An Interview with Laura Bush and Cindy McCain

NEWSWEEK: Thank you all so much. I want to start with the news. You both have been in politics for a long time, you have been engaged in firestorms that have flared up around you, probably more times than you would like to remember. What advice have you given or would you give to Governor Palin as she deals with this intersection with the personal and the political?
Laura Bush:
Well we met with her [Tuesday] morning. But I knew her already, of course, because, we'd met her a number of times. We didn't dare give her any advice, frankly…We know she can take care of everything; she's very, very strong. But the one thing I said to both of them—to Cindy McCain and to Sarah—is to say to the press, 'Our kids are off limits, and that's just absolutely the way it is.' Because they're not running, and it's just really not fair to have the press ask about family members. (Article continued below...)

Do you feel with your daughters that was by and large…
By in large, I think that they were left alone, and we appreciate [that], very much.

You met Governor Palin, before the meeting in Sedona.
Cindy McCain:
Oh yeah, we met her some months ago.

There seems to be an instant simpatico, between the senator and the governor. Is that a fair way to put it?
It is. She's very much like my husband in how she approaches things, her attitude—her maverick attitude, her straight talk, her intelligence. The very first night we met her, which was months ago…you could see a great deal of similarities and also, good things. It was really fun. And more importantly, she will really work well with him, because they had a great understanding…their attitudes are all about reform, and prosperity, and so she could not be a more perfect pick for him. I'm so glad he did it.

It's an historic pick, obviously, and it's an historic year. As our late friend Tim Russert would say, 'What a country.'…Did you expect to see a woman on the ticket?
I didn't. I was surprised, and I'm absolutely thrilled, I've been looking forward to the chance to vote for a Republican woman and now I'm going to get the chance and I'm very, very happy about Sarah. And I do know Sarah. I've known her through the NGA, the National Governor's Association. George and I were with her in Alaska on August 4th on our way to Asia for the Olympics. And everything Cindy says is just right about her. She has a certain grit that I think Western women have and that I admire very much. And I'm very excited about her being on the ticket.

You both have a perspective on war that a lot of people don't. You're married to men who are commanders of forces or oversee them. Mrs. McCain, in your case, you have two sons—one who's been in harm's way, and one who may well [be heading there]. I'm just wondering what's that like….How do you cope really, knowing your sons are possibly in harm's way and trying to support your husband as he makes these critical decisions?
Well as you know, Governor Palin also has a son who is about to deploy [on] September 11th. It's not about coping; both of my sons made a choice to do this. I'm also a mother, so of course I worry, and I would worry if they crossed the street...That's just what I do. But I'm so proud of them, and they had every option in the world to do whatever they wanted and they chose this. I would encourage anyone who has never been to a ceremony for when these troops come home, or when they leave: Go. You don't have to be a member of a family to go. Because these are proud young men and women, and they are the finest America has to offer. So I console myself, on the nights when I am worried, with the fact that I know that they're the best trained, the best equipped, and absolutely the best forces we've ever had.

Mrs. Bush, being married to a commander in chief…Lincoln used to say, 'I go to my knees because I don't have any place else to go.' President Roosevelt had sons in the military. When he comes home, do you not talk about it, does he talk about it?
No, of course, we talk about it, and that is by far, the most difficult decision the president ever makes, and that is to send our troops into harm's way. And it is a burden of worry on the president, and on the president's family as well as on every single family who have a loved one in the military—every single day, every single minute. I mean, that's just a fact of life, that's how it is. And on the other hand, do I think it was the right thing to do? Absolutely. And we're seeing some good results, we just saw Anbar Province turned over back to the Iraqis, I think that's really good. I visited, with women in Afghanistan who can walk on the road and have jobs, and go to school and do all the things that they were not allowed to do under the Taliban. And is it tough? Absolutely. It's very tough, but Americans can do things that are hard. And is it hard on the commander in chief? You know, harder on him, I think, than on anyone else, except for, of course, the families who are also involved.

Did it help that the president's father had been in the same position?
Maybe, I mean, I don't know about that, I don't know if you can practice for that, for coping, as you say that you have to do. There's no doubt about that, but yeah, I mean, I can remember when President Bush, when watching television in Dallas, when the U.S. went in to liberate Kuwait, you know, I can remember that. I can remember how worried he was, how worried sick he was about it. So I think John McCain is certainly a student of history, I mean he's lived through very, very historical times himself… And he knows, and I think anybody who's running for this office knows, that those are the kind of challenges that you may have to face. We didn't expect that, you know we never expected that. Both of us thought that we would have a time of almost total domestic issues, and those would be the big issues. The Cold War was over, the central European countries were liberated from the Soviet Union, that's just what we thought it would be. But the one thing you know, and I know John McCain knows this, is that when you are running for this job, you don't know what is gonna happen, but you know things are going to happen. And you have to be prepared, and he is prepared, and I think that's what makes him, by far, the candidate that everyone ought to support.

You both are also married to men who have—formidable mothers would be a safe way to say it. I wouldn't cross either one of them. How do you think that influenced them?
Oh, in my husband's case, she was clearly the strongest influence in his life, because his father was gone so much. She not only shaped his sturdiness—and by that I mean his grit, his demeanor—a large part comes from his mother, but also his values, the way he approaches things. I think a lot of his straight-talk attitude comes from his mother. And I love it. I don't know if you ever met her, but she's a pistol, and I love her to death.

Not only that though. I think her perseverance for many, many years being a single mother, and having to raise the kids. I know this story she tells about driving cross-country, during World War II, with her kids in a car with no air conditioning in the 40s. I can't imagine what that would be like. And doing it because it was the right thing to do, because her husband was serving, and they were serving. So I've learned a great deal about my family, as certainly have my sons from her, from her attitude towards service.

And your mother-in-law?
I think George really likes women. And I think that happened because he liked his mother, and he has a very close relationship with her, as the oldest child he did. And she was just 18 or 19 when she had him, she's just not that much older than we are, really. Plus, a lot of the same things Cindy said, both our husbands are pretty out front, and I think their mothers are, too.

I talked to Senator McCain a couple of weeks ago about his father. And he was very interesting. Unprompted, he started talking about his father, about his wonderful strengths, but also about his weaknesses in terms of alcoholism. How do you think that affected him? He was somewhat reflective.
Well, I know that number one is that a large part of the stress and strain was due to the fact that he was commanding and ordering the bombing, while his son was captive. And it presented a huge strain on him. He fought alcoholism his entire life, and I think what my husband gained from that was a wariness of the disease, and certainly a wariness of the dangers that lie in public life and certainly in stressful situations. But he also knew his father to be, as you know, a genuinely religious man with a great deal of depth, and love for this country. He did have the one demon that chased him his entire life.

If everything works out eight weeks from today…what will your focus be if you were to live in the White House? What would be the causes?
Many of the same things I'm doing now and certainly more. As you know, I do a lot of international relief work. I would not want to change what I do. Hopefully with the ability to do it from the position of first lady, I would be able to bring even more reflection and observance of things that are critical around the world. I like what I do and it's a part of my fiber. I would never stop, I would just do more of it; and I enjoy it. And I also want to encourage people to get involved. I don't mean you have to cross a pond to do it. But go to the corner, go to your neighborhood church, go to your community center, but get involved. Because I think a large part of what people do is sit back and complain, and wait for the government to take over. And in my opinion, I think it's much better to get involved, on a community level and volunteer and be a part of it. The government shouldn't be responsible for that. I want people to really be encouraged and inspired to, as my husband said, serve a cause greater than your own self-interest.

Mrs. Bush, what would you like your legacy to be, as you head back to Texas?
Well, like Cindy, I've had the opportunity really, and the privilege, to represent the United States with programs like the ones we're going to talk with right now—with World Vision and the One campaign. I've been to Africa five times since George has been president. I've been to Afghanistan three times to talk to women there and work with women. So, I hope I'll be able to also continue that—the ways the United States can reach out around the world and in the specific ways we can help people who are oppressed. Not just by a regime like the Taliban, but also by malaria, and by AIDS, and by hunger and by all the other ways that people are oppressed around the world.

Neither of you married a politician. So do you ever wake up and wonder why exactly you have to talk to someone like me?
I had the same experience I know I've heard Mrs. Bush talk about it…My husband told me I'd never have to make a public speech and here I am 25 years later. But I would like to add one thing to this, because this really kind of caught my attention. In the middle of the night the other night—you know how you wake up to things…My husband could possibly be in the same kind of situation like his father was, with his son serving. I have thought about that a great deal, and I thought about what it would mean to my family, and also what it would mean to the nation. And, at this particular time in our country's history…I truly, truly believe that he is the best person for this. I'm not trying to make a political speech here, but because we have a vested interest in this, it's more than just a situation across the world that's deadly, it's about having family involved. And so I'm so proud of my husband in that respect, and I'm also so honored to be a part of it. And I hope that my husband becomes commander in chief because I truly believe he would serve our troops well.
Bush: Hear! Hear!