Exclusive Interview: Former President Bush on Family, Career and Fighting Illiteracy

This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," April 20, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Former President Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush sat down to talk to us about their careers, their family and fighting illiteracy.


VAN SUSTEREN: Why do we have such a literacy problem in this country?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know. People don't listen to Barbara enough about reading to your children. I mean really there's not enough family literacy where the family gets involved early on to help and these programs that she's done they raised a ton of money and they've helped.

Her foundation has helped, you know, further the idea that family literacy is vitally important. But I think that's the simple answer because a lot of people, you know, might have more complicated answers but I think that's the problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of jobs, forget the presidency, but the job as head of the Republican Party, the CIA, China, U.N., all those jobs.


VAN SUSTEREN: CIA. What's the job you think that was the most fun that was the best one?

G. BUSH: Well, I think the CIA job in some ways because it was the biggest challenge. I was only there a year and I wasn't sure I wanted to go but the president called so I said OK. And, I went there and I just found it fascinating.

It was a very difficult time because the CIA had been under fire. You might remember the Church Committee and the Pike Committee and all these things they allegedly had done. My job in a sense was to stand up for the CIA, which I love doing.

But I don't know they were all -- China was fascinating. I love the U.N. It helped me when I was president because a lot of the people that were then high-ranking officials had been ambassadors from other countries there.

And, the worst one was being chairman of the Republican Party at the Watergate time. It was awful.

VAN SUSTEREN: But it must have been a challenge. I mean being head of the Republican Party at the time of Nixon.

B. BUSH: Terrible.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean you couldn't have had a bigger challenge.

B. BUSH: No.

G. BUSH: Bigger challenge and a worst challenge, I mean because there were two stacks of mail. You got to do more to keep the party together or do more to defend Nixon. The other stack of mail just would be "Why are you keeping the party so close to this? The party didn't have anything to do with Watergate. Why are you out there talking about Nixon?"

B. BUSH: It was hard. I played tennis with four girls up there and finally it ended up that Millie Dent (ph) and I were the only two people who were for Nixon. I mean we couldn't find anyone to play doubles with us, so we took up the singles but it was very hard.

VAN SUSTEREN: What was he like, Nixon?

B. BUSH: No small talk. And he said every time we went to the receiving line men go first and then women and he would say, "George, how are you" and then look at me with a quizzical look and George would say, "You know my wife Barbara." And he'd say, "Oh, yes Barbara, how are you?" We did that week after week after week. And I don't blame him for that. He just wasn't a man who had sort of trivia truthfully.

G. BUSH: He was very good at some things and he was very small about others. He hated the Ivy League. He said in a cabinet meeting, "These Ivy League so and so's they do this." You look around the table. Half the cabinet was from the Ivy League. He would sit there.

B. BUSH: I think he had the opportunity to be one of the greatest presidents we ever had.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of Mrs. Nixon, you liked her?

B. BUSH: Ah! Yes, I mean she was gentle and she really was a wonderfully sweet lady and she did a lot of good things. You never read them but she did a lot with volunteerism and you never read about her though but she was very, very sweet. A lot of ugly things were said about her that weren't true, sort of, I don't know but they just were. She was a great help to him and she was a wonderful woman.


VAN SUSTEREN: Tomorrow night you will see more of our interview with the former first family. Make sure you see it.

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