George Bush, saying he’s confident history will get it right, is looking forward to visitors poring over his life and scholars scrutinizing his presidency.
“I think I will be remembered for being president at a time of historic change in the world and, if I were editorializing, I hope people would say, ‘Well, they handled this pretty well. Got it right,”’ Bush said.
The former president begins a new chapter in his life with the opening this week of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
In an interview with Texas reporters, he discussed what he hopes people will glean from the library, the post-White House years and his legacy. He also talked about his failed re-election bid in 1992, saying he unfairly was blamed for presiding over a sour economy that wasn’t.
“I lost in ‘92 because people still thought the economy was in the tank and I was out of touch and I didn’t understand that. And the economy wasn’t in the tank and I wasn’t out of touch, but I lost. But I lost,” he said, repeating the phrase softly.
Relaxed and reflective, Bush reviewed his forthcoming book about the end of the Cold War and other historic changes. “A World Transformed,” which he wrote with former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, will be published in September.
“It will cover in detail what has not been written about properly in my view - what went on in the administration, the interaction with our allies, on German unification,” he said.
A lifelong Republican, Bush said besides the way he handled a changing world, he wants to be remembered for domestic initiatives - something critics said he lacked.
Bush listed clean-air and disability-rights legislation, national goals for education and an improved economy.
And he hopes people will say he “did it with honor, treated the presidency with respect.”
The library, he said, may debunk some of the myths he said he has been fending off for years. People still are surprised to discover he’s as tall as he is (6 feet 2) or that he has a sense of humor, he said.
With relish, Bush, 73, noted he disproved one myth when he returned to Houston and built a house. He recalled media accounts of a 1992 demonstration put on by Democrats, “saying this elitist will never build a house on a tiny lot like this.”
Bush, who always has complained about the “on the couch” introspection expected of politicians, jokes now that can proceed without his having to be present.
Substantively, he wants those who are interested to study the conversations he had with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and others on German reunification.
His book, he said, also will deal with the liberation of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Persian Gulf War and its effect on the Mideast Peace Conference in Madrid.
Bush dismissed a suggestion he is intent on setting the record straight.
“I want to be sure the side that gets out is accurate, but, no, if I felt driven about doing that I would write a memoir,” he said.
But he doesn’t believe the record is straight in some areas, including the state of the economy when he ran for, and lost, re-election against Democrat Bill Clinton.
“I couldn’t get through the hue and cry for ‘Change, change, change’ and ‘The economy is horrible, still in recession.’ The recession ended the second quarter of ‘91. The election was held in the fourth quarter of ‘92. And the impression was, ‘We’re still in a recession and Bush doesn’t understand it.’ That’s why I lost.”
Asked whether the Bush economy produced the Clinton economic boom, he said historians will decide.
But he added, “I did one thing that was very unpopular in Republican circles. Raised taxes, and it cost me a lot in terms of credibility.”
Bush said the tax increase did not hurt the economy.
“Nobody can say this economy is plagued by a 1990 tax increase, but we got something that has helped this economy. We got a firm cap on discretionary government spending, and Democratic Congresses and Republican Congresses have both had to live with this,” he said.
“And none has tried to change it and that is historic, and people that go and take a look at the economy of the United States are going to take note of that.”
He said some revisionist thinking on the topic has begun in the media and elsewhere.
“I had not brought this up until now, as you notice. But if people reach that conclusion that the boom or the growth started while I was still president, fine,” he said. “I think that is what they are going to find, frankly.
“But for me to say it, or to go out and peddle this line, it makes it look like you’re trying to make something different from reality. It’s too subjective.”
He said he has been misjudged “by some people, but not overall.”
“We go places now and people are rather pleasant to us, which makes me think there hasn’t been a huge misjudgment,” he said.
“If I did feel that way, I wouldn’t be spending any time leaving my fly rod, coming in and trying to set the record straight because I am convinced history will get it right.”