respects to the former first lady. >> he was honorable. so i think that that will stand the test of time. >> he was direct, honest, open. he was the complete package. >> one of the most self-effacing, understated, humble human beings i've ever known. >> we did a lot of tough things together. and how beautiful. >> there's an old military expression i think that applies to him. this is a guy i'd take on a long
patrol. and that's my 41. >> he was a kinder, gentler president. he kept his word. >> i think my dad comes closer to achieving the epitome of being a virtuous man than anybody i know. that will be his legacy to me and our family. >> i think that if historians objectively analyze his presidency, they say he was the greatest one-term president in the nation's history. >> i hope that people will say served with honor when he was president. he acted with principle. i just come back to the fundamental values. goes back -- give the other guy credit. work hard, don't talk all the time. don't talk about the big i am, george. >> it's about family, it's not about the big deal or the head table or all that stuff. that's what it's about. >> i have no regrets about the way i conducted myself.