He is not a reflective man by nature, but the pause before his party's convention gave President Bush a chance to look back on the job and what it's taught him. Bush spoke with NEWSWEEK's Evan Thomas and Tamara Lipper aboard Air Force One.
NEWSWEEK: One of the things we hear a lot about you, and from you, is this notion that people have to mean what they say and say what they mean. Is that the most important thing?
BUSH: I think the recurring theme for me is, is that I'm capable of making decisions and following through on the decisions I make. I decide something almost every day, which means you had better have a management structure that enables good information to flow to you. It means that you listen to good advice, that you have a team that is focused on the good of the country, but also a team of people willing to express themselves in an open way. The Oval Office is a powerful place. It's the kind of place where people stand outside, "I'm going to come in and tell him what for," and they walk in and get overwhelmed by the atmosphere, and say, "Man, you're looking beautiful, Mr. President." [Laughter.] And, therefore, you'd better have people that walk in and say, "You're right and wrong," and I do.
A phrase that comes up again and again is that you're comfortable in your own skin. Why do people use that phrase about you?
Gosh, I don't know. I guess they--I know who I am. I tell people that, if you're the president, you don't have time to try to figure out who you are. I think it's unfair to the American people to sit in that Oval Office and try to find your inner soul. Like everybody, I learn. I've learned a lot as the president. Obviously, if I make mistakes in dealing with people, I try to adjust.
How did 9/11 change you? What did you learn in the last four years?
I've learned that it's very important to be deliberate in decision-making. I've learned that I can weep with those who suffer, and I can express appreciation with those who serve. I have learned that my faith is a very important part of my life. There's an amazing phenomenon going on in America, it seems like to me, where people walk up and say, "I pray for you and your family." It's a very comforting aspect of the presidency. I've learned that I've got a great wife. I've learned to be more patient.
Do you think that Senator Kerry is indecisive?
That's for the people to decide. I do think he has sent some mixed signals over the course of the campaign--for the war, against the war, now for the war. Knowing what I know today--when I asked a question, knowing what we know today, would you have voted for the resolution? He said yes. And so the people can make up their mind. I really don't want to spend a lot of time in this interview discussing him.
Who's the better adviser, your mother or your father?
It is much harder to be the loved one of the candidate than it is to be the candidate. I'm advising them a lot, about don't worry about me. They're still very active and very happy people, but they're worriers. They worry about me. Listen, of course, I talk to my dad. And I talk to my mother a lot, you know, once a week, once every 10 days. You know, I'll call them in the mornings when I get to the Oval early and say, "How you doing? Turn off this show." I want them to stop watching it.
Put the remote down.
Yes, exactly. But Dad understands that I am so better informed on many issues than he could possibly be that his advice is minimal on issues. He understands the process. The combination of my advisers' bringing me information, or the CIA bringing it--the president gets a lot of information. And he understands that telling a president "Do this" or "Do that" without knowing what I know can be counterproductive. It happened to him, a lot, by the way. Mother's advice is, "Smile more. Your blue shirts need to be pressed."