Transcript: President George W. Bush Interview
|The Dispatch Staff||Apr 30||34|
The is a transcript of an interview of former President George W. Bush conducted by Sarah Isgur and Stephen F. Hayes of The Dispatch. It was recorded Thursday, April 29, 2021. Listen to this episode of The Dispatch Podcast: “George W. Bush Paints E Pluribus Unum.”
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Isgur: Welcome to The Dispatch Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Isgur, joined by Steve Hayes. And today we are in Dallas, Texas, talking to former President George W. Bush about his new book Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants. We’re gonna talk about the book, and art, and immigration, and the future of the Republican Party and everything in between. And what a treat, to talk to my former boss.
Isgur: Let’s dive right in. Mr. President, this book is—it’s incredible, it’s an incredible read. But I want to start with the visuals. It’s a book of your paintings. I want to talk about color.
President George W. Bush: Yeah.
Isgur: So what stood out to me is that, as president, you were a pretty buttoned-up guy. You know, plain suits, dark blues, blacks, et cetera. And yet your paintings—I’m looking at Sumera Haque, and, you know, the background is this bright red, her hair has purples and greens and reds in it. And as you describe it, you say, “As I painted Sumera, I tried to capture her pride in her sons, her joy in her work, and her gratitude for our country.” How do you think about color when you’re trying to tell someone’s story through pictures?
President Bush: Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, first of all, I didn’t think much about color when I was first painting. I was thinking about painting exactly what I saw. In other words, I would call myself a “Polaroid painter.” I realized that that’s not necessarily art—that it’s just reproduction. And one of my instructors, Big Jim—which, fine guy, taught at TCU for a long time—said, “What do you want to learn?” Kind of a gruff old guy. And I said, “color.” And he said, “Throw away all your paints.” I had bought every color that you can imagine, you know. And I said, “Okay.” And he said, “I want you to try using two yellows, two reds, phthalo blue, and a white, and that’s all.” And from that point forward I limited my palette, and I learned to mix paint as a result. And so every color in that book is based upon the primary colors. And as a result, it gives you a confidence in color—and it turns out I love color.
And some of it just came naturally, you know? I’m thinking about Sumera, I know her story: She’s been abused as a wife, mistreated, loves her sons a lot, and is a big-time contributor to women’s health in D.C. And so it was not so much thinking about the color but thinking about how to make her vibrant. And you know, the good thing about oil is, you put them on, you scrape them off. And so a lot of these portraits evolve. But thank you for talking about that. It was very important for me to get particularly the faces of women right, so they’d look at their portrait and not be disgusted by how I painted them.
President Bush: And I learned that lesson when I tried to paint Laura one time.
Isgur: I heard she didn’t love it.
President Bush: That’s a mild statement.
President Bush: Yeah, you know, I couldn’t—“What’s wrong with it?” “Well, I’m anguished.” “Okay, well, I’ll make you less anguished. What’s wrong with it now?” And, anyway, I finally just gave up.
Isgur: It’s for the best.
President Bush: Yeah, it is. Yeah.
Steve Hayes: How long have you been interested in painting? How long you been doing this?
President Bush: Well, Steve, here’s the thing. I came back from the presidency uncertain as what I was going to do. One thing I was certain of was I was not going to weigh in on criticizing my successors. And the reason I felt that way is that the country benefits from the institutional stability of the presidency itself. Not necessarily the occupant of the office, but the presidency, and it weakens the presidency to be yet another, you know, talking head. Another political voice. Secondly, I didn’t like it when former presidents criticized me, and therefore I wasn’t going to do it.
Hayes: I mean, to be clear, you didn’t like it when I criticized you either, so.
President Bush: But, you know what, you weren’t a president and never will be. So therefore I was very, very forgiving.
Hayes: I’d never want to be! I’d never want to be!
President Bush: The truth of the matter is I didn’t mind criticism, because I think it’s one of the key components of our democracy, and it’s how the powerful are held to account. And I recognized early on that power is very corrupting, and all of a sudden you think, “Well, I'm powerful, therefore I’m all-knowing,” or “I’m powerful; I can do what I want to do,” or “I’m powerful; my friends can benefit.” And we need people to hold the powerful to account. It’s what happens to be missing in Russia, for example, right now.
And so, you know, I wrote these books about the presidency, and my dad, and yet it wasn’t enough. And about eight years ago, by chance, I read an essay by Winston Churchill, “Painting as a Pastime”—and I strongly recommend it. First of all, he’s an awesome guy. He was a great leader and a really good writer. And I turned to Laura and said, you know, I want to paint. And it was a shocking statement, because I was agnostic at best on art. I mean, we lived in a great art collection at the White House I didn’t even pay attention to. And so I started painting, and I’ve been painting ever since. My first wonderful painting was a cube. And Gail [Norfleet] was my instructor, and, and I convinced her I was serious, which made her serious. She got me to take a MoMA course online. I have been studying other artists now, a lot. I still study other artists to try to get a sense for how they achieved good color, for example, or emotion, and, it’s been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.
Hayes: So this wasn't something that you did a lot as a kid and picked up again?
President Bush: No, no. I was a little league player in Midland, Texas. But, you know, no, we didn’t have a lot of art discussions around our house. And but, you know, I’m passionate about this on the subject. And I use it as an interesting lesson in life, that you’re never too old to learn something. I mean, people get really occupied with what they’re doing, and that’s fine. But at some point in time, you know, there’s going to be a learning challenge. And my advice to people who just retired is: Paint!
Isgur: In each story that you’re telling through these pictures—and by the way, you pick up this book and you think it’s just going to be a pretty normal coffee table book, it’s really about the pictures, you can sort of flip through what’s being written. But no—The stories, at my dinner table, my parents were visiting when I read this book, and I, like it was the 19th century or something, read to them from the book so that it could be our dinner conversation. The stories are so wonderful that you include.
President Bush: Thank you. Thank you.
Isgur: I’ve noticed two things that were in every single story. And it couldn’t be an accident. Family—you always emphasize people’s families. And second, the social capital surrounding them when they got to this country. And I wonder whether, as so many people talk about social capital failing in this country, declining in this country, sort of the Robert Putnam Bowling Alone theory, do you emphasize that because you’re concerned about the future of social capital in this country or because you think it’s more vibrant than we give it credit for?
President Bush: I think it’s more vibrant than we give it credit for. There are millions of acts of compassion that take place on a daily basis in America that most people don’t know about. It’s really one of the unique aspects of our country. You know, many societies have forfeited compassion to government. But government’s not compassionate. Compassion exists because people’s hearts are purer, more pure, because they do want to love somebody. And also one of the themes in this story is religion. Catholic Charities, for example, as part of the compassionate agenda. But the two North Korean escapees found solace as a result of missionaries, hiding in China, waiting to envelop a stranger in love. My whole point on all this immigration debate and stuff is, I think if we valued life as precious and every life matters, that we’re all God’s children, that all of a sudden the tone of the debate might be a little better. No, I think I think compassion is very strong in America. As a matter of fact, the more dysfunctional government looks, the more compassionate people are, because it is an efficient way of dealing in society.
Isgur: Let’s move to immigration, because that’s obviously the theme of this book. You have an essay by Yuval Levin, who you paint and speak kindly of. And Yuval quotes this Abraham Lincoln quote that is just wonderful, and I want to read it so that everyone knows it. He’s talking about people who come to this country and what the Declaration of Independence means to them. “But when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find that those old men say that ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ And then they feel that that moral sentiment, taught in that day, evidences their relationship to those men, that it is the father of all moral principles in them, and that they have a right to claim it as though they were blood of the blood and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote that declaration. And so they are.”
President Bush: Yeah, yeah.
Isgur: Do you think we do enough for immigrants coming to this country, or even our own citizens, to teach that sentiment?
President Bush: I think we teach it pretty well to immigrants, because they may not be able to cite it, but they feel it. But many of our citizens take the beauty of that sentiment for granted. And so one reason why I wanted people to focus on the individual stories, because to a person, they’re incredibly appreciative of what America stands for. You know, they don’t need a lecture on freedom to feel what a free society means. And so yeah, no, I don’t worry about immigrants, they may not be able to quote it—hell, I couldn’t quote it.
Isgur: I read it, to be clear.
President Bush: Thank you. Yes, good. Yuval’s a smart guy and I put him in there for a couple of reasons. One, I know him, and admire him. But also because immigrants bring incredible brainpower to our country. And he’s a really capable man who can articulate the beauties of American experience in ways that people born here can’t.
Hayes: Including people who think about it and write about for a living like me. I can’t do what Yuval does.
One of the things that struck me as I read this—my brother Andy, my younger brother, worked for Catholic Charities in Washington D.C. with refugees and migrants. And he would come home, and we’d have a beer after work, and he would tell these stories. And what struck me was the through line here about how much they appreciated what America provides, what America offers. And these stories, one after another after another, are so incredible. Some of the details of the story—the first one, that Joseph Kim story. The first Bible verse he sees after coming out of North Korea, where it’s all black, and then he sees this. How—talking about how immigrants appreciate America, and how sometimes those of us who were born here take it for granted—are there things that others can do? I mean, I think part of why you did this was to sort of shine a light on how special it is. What else should be done to make people appreciate what we’ve got?
President Bush: Well, you know, there needs to be leadership that inspires and reminds people of the beauty of America, not the ugliness. Right now we’re overwhelmed with a lot of friction, tension. But, you know, it’s an interesting question that was asked about, do I think that America is a compassionate country? And I know it is. And one of the reasons I talk about these stories is because, almost to a person, they’re willing to put something back in our society. In other words, the compassion they received is a catalyst to then in turn give back. And it’s that cycle of, you know, receiving and then giving and receiving and giving, that had made us very unique.
I hope this book will help set a different tone for the immigration debate. I fully understand the populist angst that comes with the immigration debate. You know I'll never forget, a long time ago, we were campaigning in a town in Iowa. And one of the Latino kids that was in my campaign, this was in 2000, got profiled. And it really irritated me, frankly. I was told by one of the city fathers that “Well, we just don’t see many of them around here.” And it became very apparent that immigration was going to create some cultural tensions—as those meatpacking plants up there in Iowa needed workers and, you know, the Swedes weren’t all that anxious to do it. And in comes people who are starving to do the work, and hard workers, and all of a sudden those communities begin to change, and the culture, the friction. And, you know, I didn't really realize that. I mean, after all, I grew up in Texas. Where we were Mexico.
Hayes: Do you understand where those—this was actually one of the main questions I wanted to ask you. Can you understand those sentiments, though? Because a lot of it, I think we are in one of these spasms of fear. An ugly moment, to be sure. But some of Ythat, I would say—take that example of what that gentleman told you. you grew up and you had a very particular experience with immigrants—
President Bush: Sure did.
Hayes: Starting with, with Paula.
President Bush: Paula.
Hayes: And then from there, you saw immigrants in a very positive light.
President Bush: Absolutely. And as governor of Texas.
Hayes: Can you understand with people who haven’t had that experience—
President Bush: Sure. Absolutely.
Hayes: —why they come to a different conclusion, or they see that this is a threat? This person might take my job.
President Bush: Yeah, and one of the reasons I can see it is because I studied history. And, you know, I remember the Know Nothing Party, fiercely anti-immigrant. I remember the immigration policy of the 20s: Too many Jews and Italians, therefore we have zero immigrants—except for, of course, on the Texas border, where immigrants were always coming in to help the cattle ranchers and the farmers. Yeah, I fully understand and I don’t cast aspersion.
But I also know that without those immigrants, the economies of those areas would be, you know, paltry. And so therefore the purpose of the book, and the purpose of I think responsible policymakers, is to say “Look, we fully understand where you’re coming from.” I mean English as a second language is all of a sudden being introduced into classrooms for the first time in some school districts. Or hospitals, you know, with young immigrant moms filling emergency rooms.
We know, we understand your angst. On the other hand, I hope you take time to learn about the motivations, and the positive contributions these citizens can make. Sure, it’s a natural phenomenon, and it's not a one-time experience in our country. We’ve been having these spasms of anxiety for a long period of time. On the other hand, a confident nation says “E Pluribus Unum.” For the unsophisticated, Steve, that means “out of many, one.”
Hayes: Thank you, appreciate that.
President Bush: Happy to teach you a little Latin. But, you know, sometimes we lose our confidence.
Isgur: You have said that not passing immigration reform was one of the biggest regrets, if not the biggest regret, of your presidency.
President Bush: Yeah.
Isgur: Do you think the Republican Party bears the majority of the blame for that, and has the Republican Party stoked some of that fear for political gain?
President Bush: No, I don’t think so—I think plenty of Republicans know that immigration needs to be reformed. In 2006, if I could lay blame, it’d be to the Democratic leadership of the Senate for refusing to allow a bill to go forward without the amendment process. Now, this is very arcane. But we had a good bill going, and senators needed to be able to try to amend the bill in order to go back to their constituents and say, “I tried to make it better, but unfortunately they didn’t vote for it. On the other hand, the good outweighs the bad.” And so, yeah, no, I don’t blame Republicans for that. It would have been a hard fight in the House in 2006, but I’m confident we could have gotten a bipartisan vote on it.
Now, the reason I say it’s a regret is because it’s my fault. I tried to reform Social Security before reforming immigration. And, you know, I was warned. I’ll never forget, a bunch of Republicans came to see me and said, “Hey, we hear you’re putting social security reform in your State of the Union.” It’s 2005. And I said “Yeah I am, I campaigned on it.” I mean, I was quite explicit about that and immigration reform. And they said, “Well we don’t think you should do that. As a matter of fact, we’re not gonna support it.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m the Republican standard-bearer, I just won.” I said, “Why aren’t you gonna support it?” They said, “We’ll lose seats.” And I said, “We’ll lose seats in the next midterm if we don’t do big things.” But I got stubborn and tried to run with Social Security. Fizzled out. But I do believe if I’d surprised everybody and gone with immigration first, we might have got ahead of the populist uprising on the issue.
Isgur: I’m curious about your reactions to President Biden’s speech last night, but he talked about immigration and he talked about the need to pass comprehensive immigration reform. But he also said, “And if you don’t want to do it comprehensively, let's just do some of these piecemeal.” He mentioned dreamers and farmworkers. Do you think piecemeal is now the way to go after a couple decades of failed comprehensive efforts?
Isgur: Do you think piecemeal is now the way to go after a couple decades of failed comprehensive efforts?
President Bush: I think so. I think that Dreamers, most Americans understand you're not going to take a kid that came over here as a young person and send them back to nowhere. I mean there's no place to go. And I put a Dreamer in the book, just want to make the case that a lot of these Dreamers are making significant contributions. Carlos is an engineer doing extremely well in San Antonio. I think piecemeal probably makes sense, and I think the President, if I could be so bold, [should] call in Republicans who are like-minded and say “Let's see if we can’t get something done.” You know, border security is always a touchstone issue on this, and Americans have got to be assured that the government is doing everything they can to enforce the border. But there ought to be a recognition that without some reforms—Let me rephrase it: Reforming will make it easier to enforce the border. So, for example, if there's work to be done and somebody's got a work visa that enables them to come legally, they're not going to have to sneak across the border, which means Border Patrol will be more likely to do their job. Right now, the asylum system is totally broken. I mean, it's overwhelmed, and we got Border Patrol agents who are not enforcing the law like they're trained to do, kind of driving kids around to different sites or guarding places in West Texas. And so comprehensive may be too big of a reach right now. Like if they can get DACA done with some border enhancement plans to give Republicans comfort in voting for the bill, then all of a sudden there's confidence to be gained, and then they can deal with the work or they can deal with the undocumented. But, yeah, that may be a better approach.
Hayes: Is what we're seeing on the border right now—it was pretty predictable. People predicted it.
President Bush: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Hayes: Top Biden advisors were asked questions about it before he was sworn in. Does he bear responsibility for what we're seeing? And does it make it harder, because everybody goes back to their corners and says, “Look what's happening?”
President Bush: Yeah, I agree with that. I think it makes it harder to pin blame on anybody, you know, Republicans hate this and the administration doesn’t like that. I agree with that, Steve, I think finger-pointing makes it hard to get something done. It's still a polarized electorate, which makes it harder to get policy done. I think the change of administrations enabled the coyotes and the propagandists and the exploiters to say, “Alright, now we can get you in.” And these people are so desperate. And they're so scared for their lives. They pay enormous sums of money and oftentimes are, you know, fooled. And they can't get them in. And as a result of people flooding to the border, the whole thing is like, you know, if you were to go down and ask Catholic Charities, “How are you doing?” they're going to say, “We're overwhelmed. Totally overwhelmed.” And yet they're on the front line of trying to help. And it's—I don't know all the details about all this—but I noticed they’re now beginning to work better with the Mexicans and they're beginning to work with the border between Mexico and Guatemala. And hopefully that'll start, and I’m pretty confident word’s now getting out that the coyotes are lying to you. But whether or not the desperation and hope overwhelms reality, I don't know. But it's hard right now and it scares a lot of Americans. Nobody wants—well I shouldn't say that. Rational people should not be arguing for an open border. You can't be a nation of law and have an open border. But you can recognize that the border can be less open by reform.
Isgur: But as we continue to have such a flood of unaccompanied minors, including parents who are bringing their children to the border, and then staying on the Mexican side of the border to let their children cross, doesn't that undermine the case for DACA and the Dreamers as well if we're just then incentivizing unaccompanied children to come?
President Bush: I don’t think so. I think that it’s like saying somebody who's been here for 10 years and has paid their taxes and is a good American shouldn't be given the opportunity to come out of the shadows. You know, I think one could argue any reform provides further incentive. But the question is, is reform going to make our border policy more compassionate and more enforceable? And I happen to think it would. But look, they're all legitimate arguments. But what’s the alternative? I mean, just let these kids who've been here for a long time and are contributing fear being kicked out to nowhere? I don't think that makes sense. And I think most Americans agree with that, you know. You'll be happy to hear I'm not paying attention to the polls much these days.
Isgur: Did you ever?
President Bush: No, thankfully. A little rough, actually, if you remember.
Hayes: How much is the problem on immigration, specifically in terms of getting to a solution, is because it's such a potent issue politically? For both sides.
President Bush: I think a lot. I think a lot.
Hayes: And so they'd rather have the issue than solve the problem.
President Bush: I think you're right, Steve, and you know, no question. I mean, it's like a lot of issues. You know, Social Security. Social Security should have been fixed. I mean, it's one of the great hoaxes to tell young Americans, “Please put money in the system, it'll be fine,” and, you know, guys my age are beneficiaries, but the people putting money in are likely not to see a dime. Or see some, but have put more money in. But it's a potent political issue. And I knew it was, and hence, members of my own party said, “We're not with you.” And I said “Why?” “Because we'll lose seats.” I mean, that's the crux of the matter.
Hayes: I want to get back to, I have a question about one of the folks you profiled in the book, but I want to ask follow-up on that specifically. Listening to President Biden's speech last night, he was, shall we say, aggressive, or ambitious, with his spending proposals.
President Bush: Sure.
Hayes: And during your eight years in office, we accumulated an additional $3.3 trillion in debt, roughly. And you got a lot of grief for that even though, I mean, from people like me.
President Bush: Yeah, well you probably didn't look at the debt to GDP ratios compared to previous presidents, but that's okay.
Hayes: No, I did look at it, and I still criticized it.
President Bush: You were a little narrow-minded in those days.
Hayes: No, but I mean, look $3.3 trillion was a lot. I thought it was wise and smart and necessary to try to reform Social Security. I'm glad Republicans in Congress in 2011 to ‘16 tried to reform Medicare and other entitlements. We're not going to solve the problem unless we as a country address those things. But if you look at what President Biden proposed last night, we're talking about $6 trillion in new spending that he's proposed in his first 100 days.
President Bush: Yeah.
Hayes: I mean we passed, practically fainted at the 3.3 trillion. What needs to happen and where are Republicans on this?
President Bush: You know there's a school of thought that says debt doesn't matter.
Hayes: Well your vice president at one point said deficits don't matter.
President Bush: Yeah, well, and money supply doesn't matter. And it puzzles me to think about the lack of regard for inflation. And I remember 1978 and ‘79, double digit inflation, double digit unemployment, double digit interest rates. And so there's an economic theory out there that I don't understand. And I guess it's one of the blessings of being 74 years old, you know, maybe the chickens won't come home to roost until I'm long gone. But they've got to come home to roost. You got all this money floating around, and debt, and it's going to be really problematic. We were very conscious, by the way, in spite of that loaded question, of spending money. The debt to GDP was, I think, the lowest since Reagan if I'm not mistaken. And the deficit to GDP was lower than everybody's but Bill Clinton's. And I was conscious of it, and was—you know I'm a supply sider and felt like cutting taxes would enhance economic growth—we had a few interruptions, such as a huge financial meltdown, but you know that school of thought seems to be dissipating. And now, and I don't see how you can tax your way to prosperity. And, you know, we'll see whether or not his full package gets passed.
Hayes: Or spend.
President Bush: Or spend, yeah. Spend your way to prosperity and raise taxes to achieve the spending.
Isgur: I think there's a lot of narratives that can be told around the 2016 Republican primary, and the shifts that the Republican Party has undergone since then. But one of those narratives must be around immigration, that in fact it was the rejection of the Gang of Eight, the comprehensive immigration reform from the moderates within the Republican Party. How does the 2016 election Republican voters fit into this book’s central thesis? Which is, again, in at least one narrative of the 2016 election, exactly what they rejected.
President Bush: Yeah. You know it's interesting, I didn't think about that. You know, my candidate didn't win. That would be brother Jeb, who had a comprehensive plan.
Isgur: Thanks for specifying that.
President Bush: He had a comprehensive plan. I didn't think about that from, you know, helping the party perspective so much. Although I do, and first of all, it's not a moderate issue. I happen to believe it's a conservative issue. Because inherent in treating each individual decently is the notion that government doesn't love. And it requires loving people to help people realize their potential. But, you know, Steve's question was, “Is it too polarized to be a winning issue for anybody?” And he may be right. I hope not, and part of the purpose is to try to just bring a different light. I mean, I was discouraged when I saw some of the language associated with immigrants and wanted to present a different side. And some of the stories in here are just unbelievable. I mean, Jeanne Lakin. I mean, she sees her dad hatcheted to death by Hutus. Her mother dies. She's abused as a young teenager by Hutus. She gets a foster father who brings her here with his family. With her here in the States, he abuses her. And yet to hear her talk about forgiveness is unbelievably inspiring. And it's not fake forgiveness. It is a genuine love for mankind. And my point is it's the kind of person that will make our society better.
Hayes: Yeah, sort of amazing she even survived, reading the details.
President Bush: Same with Gilbert.
Isgur: Yes, the story in the gym—they burn the gym with him in it.
President Bush: Yeah, and his classmates, because they were Tutsis. And you know it's politics at its worst.
Isgur: And when we talk about, when we look back at that genocide, it feels very relevant today as we look at the Uyghurs. It’s sad.
President Bush: And that's the beauty of America, take people like Gilbert, and he’s just as equally American as you and I.
Hayes: Can I ask about Salim Asrawi?
President Bush: Yes you can.
Hayes: So my first question about him is, is there a little bit of you in this picture because…
President Bush: No, no. Somebody accused me of that and I said look, “Salim’s a hell of a lot uglier than I am.”
President Bush: He was standing there, by the way. He's a cool guy. He employs about, I think he told me, 3,000 people now. And came with nothing. And he lives here in Dallas. He’s got triplets and twins.
Isgur: And he escaped Beirut...
Hayes: Yeah I mean, this is what was so interesting to me. We've spent some time talking about the nativism and sort of fear and hostility towards immigrants that we've seen from the right. There's a different phenomenon, I think, happening on the left sometimes. And it involves this whole discussion of cultural appropriation. Here's a guy who comes from Lebanon, he starts something called “Texas De Brazil.” These aren't his cultures. It's the kind of thing that only he could do in America. And yet, that kind of thing is now being frowned upon, increasingly.
President Bush: Really? I’m totally out of touch with all that.
Hayes: Yeah on the left, there's a prominent chef who took a picture of bibimbap, a popular Korean dish, and posted it and said, “Hey this is great.” She took untold amounts of grief for having done this and was accused of cultural appropriation because she wasn't Korean. Does that—?
President Bush: Nah, I mean, I must confess, I'm kind of aware of the phenomena, but I don't pay attention to it. Maybe I should. Maybe it made me much more sensitive—
Hayes: I don’t know, might be better not to.
President Bush: Yeah, but Salim, I didn't put him in there for that. I put him in there because the guy came with nothing from a war-torn country and worked hard and employs a lot of people. And the point is that immigrants add to our economic vitality because, you know, there's kind of unlimited horizons for them. Now, whether or not it affects his restaurant, maybe it would if it’s up east or something. I don't know. I think he’s going to be fine.
Hayes: I mean, I would make the argument that it's a quintessentially American story.
President Bush: No question.
Hayes: To me.
President Bush: Me, too.
Hayes: But I think there are a growing number of people on the left who would say no, maybe this isn't right. He shouldn't pick and choose.
President Bush: That’s their problem. Because it's kind of sad if that's the case. I mean, it's, you know, I've always said, you know, I'm for purity, so long as I'm the judge.
Isgur: There have been elements within the Republican Party, now that have been in favor of, well, as they phrase it, “Anglo-Saxon traditions” being put into law. I'm curious whether there is a version of the Republican Party if they followed that strain in three years or five years, where you would say, “I'm not a Republican?”
President Bush: No I’d say there’s not going to be a party. I mean I read about that and I'm saying to myself, “Wow, these people need to read my book.” And I mean, it's like saying when I was running for Governor of Texas, you'll never get any Latino votes because you're Republican. And I said you watch. And I worked hard. And the key thing was to let them know that I could hear their voice. I mean, democracy is great in that sense. And the idea of kind of saying you can only be Republican “if,” then the ultimate extension of that is it ends up being a one-person party.
Hayes: But there are more of those people today than there were in the Republican Party during your tenure.
President Bush: I hope not.
Hayes: Either that, or they’re louder. Right? Many members of Congress, I mean, they were talking about starting a caucus.
President Bush: Yeah, well. You know, to me that basically says that we want to be extinct.
Hayes: We've seen other elements of that. Some of the same people were talking about starting the Anglo-Saxon caucus are the people who were hyping up the idea that the election was stolen from Joe Biden. More than 50% of Republicans across the country think the election was stolen. Do you?
President Bush: No. I guess I'm one of the other 50%.
President Bush: By the way, I'm still a Republican, proudly to be Republican. I think Republicans will have a second chance to govern, because I believe that the Biden administration is a uniting factor, and particularly on the fiscal side of things. So, you know, we'll see. But I know this—that if the Republican Party stands for exclusivity, you know, used to be country clubs, now evidently it’s white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, then it's not going to win anything.
Hayes: Do you think Republicans have credibility to go back to fiscal issues and call for limited government? I mean, the last four years happened, right?
President Bush: No question. Yeah, well I think you know, they're going to have to. Unless, of course, the economic theory that I've just poo-pooed ends up being reality. People I talk to who know something about it are just scratching their heads, you know. I mean, how can you print money and have explosive fiscal irresponsibility and not expect there to be inflation? And we've taken no inflation for granted, but inflation is a punitive tax on the elderly and the poor. And it's, you know, we haven't had any for a long period of time, so therefore you know, it could end up being a shock to people.
Isgur: Part of the story of immigration in this country is tied up in the story of race and the history of race in this country. In the summer of 2016, you spoke at the eulogy of the police officers in Dallas who were killed, and you said, “Too often we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
President Bush: Yeah, yeah.
Isgur: When you look at the George Floyd case and so many others from the last five years since you gave that eulogy, what grade do you give the country?
President Bush: The Floyd verdict causes me to give the grade, you know, A. Because I think the trial was fair and justice was served. The question is, “What grade do you give police people?” And the answer to that is overall good, except police departments need to learn to weed out those who don't hold our fellow citizens in the same regard as they hold themselves. And there's no question there needs to be police reform. But I think one of the lessons that people will learn over time is that there's no question there needs to be police. And so again, I'm optimistic about the country's capacity to take on real issues. And there is a real issue in police accountability. The thing after the riots at the Capitol that should be encouraging to people, although it's hard to—it's hard to kind of see beyond that moment—is that the institutions held. And the question is, will the institutions of justice hold and be fair? And so far I think that's been the case. Now, you know, we'll see these other cases are going to be adjudicated. I mean, the truth of the matter is there have been a lot. You wonder how many might have been exposed with the Internet. You know how much of this might have been just common practice and, you know, it feels to me that probably a lot more than we anticipate because there's…
Hayes: You see it.
President Bush: Yeah.
Isgur: Alright, last question. When Salim, who we spoke about earlier, who started the restaurant, came to this country. One of the first things he did is he celebrated his 14th birthday with a delicious meal at Luby's. Now, not everyone outside of Texas will know about Luby's, but I have so many fond childhood memories. I grew up in Fort Bend County outside of Houston.
President Bush: Yeah, you Sugarland?
Isgur: Richmond, Rosenberg.
President Bush: Yeah, sure.
Isgur: Outside Sugarland, like keep going!
President Bush: Let me ask you this question: Did you load up on dessert?
Isgur: Jello, obviously the red Jello. So that was my question to you, what is your go-to? Now for those who don't know, Luby's is kind of a meat-and-three cafeteria place.
President Bush: Yeah that’s it.
Isgur: So, Mr. President, what is your Luby's, you go through the line, you're pointing out what you want, what do you get?
President Bush: Well first of all, I went to Kinkaid School for two years in Houston and Buddy Luby was in my class.
Isgur: Oh my goodness, a real celebrity.
President Bush: Yeah he was, except Luby's went bankrupt.
President Bush: Anyway, you know I was a macaroni and cheese guy, fried chicken, and, you know jello was a little weak when it came to the sugar I needed, and so I'd go with, like, coconut cream pie.
President Bush: Oh yeah, Luby's was good,
Isgur: Good call.
President Bush: That was pretty cool that Salim went to Luby's.
Isgur: It felt like the most quintessential Texan thing in maybe the whole book.
President Bush: Yeah, well it is one. I wish you could meet Salim. You'd be captivated by his enthusiasm.
Hayes: Plus we could do all you can eat meat, which would be great for us.
President Bush: Which, by the way—last Thanksgiving, he delivered to the ranch a huge amount of his beef. And we fed the Secret Service, we fed the ranch foremen, we fed ourselves.
Hayes: If he wants to do that at The Dispatch headquarters, we would be happy to take it.
President Bush: There you go. Where is Dispatch headquarters?
Hayes: We’re in D.C., right in downtown. A few blocks from your old house.
President Bush: There you go.
Isgur: Well, Mr. President, we so appreciate your time today. We appreciate the book “Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants,” by George W. Bush.
President Bush: Thank you very much. I'm honored you paid attention to it.