Transcript: George H.W. Bush on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a rush transcript of the Jan. 4, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace."

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Well, this promises to be quite a week for former President Bush. On Wednesday, his son holds a lunch at the White House for all three ex-presidents to welcome Barack Obama into their exclusive club.

Then, next weekend he'll attend the commissioning of an aircraft carrier bearing his name.

The other day, we traveled to Mr. Bush's office in Houston to discuss those events, his family's future and President-elect Obama.


WALLACE: Mr. President, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Glad to be back.

WALLACE: Next Saturday, the Navy will commission the newest aircraft carrier in the fleet, the USS George H.W. Bush. As someone who was the youngest pilot in the Navy back in 1943, who was shot down over the South Pacific and almost lost your life, what does this mean to you?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, it's very emotional for me, and it's kind of the last big thing in my life. And it's just hard to describe it. My daughter is the sponsor of the ship, and she's the one that says, "Bring the ship alive," and they'll come running down and man the rails, and so that will be an emotional moment.

It's just the — it's just the vastness of this thing, and to think how far all that's come — you know, the technology of it. But this brings back a lot of memories.

I mean, my going into the Navy at a young age was probably the best thing I ever did in my life. And then now to be, you might say, rewarded, certainly honored, in this way is just mind-boggling. It's everything.

WALLACE: I hear that you have been telling friends that this is the last big event of your life, as you just told us. Do you see it as the culmination of a life of public service?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, I do. I really do. I'm going to make one more parachute jump at 85. But that's not — I don't see that as culminating anything.

But in terms of my own service and in terms certainly of a reward, naming this carrier for me is everything. It's just absolutely everything.

WALLACE: When you say everything, put it into words.

G.H.W. BUSH: Well...

WALLACE: What's it mean to you?

G.H.W. BUSH: ... it sums up, you know, my life. I believe very strongly in our military. And to have this vast vessel named for me — and it's — just in itself means a lot. And then the idea of service means a lot.

And you see these — crew that's going to be on the ship, young guys, young men, young women, all serving voluntarily. That says a lot to me.

And the idea of carrier — carriers themselves, the importance of carriers — people used to argue there weren't — aren't important anymore. They are. And I think this confidence that the U.S. has in building this vast vessel says that the Navy thinks they are, Defense Department thinks they are.

So it's a — it's a — it's just hard to describe it, Chris. It will be a very emotional day for me.

WALLACE: I'll bet it is. You have — you do — you show your emotions, and I'm sure you will...

G.H.W. BUSH: I'll bet it'll — this way, the tears will be flowing.

WALLACE: You're also this week having lunch at the White House with your son, President Bush, President-elect Obama, and all the other former presidents.

If you have the opportunity to take Mr. Obama aside and talk to him from the heart, what is the key piece of advice you want to give him?

G.H.W. BUSH: Oh, I — at this juncture, it really would be gratuitous for me to be giving advice to Barack Obama. It would be more to wish him well. I talked to him right after the election and did that then, assured him that he was my president.

And I think it's more that than trying to figure out one thing or another. He'll be getting a lot of free advice, and some of it good, some of it not, but I get the feeling he can sort through that.

So I don't really think at this age in my life I can contribute much to his well-being in terms of governing. But if I saw something I thought was wrong, I'd like to have the feeling I could bring it up with him just based on some experience in the past, war and peace, Middle East, Europe, Germany.

I think one of the best things we participated in doing or facilitating was the unification of Germany. And that's — looks like it's very pacified now and they're here to keep.

But if there's some — some problem came up of that nature and it's — needed some advice of an old guy, hell, pick up the phone, give me — give me a holler.

WALLACE: Is there any — forget Obama, forget these times. From your four years in the Oval Office, is there any piece of advice that you'd give any president coming into office?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, I can't — I'm sure...

WALLACE: Less about the issues and more about how you — how you handle the job and the pressures.

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, that's a very good question and maybe that would come up in that vein. But I can't — I can't think of it.

I mean, I'd say get people around you in whom you have confidence. Get people around you whom you're confident will not be out there talking to the press and painting — building their own nests, you know, or — and I think — I think he's off to a good start in that.

But he ought to be right on top of that. So this is a tough game, as we all know. And I think he should, and will, get people around him and who — he has their loyalty and to whom he can give his loyalty.

But that will change. Something will come up. Somebody will err. Something will come out of the unforeseen — this guy said that, he did that — and he'll have to move quickly to straighten that out.

But I don't really think of any...

WALLACE: You're saying the honeymoon isn't going to last forever.

G.H.W. BUSH: Not forever. And I don't know how soon. He's facing such enormous problems that I don't know how long it will last. But I think he's a good, strong guy and I think he can take it.

WALLACE: I was going to ask you, what do you think of Barack Obama?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, I wish I knew him better. I don't really know him. I met him. He came down here to Houston for a hurricane relief deal several years ago in the Katrina — was it Katrina? I think it was. Yeah. And we met over here in the auditorium.

But I'm impressed with him. I'm very impressed with his style on the campaign and his coolness and his articulate nature. I think he can give a sentence and it will sound like it's been thought out by Shakespeare or something.

But I start off with a very favorable impression. And after my little lunch there with the president and two other presidents, I'll — maybe I can fill you in more.

WALLACE: I look forward to that, sir.

G.H.W. BUSH: Yes, sir.

WALLACE: Your son is also making a big transition pretty soon from president...

G.H.W. BUSH: Oh, yeah.

WALLACE: ... to private citizen. Having been through that, how tough is it, and what advice do you have for him?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, it's very tough — I think it is — to actually get under way as a private citizen. But it wasn't that hard for me, and I don't think it will be that hard for him.

Your whole lifestyle changes, because you're spoiled to death as the president. But I don't think the president has ever felt he was entitled to anything — "This comes with me. I need all these people helping me in the White House."

And so I think he'll — I think he'll do well. And I'm sure glad he's coming home.

WALLACE: I'm going to ask you about that, because you were quoted recently as saying, "We want to get our son home. We want to get him home from the rat race and all the unfair attacks."

G.H.W. BUSH: Yes.

WALLACE: How tough has that been on him? How tough has it been on you?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, I don't know about him, but it's been tough on his father and his mother. We're not very good sports about sitting around and hearing him get hammered, I think unfairly.

Now, there's some things that clearly he deserves criticism for, but I think — I think the idea that everything that's a problem in this country should be put on his shoulders — I don't think that's fair.

And I'm not trying to get back in the game by criticizing people — for example, the New York Times — but if I...

WALLACE: I'm glad you're not criticizing the New York Times.

G.H.W. BUSH: ... if I were — you know, it's just — it's just grossly unfair. But that's the game. That game's over.

He'll come home with his head high, having ran a clean operation, having kept this country strong and free after an unprecedented-in- history attack, 9/11, and he'll have a lot to be proud of, and he can start by his mother and father being very proud of him, and we always will be.

WALLACE: You said earlier there are some things he could fairly be criticized for. Are you willing to tell me any of those?

G.H.W. BUSH: No, I don't need to go into that. You can go back to your — what do you call it? — your Google and you figure out all that.

WALLACE: OK. Your son spoke at the Texas A&M commencement last month, and he got quite choked up as he talked about you as a role model, not just as a president, but also as a father and a grandfather and a husband. And then he said this.


G.W. BUSH: Some of you will leave A&M with a degree that carries this good man's name, George Bush. I have been blessed and honored to have carried it for 62 years.



G.H.W. BUSH: Pretty good.

WALLACE: That must have been...

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, very emotional and very rewarding. We're very close, and we remain close for many, many years. People don't quite get that, but we're a very close mother — father and son, and his mother, Barbara, is as close as us.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about that, because you know there's been a lot of pop psychology about you and...

G.H.W. BUSH: Oh, yeah.

WALLACE: ... 43, I'll call him, in your presence. And I know you hate these questions, but I'm going to...

G.H.W. BUSH: Go ahead. Fire it up.

WALLACE: What's the relationship?

G.H.W. BUSH: It's the new year here. Shoot it.

WALLACE: What's the relationship?

G.H.W. BUSH: Like any other father and son that have a loving relationship, total confidence, one in the other. His word is good for me, to me. And I — I — the pride I feel is hard to quantify. I feel unlimited pride in him and unlimited confidence in him.

And it's — it's very easy for me to sit on the sidelines doing absolutely nothing and speak up in that manner for him. I've avoided a lot of these shows and all that stuff trying to say, "No, wait a minute, here's with the Kurds should have done," or, "Here's what the — you know, should be happening in Germany or in Panama," or something like that.

But I've tried to stay out of his way on the issues, but I'm in touch — telephone. Yesterday evening we got home to Houston. Telephone rings. It's the president. "How's mom? How are you doing, Dad?" And like — it would be like any family. And that's important, I think, and especially in times of real difficulty for our country.

WALLACE: Do you think there's ever been — and I say this, quite frankly, thinking of my father and me — ever been a sense of competition, him with you or you with him?

G.H.W. BUSH: You hear it, but there isn't any such competition. And it burns me up a little bit. When the president first came in, I thought there — some people around him were trying to — trying to — like you've got to establish your own persona and all that.

Well, he didn't have to establish anything. We knew — I've known who he was, and he's known that we know that. But I don't — I don't think there's ever been any competition of that nature that I'm aware of, and I don't think he's ever felt it. And we'd be the only ones to know.

But I know what you're talking about, because there are — a lot of stories come out speculating on that.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about — speaking of other sons, the president has been quite open in saying that he would like to see his brother Jeb run for the Senate from Florida. What do you think of that idea?

G.H.W. BUSH: I think if Jeb wants to run for the Senate from Florida, he ought to do it. And he'd be an outstanding senator. Here's a guy that really has a feel for people, the issues in Florida and nationally, and his political days ought not to be over, says his old father.

Now, if he decides they should be over, I'm all for that, too. He's — need to make a living, support his wife and family, and — but he's a good man, Chris. He's a very good, strong man.

WALLACE: So in terms — I understand you're saying it's up to him, but in terms of public service and ability to help the country, you'd like to see him run.

G.H.W. BUSH: I'd like to see him run. I'd like to see him be president some day.

WALLACE: Really?

G.H.W. BUSH: Or maybe senator. Whatever. Yes, I would. I mean, right now is probably a bad time, because we've had enough Bushes in there. But no, I would. And I think he's as qualified and able as anyone I know on the political scene. Now, you've got to discount that. He's my son. He's my son that I love.

WALLACE: Would you really want, after all you've gone through yourself and your son, to have another son go through the White...

G.H.W. BUSH: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's a question of — it's about service, service to the greatest country on the face of the earth, and the honor that goes with it, but not just to be president, to be something, but to earn it and to do something that makes you worthy. And I think — I think Jeb fits that description.

WALLACE: Now, finally, when we talked about a year ago, I asked you if you planned to mark your 85th birthday the way you spent your 80th birthday, by jumping out of an airplane, and you said yes at that time. Is that still your goal?

G.H.W. BUSH: Still on, still on. It will be on June — right around June 12th. As you can see, I'm hobbling down the hall with my cane. People say, "Look at this old idiot." They think he's going to go out and make a parachute jump. I am.

But I do it with the — in this instance, with the Golden Knights. All the services have good parachute teams, but I've jumped with the Golden Knights, and we've told them we want to do this, and they said they're game.

And you're in the arms of a great big strong guy. People say, "What about your old hip, your old body?" He does all the work. He opens the chute. You float majestically down to Earth after the chute is open.

And then as you go to land, he says — and you hear him easy — "Pick up your feet. Pick them up." And I'm in his arms, and my feet up, and he lands with his feet down on the ground and walk — we both walk away. So there's no...

WALLACE: Hopefully.

G.H.W. BUSH: Yeah. There's no — there's no jarring or anything like that.

WALLACE: Well, I have to ask you the same question, though, finally, that I asked you a year ago. Why?

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, the same answer I gave you. One, just because you're an old guy, you don't need to sit around sucking your thumb drooling in the corner. Old guys can still do stuff, and that's — that's the main reason.

And oh, there's a thrill with it, too. When you look out that plane, 13,000 feet, even though you're strapped to a big strong guy, and you look down there, you go, "Ooh, wow." You get a thrill. There's a thrill that...

WALLACE: I don't doubt that, sir.

G.H.W. BUSH: A thrill with it. And then you feel you're setting an example for old people.

And I go to China or other countries, and they say, "Oh, it's amazing, you're going to make another parachute jump," or, "You've just made a parachute jump." And it brings out the fact that old people can still do interesting things, scary things, exciting things.

WALLACE: Mr. President, happy new year. It's a pleasure and an honor to talk with you.

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: And congratulations on the carrier.

G.H.W. BUSH: Well, it's really exciting, as you can tell by the emotion I feel about it.