This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," November 13, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
CATHERINE HERRIDGE, HOST: They are the president's parents, and they know what it's like to live in the White House and run the most powerful country in the world. And now former president George H.W. Bush is standing by his wife as she takes on a major project promoting literacy. Greta sat down with the former president and first lady just a short time ago in Dallas, where Barbara Bush is hosting a literacy event tonight.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: It's nice to see both of you.
BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Oh, thank you.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Great to see you, Greta. It's been a long time.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's been about six months, so we got a lot to catch up on. Big night tonight.
B. BUSH: Big night tonight, celebration of reading, Dallas-Fort Worth. It should be very exciting. We have five — six wonderful readers. You are one.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I hope I don't make a mistake.
B. BUSH: It doesn't matter.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it is literacy. I mean, it wouldn't be particularly good if I — I'm not particularly good at reading.
B. BUSH: Yes, you are.
G. BUSH: Don't make an illiterate mistake. That's all we ask.
VAN SUSTEREN: Will you be reading tonight, Mr. President?
G. BUSH: No, I'm not what you'd call a featured player.
B. BUSH: When he writes his next book, he'll be there.
G. BUSH: Yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: So I see you've got — obviously, she's got the in on booking you for that.
G. BUSH: A little hard feeling in the family, frankly, about this.
B. BUSH: That you're not featured?
G. BUSH: Yes, that I'm not (INAUDIBLE)
VAN SUSTEREN: You want to explain that a little more?
G. BUSH: I used to be president, after all. You're nothing now, sit on the sidelines, wear a lampshade to get attention, that kind of thing.
B. BUSH: You think he's kidding!
B. BUSH: It's a very important night, truthfully, for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, and we have given away over $20 million to over 600 programs in family literacy. So we're very excited about that and we're very excited about tonight and being in Dallas-Fort Worth.
G. BUSH: Wonderful evening. It really is. They have four of them around the country — here, Florida, Bethesda, Maryland, and Houston, of course.
VAN SUSTEREN: You emphasize family, Mrs. Bush. There's a difference there isn't there?
B. BUSH: Huge difference. I used to do adult literacy and it suddenly occurred to me that truthfully children need to go to school reading ready and so these programs teach them that. They also work on getting them school healthy so they're not getting there so tired they can't eat or they haven't eaten and they're tired.
And then the parents have to know how to help them. And, if you do it together, which they love, the mothers or fathers go upstairs or downstairs in another room and learn how to read. They get their GEDs. There are a lot of different ways to help the parents.
But, then they spend an hour together with the children and they begin to bond on the reading. And so, when they go to school the mother and father will care. You know it's just terrible how many of our children's parents don't show any interest in them. They don't know how to. They don't know how to read themselves. It's sad.
VAN SUSTEREN: Mr. President, when you think about it, I mean the world, I mean, you know, in so many better ways if we could all communicate and read better wouldn't it?
G. BUSH: Absolutely, no question about it. And when you see, I don't know it will be at this program but every other program they have a person who benefited from reading, people that come here to this country from other countries that can't read a word and then their parents get them and teach them to read or some — one woman came and told that she had never been able to read a word. Finally with help by one of the reading programs now she's gone on and gotten a college degree.
And it's very emotional when you hear them speak about what reading has meant to them and to their kids. It's just — and how proud they are when a kid passes exams and stuff. It's probably the nicest part of the whole thing.
VAN SUSTEREN: And yet I suppose in some ways, you know, those of us who can read and write take it for granted.
B. BUSH: That's right. You know the great governor of Florida was big in mentoring.
VAN SUSTEREN: I understand you know him.
B. BUSH: I know him very well and he started mentoring the first year he was governor and he mentored a child all that time to set an example. And now they have huge mentoring programs in Florida thanks to him.
G. BUSH: A lot of people in the bureaucracy have taken it up and then they go mentor some kid from some underprivileged area where they really, really give him a chance. It's wonderful.
B. BUSH: You know, George had the first and only literacy bill I think in 1991, the American Literacy Bill, which was a big thing in this country I believe.
G. BUSH: The irony is that that's where I met Bill Clinton. I had known him before, slightly, but he headed up for the Democratic governors. This was a governors' conference on literacy what I'm thinking of. And we had the Republican governors, the Democratic governors and the president.
And, Bill Clinton headed the effort for the Democratic governors and that's where I really got to know him. So, people see now you're doing other stuff but we'd known each other very favorably and positively before we ran against each other.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any way to figure out or is there any way literacy with the crime rate or are these at all linked?
B. BUSH: Huge, I think. I mean look in our prison system. Most of - - not most that's unfair but maybe 75 percent are functionally illiterate. That's very sad. A third, I was told this the other day by the undersecretary of defense that a third of our high school children do not graduate. And, I suspect that's because they got behind in school and they just never could catch up.
So, teaching them to read at an early age and having parents that are interested I think are, you know, and the break up of the American family is largely I think responsible for a lot of these children but a third of our high school children don't graduate. That's pathetic.
G. BUSH: It is sad.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is that worse than it was 20 years ago, 30 years ago?
B. BUSH: Yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: So the number so we're getting into worse shape.
B. BUSH: And, you know, we're one of the few countries where a high school education is available, you're safe, you can go. Think of all those countries where they're dying to go and they can't get there because of security or the schools aren't available or they charge. We just don't take advantage of what this great country has.
VAN SUSTEREN: This project of yours is hardly new. You've been doing this for a number of years. What was it, I mean how far back did you start getting interested in promoting?
B. BUSH: In the vice president's days. I really did other charitable things but I decided that I wanted to do something that would help George, that would help the most Americans possible, without costing the government huge amounts of money.
And it suddenly came to me if everybody could read, everything I worried about, teenage pregnancies, crime, everything that I worried about would be better if more people could read and write and comprehend.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do we pay our teachers enough?
B. BUSH: No. I just voted to pay them more.
G. BUSH: I think in some places yes and some places no.
B. BUSH: But it's the most important job in the country. But I think there should be accountability I mean I think in pay. If you do well in any job, you get paid more. If you do well in teaching, you should be paid more in my opinion.
VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course, even our first lady, current first lady is a teacher.
B. BUSH: A librarian and a teacher.
G. BUSH: Was a librarian. She was a teacher.
B. BUSH: And I don't know but I expect she'd agree with me.
G. BUSH: She's doing a lot for literacy, Laura.
B. BUSH: Huge amount and she does international. Now she has that book fair in Washington where they had 70,000 people on the Mall celebrating the book. Then she took it over to — she had Mrs. Putin come see it and then she took it over to Russia. And she took American writers, authors, who were translated into Russian with her. I mean she's very exciting, I think.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about a book tip, you got a book tip either one of you?
G. BUSH: There's a great book called "My Father, My President." That one is a very fine book. Now I'm not too good a judge.
VAN SUSTEREN: I understand there's a hero in it.
G. BUSH: I'm not too good a judge about it but really it's a great book and our daughter did a wonderful job, getting a lot of input from world leaders.
B. BUSH: Why didn't I think of that book?
G. BUSH: And from family members and it's a fascinating and interesting book. But I have to keep apologizing to my mother who says, "Nobody like a braggadocio, George." Well, a lot of it's about me, "My Father, My President." But so with apologies for that she's done a wonderful job.
VAN SUSTEREN: You're a letter writer, I mean tons of letters.
G. BUSH: But not anymore because now I use the e-mail and the computer and I find that I don't do near as much writing as I used to, letters as I used to. I don't save them and I'm worried about that a little bit, not that I have that much more to say but I think it's too bad in a way that e-mail will detract from the historical record of presidents. I don't think the President Bush uses e-mail.
B. BUSH: He doesn't.
G. BUSH: And I think you worry about it because people wonder, "Well, we're going to subpoena the e-mail records and we're going to — you know you got to prove that you were telling the truth and all this stuff." I mean it's gotten so adversarial that it's ugly.
VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think it's gotten so? I mean you take tonight. Tonight is, you know, literacy, everybody comes in from, you know, all different sides and wants to help but it seems like oftentimes, you know, in Washington, you know, on something we all want to work towards it's not necessarily so civilized. It's not so pleasant.
G. BUSH: It's true but that's not new really. I mean you go back in history and you'll find that there was always adversarial politics. There was always gut fighting. And it's probably a little worse now given the electronic media and the bloggers and all these kinds of things. But I don't despair about it. I think there's a pendulum at work at times, so you swing away from the incivility back to more normal climate.
VAN SUSTEREN: How do we get more civil with each other, have any thoughts?
G. BUSH: I don't really have an instant formula but I think people just wake up to the fact that they're divisive. Let's hope out of the recent elections there are going to be people wanting to come together and mean it and that means you can't get it your own way all the time, whatever side. Compromise is not a dirty word. It shouldn't be.
B. BUSH: There's also I think families have got to set an example of not being ugly and being civil to each other, I hope.
VAN SUSTEREN: Tonight obviously going to be a lot of fun, raise a lot of money. Is any of the money that's raised tonight earmarked for any specific project or is it going to the foundation?
B. BUSH: No, half of the money raised tonight goes to the Texas Literacy Fund, Family Literacy Fund and actually Laura is the — she very kindly became the honorary chairman and stayed the honorary chairman all through the last, it seems to me thousand years, because we raise most of the money in Texas.
And then half goes to the national. We've, as I told you, given away over $20 million and we are giving money again to one of the Katrina programs that's working very well in the Dallas area actually. And we just sort of try to meet the needs but mostly it's through grants, a one-time grant.
VAN SUSTEREN: So are you looking forward to it, Mr. President, tonight or are you being hijacked to join us?
G. BUSH: No, no, enthusiasm is the key word here, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Enthusiasm.
G. BUSH: Yes, it's the key operative word.
B. BUSH: Well, good we'll add another state.
G. BUSH: And I can't wait to hear you read and I can't wait to hear Barbara. She does a great job out there as the emcee, you know what I mean?
VAN SUSTEREN: She just said she's adding another state.
B. BUSH: I'm adding another state if you're so enthusiastic.
G. BUSH: Listen, have you ever heard of mission creep? That's what we're talking big time mission creep about these programs.
B. BUSH: My dream would be truthfully, and not the Barbara Bush Foundation, but my dream would be like Florida, if every state would have their own literacy foundation run by, I don't know who, Virginia has a very good one run by a former governor's wife.
But I would like every state to have their own literacy and then we could all relax and it would be wonderful if they were headed by the first ladies of the state and then passed on.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well maybe they'll take the challenge.
B. BUSH: And George will go to every one.
VAN SUSTEREN: And you heard it here. Thank you both very much.
G. BUSH: Thank you.
B. BUSH: Thank you.
G. BUSH: Thanks for helping on this too.
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