TODAY   |  May 05, 2010

Laura Bush: We endured a 'viciousness'

Former first lady Laura Bush tells TODAY’s Ann Curry that despite the political attacks on her family, she is proud that democracy is being built in Iraq due to her husband’s decision to keep troops there.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

CURRY: We're back now at 8:19 speaking with the former first lady Laura Bush . Her new autobiography is called " Spoken from the Heart ." Mrs. Bush , again, good morning.

Ms. L. BUSH: Thanks, Ann.

CURRY: What words best describe your lives now, having once been the most public couple in the world?

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, we have a private life again and a very normal life . We have a new house in Dallas that I've had a lot of fun furnishing, because all of our furniture is in our ranch house , the furniture we had before. So we spend time in Dallas and then we go back to the ranch. But we're busy. We're busy working on building the Bush Presidential Library and the Bush Institute that will be part of the library, and we've already started the institute programming even though the building won't be complete probably till 2013 .

CURRY: And you've been writing your memoirs and...

Ms. L. BUSH: And I 've been -- and of course, the whole year working on this book. And George is working on his book right now, too.

CURRY: And yours is wide-ranging.

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: It's candid and it's deeply personal.

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: You talk about having been an only child.

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: You talk about having been engaged to your husband after just six or seven weeks of dating. You also write that you never did give your husband an ultimatum to stop drinking.

Ms. L. BUSH: That's right . That was...

CURRY: Even though that has been reported.

Ms. L. BUSH: Well, that was sort of the joke afterwards that we said it was more of a story .

CURRY: You did say, however, that you did let him know that you thought he could be a better man.

Ms. L. BUSH: Yeah, I let him know that for sure. We talked about that a lot. Drinking was a very, you know, common part of the culture in West Texas . Everyone knew -- we knew drank. Our social life was eating Mexican food on Friday nights and drinking margaritas, and then going to somebody's house for dinner on Saturday night for a barbecue and putting -- you know, people would bring appetizers or other food, and then there was a lot of drinking. But slowly a lot of people started to quit, and George quit when we were 40.

CURRY: Mm-hmm.

Ms. L. BUSH: And he just is very disciplined. He could do it without getting help. Not many people can. A lot of people do need to get help.

CURRY: That's right . He's lucky in that way.

Ms. L. BUSH: And so I want to urge people who want to quit to try to get help if they need to.

CURRY: You also describe the strain on your husband after 9/11, and that he slept fitfully and that you, quote -- that you write , "Being nearby was how in those days, weeks and months we reassured each other. We are two symbiotic souls."

Ms. L. BUSH: Well, that really is how we got through those months and years after September 11th . And that's just being together, just the comfort of each other's presence.

CURRY: You also write about your key decisions -- his key decisions .

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: For example, in 2007 when the president announced the troop surge in Iraq .

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

CURRY: Opposition came not just from Democrats , but also from within the administration itself.

Ms. L. BUSH: Sure, from everyone.

CURRY: And you write , "What we endured is a meanness of spirit"...

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: ..."a viciousness and a cruelty that I hope no political family will ever be subjected to again." You sound a little hurt, maybe even a little angry in that, Mrs. Bush .

Ms. L. BUSH: Well, I mean, it's difficult, it's very difficult to make the sorts of decisions that presidents have to make. And obviously, there are a lot of different opinions that come from every quarter, from every side. But ultimately, the president is elected to represent everybody and to make the choices that he thinks are the very best for our country . And he didn't think we should leave Iraq . He thought if we left, that we would be abandoning a country to go on back to harboring terrorists, and it was very important for us to stay there. And fortunately, the surge seems to have worked, and we're seeing now a democracy being built in Iraq and I'm proud about that.

CURRY: And about the 2008 presidential campaign , you write , quote, "I wondered if Barack Obama , who spent far more time attacking George than he did his opponent, John McCain , would want to amend his words once he discovered the reality of the White House and was himself confronted by the challenges and crisis that hit a president every day, all day"? Would you like an apology from President Obama ?

Ms. L. BUSH: No, no. No, no. That's not what that is for.

CURRY: Do you want him to amend his words?

Ms. L. BUSH: Not at all. Not at all. That was not what that was there. I think what happens, and I think -- and I know he knows this now, too, for sure, is that every problem in the world comes to the desk of the president of the United States all day, all the time, and that every problem is a problem that other countries look to our country to solve or to work on or to help them solve. They want our help and they want our steadfast friendship. And as long -- and, I mean, including all the domestic problems we have, but international problems also.

CURRY: Hm. And you saw this firsthand.

Ms. L. BUSH: And I put in the book that I think there's a time when presidents probably say -- instead of saying, `Let's make something happen,' they probably wake up in the morning and say, `I hope nothing happens today.'

CURRY: In one of the most poignant passages, you write for the first time about being 17...

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: ...and accidentally killing a friend of yours, Mike Douglas , in a car accident .

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: It was November 6th , 1963 .

Ms. L. BUSH: That's right .

CURRY: I know it pains for you to probably have me ask you this question, I'm sorry to do so...

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: ...but in your book you write about it really poignantly, and you've never really talked about it.

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm.

CURRY: How do you reconcile now having taken someone's life, Mrs. Bush ?

Ms. L. BUSH: Mm-hmm. Well, I mean, you never do, you know, I never will. I mean, the guilt is always there.

CURRY: It never leaves you?

Ms. L. BUSH: It never leaves you, no. I mean, obviously you move on. I mean at this age now, instead of 17 -- I won't say how old I am, but I'm on up there. And so, you know, I look at it even in a different perspective now and know how horrible it was and what a profound loss it was for the Douglases , for Mike 's parents...

CURRY: It broke your heart to hear them cry.

Ms. L. BUSH: ...and for his sister. Yeah. Hm.

CURRY: Hm.

Ms. L. BUSH: It's always tough. It'll be tough for the rest of my life.

CURRY: Do you think that this helped channel you in some way to your...

Ms. L. BUSH: Well, I think it taught me a very, very difficult lesson, and that is that tragedy happens and that things happen to you or you cause things to happen that are -- that you can't ever change. That no matter how much you might want them to change, you can't -- there's nothing you can do to change them. And it's a life lesson that I learned early and learned the hard way.

CURRY: Well, I tell you what, I could talk to you forever because the humor in this book, which we haven't even had a chance to get to...

Ms. L. BUSH: Yeah.

CURRY: ...it is such a beautifully written book.

Ms. L. BUSH: Thank you very much .

CURRY: And it's got so much wisdom in it. And we're going to be hearing from you in just a few moments again right after this.