This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 29, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS GUEST HOST: A somewhat odd couple showed up together in Canada tonight, President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton sharing the spotlight together at an event in Toronto. So what were the ex-presidents up to? Joseph Curl, senior national political correspondent for The Washington Times, was there today, and he joins us to fill us in from Toronto. Joseph, welcome. Good to have you here tonight.
JOSEPH CURL, WASHINGTON TIMES: Thanks, Martha. Nice to be here.
MACCALLUM: So tell. What were they like together on the stage? What was it all like?
CURL: Well, you know, it was billed partly as a debate and a lot of people were expecting a debate. The ticket actually said "conversation," and that's what it really was. It was a very collegial conversation. They gave opening statements. They sat in some big, comfy chairs. And they just had sport of a talk about issues that were important during their presidency.
MACCALLUM: Speaking of the ticket, how much did it cost?
CURL: Well, a lot of the -- most of the tickets were about $250. There were $350 tickets, about $750 for VIP. Two hundred people sitting in the front rows -- they paid $2,500 for their front row tickets, and they also got a picture with the two presidents. So you know, maybe it was worth it.
MACCALLUM: So did they get their money's worth, you know, in terms of -- I know it started with a little bit of humor. From what I understand, George Bush, President George Bush walked out and said, Welcome to the Bill and George show. (LAUGHTER)
CURL: Yes, they were -- they were -- they were both very engaging and both very funny. They told a lot of interesting stories. George Bush told a story about how, you know, he'd never walked his dog in a neighborhood for 14 years, and in fact, Barney had never walked in a neighborhood, how he had to bend over, and as the former president pick up, he said, that which I had dodged for eight years, off of somebody's lawn. (LAUGHTER)
So that was very funny. Bill Clinton talked about, you know, deferring to the wonderful secretary of state who happens to be his wife. So that was very funny. But a lot of people were kind of disappointed. They were expecting a few more fireworks.
MACCALLUM: In terms of substance, you know, and legacy building, which President Bush, who has been quiet since he left office, up until pretty much yesterday in Michigan -- you know, what did he do to sort of stand up for his record, talk about what his administration did?
CURL: Well, he defended -- there was a question -- the moderator asked a question right away about whether Afghanistan (SIC) was a distraction. Bill Clinton said he thought it was. George Bush said, I vehemently think it was not a distraction. I -- you know, I was there. I know what it was. It was important to go after, you know, Saddam Hussein, take him out. And there was a lot of applause in the audience.
One of the things that was most interesting about it was he -- Bush said that he was not going to actually target Obama, but he said something that was really sort of directed right at him, which was, you know, Diplomacy only works if you have leverage. He said, you know, You can talk to -- you can say, Let's talk to people, but if you don't have leverage, it doesn't really work.
MACCALLUM: And he also talked about the U.N., right, in terms of feeling, you know, a lack of confidence in the U.N.'s ability to solve some of the problems that we face now.
CURL: Right. He said -- you know, he said -- he actually got a big laugh out of the audience when he said, It's not really a problem-solving organization. The two presidents didn't get to some of the most topical things, like North Korea or Iran, certainly not the new Supreme Court Justice nominee. But still, Bush talked about some of the issues that he thinks -- you know, just sort of on a tangential way, that he thinks Obama needs to take care of.
MACCALLUM: And how did the questions come at them? I mean, you would imagine that those things would come up. So you know, who organized the questions?
CURL: Well, it was the former ambassador -- United States ambassador -- the Canadian ambassador to the United States, Frank McKenna (ph). And I talked to a couple of people that said that they had been in touch with -- both Clinton and Bush had been in touch with McKenna. They had also talked to each other. It seemed pretty clear that they had agreed on the questions that they were going to take, and there were really some sort of, you know, general questions. In fact, one of the questions that Clinton took was, you know, What about Rwanda? Well, that was, you know, 1994.
CURL: So that's an awful long way from being topical. So they stayed pretty far away from topical things.
MACCALLUM: Joseph, before I let you go, you know, obviously, President Bush left office with some pretty low approval numbers. What was your sense of how much the audience, you know, liked him, appreciated him, wanted to see him there?
CURL: Well, that's what I put in my story for tomorrow's paper, in The Washington Times, was that he seemed to really engage with the audience a lot more than Bill Clinton did. Bill Clinton is very good at this. George Bush, I think, again, so many people don't expect him to be that good at this. He said at one point -- you know, he said, I'm writing a book and I'm going to talk about the hard decisions I had to made. And then he just sort of said in this very, you know, deferential, self- deprecating way, you know, "A lot of you don't think I can, you know, even read a book, let alone write a book." (LAUGHTER)
And everybody laughed at that. I mean, I think -- I think that when he does that sort of thing, it makes him more human. I think a lot of people have this idea of him as this sort of great ogre. And when they meet him, they find out he's very engaging and charming and funny.
MACCALLUM: Yes, it'll be very interesting to see how he is perceived in the days and in the years, indeed, to come. Joseph Curl, thanks for telling us what happened in there because...
MACCALLUM: ... there were no cameras, so it's good to have your insight from being in the room. We appreciate it. Thanks, Joseph.
CURL: Thanks. Appreciate it.
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