'Shop Talk': What's Missing From George W. Bush's Memoir?

In this week’s installment of Tell Me More’s weekly segment “The Barbershop,” host Michel Martin talks with author Jimi Izrael, columnist Ruben Navarrette, Republican strategist Ron Christie, and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre. They discuss former President George W. Bush’s new memoir Decision Points and talk show host Conan O’Brien’s return to late night TV this week. Also the guys discuss the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, who many predicted would win the Super Bowl this season, but so far have only won one game this season and just fired the head coach this week.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's time now for TELL ME MORE's weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for their shapeup this week are author Jimi Izrael, Republican strategist and author Ron Christie - he has a new memoir out - columnist Ruben Navarrette and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre. Take it away, Jimi.

Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Author, "The Denzel Principle"): Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Mr. RON CHRISTIE (Republican Strategist): What's up, guys? It's good to be on.

Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Columnist): Doing good, man. I'm great.

Mr. PABLO TORRE (Reporter, Sports Illustrated): Hello.

Mr. IZRAEL: Wow. Long time, no RC, man. It's good to have you in the shop, dog.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Thanks, man. I needed up a shapeup today, too.

Mr. IZRAEL: Pablo, (foreign language spoken). What's up, man? How you living?

Mr. TORRE: Doing well. I'm glad it's Friday.

Mr. IZRAEL: (Foreign language spoken).

Mr. TORRE: (Foreign language spoken).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: All right, let's keep it moving.

Mr. TORRE: Let me just say, that doesn't quite translate out well, brother.

MARTIN: Yeah, I know, that's (intelligible).

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I know. I know. My Spanish is kind of rusty this morning.

Mr. TORRE: (Foreign language spoken). Brother from another mother, that's right.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thank you. Thank you. As opposed to brother for another mother. Got it. All right, so...

MARTIN: Like we say, keeping it moving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. In other news, it turns out, former President George Bush, well, W. Bush, he put himself back in the news. He broke his self-imposed media exile to push his new book. Yeah, I've been there, done that. Stop number one on his "Decision Points" tour: a one-on-one with Matt Lauer, Michel.

MARTIN: But did you sell 222,000 copies on its first day for sale?

Mr. IZRAEL: Not the first day.

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: It took a whole week.

MARTIN: Now, the book and the interviews come a week after President Obama and the Democrats took, as President Obama called it, a shellacking in the midterm elections. So I do wonder if in fact the timing had something to do with that. A lot of people were sort of thinking about politics.

But, anyway, there have been a couple of headlines from the book. One is, I think that the whole question a lot of people have about what the president's view is of some of the decisions he made that were so controversial then and remain so, I did want to play a couple clips.

The first is the president reading from the book where he's talking, after being assured that Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction, and with two top military leaders, including Tommy Franks and the head of U.S. Central Command. He's talking about invading Iraq and this is - here it is.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: (Reading) I asked these men two questions: Do you have everything you need to win, and are you comfortable with the strategy? Each commander answered affirmatively. Tommy spoke last. Mr. President, the commanding general said, this force is ready. I turned to Don Rumsfeld. Mr. Secretary, I said, for the peace of the world and the benefit and freedom of the Iraqi people, I hereby give the order to execute Operation Iraqi Freedom. May God bless the troops.

MARTIN: Now, of course, that turned out not to be true. And it turned out just not to be true that those weapons didn't exist. So then, you know, NBC's Matt Lauer was asking whether the president has considered apologizing for the decision to go to war upon learning that that information was simply incorrect. This is what he had to say.

Pres. BUSH: I mean, apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision. And I don't believe it was the wrong decision.

Mr. MATT LAUER (Reporter): If you knew then what you know now

Pres. BUSH: That's right.

Mr. LAUER: You would still go to war in Iraq.

Pres. BUSH: You just don't have the luxury when you're president.

I will say definitely the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom.

Mr. IZRAEL: Hmm, wow. Thanks for that.

MARTIN: But that's why you want to hear from him directly. That's really why you want to hear from him directly. So I'll be interested to know what you all think.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, thanks for that, Michel. Well, there are several issues beyond Iraq that helped bring President Bush's approval rating down. Now, I can think of the financial meltdown and Hurricane Katrina, just as two examples. Now, Ruben...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yo.

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm thinking of that news conference when Mr. Bush was asked as president if he could make a mistake...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: And he, yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He said, give me a minute, I'll think of one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He didn't have one ready.

Mr. IZRAEL: Is that a sign of strength and conviction that some might say a president needs?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes.

Mr. IZRAEL: Really?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes. I think that you can disagree.

Mr. IZRAEL: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Listen, we can disagree with someone, okay? Whether it be a Bill Clinton or a George Bush. But when we agree with that person and they're doing something that we want them to do, we want them to be decisive. We don't want someone to agree with us, but not be decisive enough to pull the trigger and do something we want them to do. So, if we disagree with somebody, let's be clear about why we disagree.

What bothers people about George Bush is not that he was decisive, it was that he was decisive in the wrong way about the wrong issues going in the wrong direction. But the quality of being decisive, I have found out after a couple years of Obama, I like - because I miss it, because I don't see enough of it in President Obama.

Mr. IZRAEL: Ooh. Ooh.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: So decisiveness - let me be clear - is not the problem; it's what you decide to do and where you decide to go that people have a problem with. But they want their decision, they want their president to be somebody who can pull the trigger. Bill Clinton, when he went after the economy, he delivered a great economy for eight years. That was a - I mean he had decisive policies. He didn't sit there and say on the one hand, on the other hand.

MARTIN: Oh, please, Marjorie Margolis Mezvinsky would beg to differ, since she lost her seat after he reversed course on the BTU tax. So - but, you know, but we quibble.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, Jimi, do you think he should apologize?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: So we digress.

Mr. IZRAEL: No.

MARTIN: Jimi, do you think he should apologize?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, yeah. Well, yes and no.

MARTIN: What was that? Yeah.

Mr. IZRAEL: He's the president. So I mean, so you want a president that can stand by whatever decision that they've made. You know, but I think he should have said, well, if I had to do it over again I might have done it differently. That isn't an apology, but it is an acknowledgment that, you know, with more information comes...

Mr. TORRE: Mm-hmm. Yeah. No that's fair.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know...

Mr. TORRE: That's fair.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah.

Mr. TORRE: And this is Pablo, just jumping in. And I think it's also important to recognize that when a president writes a book like this, I mean if you listen to the first minute of the audio book, which I did and which is hilarious and awesome in a lot of the ways you'd expect, he's trying to write a thing that historians will look upon favorably. I mean this is his side of the tale. So he's not going to hew to the side of, you know, of skepticism of his own actions, I think. He's trying to bolster his own case, his own legacy. And the thing that I came away with this week, watching him on Matt Lauer and then watching "The Daily Show" is - it was almost a - it was a flashback, and you almost forgot how good George W. Bush was to "The Daily Show" and was to a lot of pundits in America.

And I think when you look at how he's going to be remembered, I think that idea of a puppetmaster or a villain is going to erode. He won't be remembered, you know, as this Nixonian character because of Rumsfeld and because of Rove. He's going to be a guy, a sitcom character almost, to(ph) say nothing about his moral complicity, but the idea of him with the malapropisms and all that, you know, Kanye West. You know, he was asked, what would you do instead of the Mission Accomplished banner? He sort of said I'd say something like, you know, good going, men and women of the - and then trailed off. I mean it's kind of the same old George W. Bush and that's how I think we're going to remember him.

MARTIN: Ron, what do you think? Ron just actually saw the president. He actually just saw him when he was here.

Mr. CHRISTIE: I saw him yesterday, as a matter of fact.

Mr. IZRAEL: (Unintelligible)

Mr. CHRISTIE: I beg your pardon?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Did you see him at Denny's?

Mr. CHRISTIE: I'm not even going to go there. Look, I saw him yesterday and one thing in this conversation that I think is so interesting is that I think the president deliberately, and he said this yesterday, stayed out of sight for the last two years because he made a promise to the current president of the United States that the last thing that he needed was to hear any criticism, any controversy coming from the 43rd president to the 44th. And that being said, I think he's been very comfortable being off the stage, and from what is in his book and from what I, you know, heard from him say yesterday, there are certainly a number of decisions that he feels that he made a mistake and things that, you know, if he had the opportunity to do it over again, he would.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mm-hmm. Right.

Mr. CHRISTIE: But he said the one thing that you learn being a sitting president of the United States, there's no such thing as a do-over. I mean we just talked about the Mission Accomplished banner and he said obviously I wouldn't have done that again. But on the domestic policy front, I think without a doubt the thing that pains him the most is not only the reaction of the federal and the state and local government to Katrina, but his reaction and the aftermath of Kanye West. That really hurt him and it really touched him. I saw it yesterday. I've seen it in the interviews this past week or so. And I think that one thing, whether you agree with him or you disagree with him, is Pablo said, A) he's very decisive, and B) he's very comfortable in his own skin. And I think those are admirable attributes to have...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Mr. CHRISTIE: ...regardless of who you are.

MARTIN: Can ask, Ron, your take on this? I wonder if in part that some of these questions are cultural ones, like depending on - because the political parties have cultures just like, you know, neighborhoods have cultures and communities have cultures. Like this obsession with apologizing for something when you can't undo it, I just have to wonder whether that's part of like the culture of another party, which is that somehow, you know, that emotional process...

Mr. CHRISTIE: Well...

MARTIN: ...is necessary. And then also in the Kanye West thing, I'm also wondering whether that's sort of a cultural piece too. Is just why are his personal feelings more important than the fact that however many people died? Which incidentally, I think, has been forgotten, that as many white people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as black people did.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Mm-hmm. Yes.

MARTIN: And that is something that seems to have been lost in this whole conversation.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Well, again, I think an apology in this sense is not appropriate. I mean history will decide the legacy of the George W. Bush administration, and any apology that he offers now or doesn't offer will have nothing to do in his legacy. In the same way, I'm a conservative Republican, I certainly don't want President Obama to apologize for the policies that he's undertaken. I mean it's not for me to ask the president for his apology. It's for the voters to decide whether or not he is entitled to a second term. So in the same sense that I don't think that folks should be asking Bush to apologize for his decisions, I don't think that the current president should be asked to apologize, right or wrong, for some of the decisions that he's made.

MARTIN: Just as a point of information, we didn't mention that Ron Christie was an aide in the Bush White House.

Mr. CHRISTIE: The former deputy assistant to Vice President Cheney and former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Jimi, let me ask...

MARTIN: So no, they weren't at Denny's. Let me just jump in, just briefly, Ruben, to say if youre just joining us...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah...

MARTIN: ...youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Ron Christie, columnist Ruben Navarrette and Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo Torre.

Back to you, Jimi. Or Ruben.

Mr. IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Jimi, Jimi, let me just wrap up on this.

Mr. IZRAEL: You have a quick point? Go ahead, man.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, on Iraq. A quick thread here. We have funneled the narrative in the media to be that we went to Iraq because we were looking for weapons of mass destruction. At the time there were Democrats and Republicans alike who made about a dozen different arguments - 12 different arguments - for why you go to Iraq. He had violated, Saddam Hussein had violated, you know, 19 different UN resolutions. There was a bipartisan agreement - people like Hillary Clinton and others not only believed he had weapons but believed the world would be safer without him. So the - that we have to remember. And I think one of the reasons I didn't like the you must apologize routine is that we have forgotten that and weve made it simply about the weapons.

Mr. IZRAEL: Noted. All right.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. IZRAEL: You know, President Bush is not the only one to make a comeback this week. My boy Conan O'Brien.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Nice.

Mr. IZRAEL: He's back as well. This is, of course, after having "The Tonight Show" gig ripped away from him by Jay Leno earlier this year, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You got a problem with that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Well...

MARTIN: Well, I dont know. What do people think? Did anybody watch it?

Mr. TORRE: I did.

MARTIN: Okay, Pablo.

Mr. TORRE: I saw the first one. Yeah, mean I'm...

MARTIN: Go ahead.

Mr. TORRE: I was a big Conan fan going back to when he had the 12:45, you know, post-Leno slot, and that was, I mean I liked him. I think he's edgier. I think he appeals to the younger demographic, which I am as a part of, and what I think here though, my question with all the late night stuff and the thing that's going to be I think looked back (unintelligible) legacies is why people care so much about the timeslot, right? I mean like I think so many people these days with DVR, with TiVo, with Hulu, with YouTube, they look at things piecemeal, and the idea of fighting over this territory, whether it's "The Tonight Show," whether it's something else...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Mmm. Yeah.

Mr. TORRE: ...and in that format too, in this, in the Carsonian, old sort of format of a variety show, a talk-show...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Carsonian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: ...I wonder whether that's going to stand the test of time and whether Conan himself is a relic of that and whether, you know, the next generation - I think New York magazine actually had a great cover story this week on Jimmy Fallon and how he basically doesn't care about the timeslot. He just says as long as he creates Internet buzz on Twitter and so forth, that's good enough for me and I'll get the demographics that I want.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Wow.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, but Jimmy Fallon isn't funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: I mean, I mean he's like...

Mr. TORRE: And I'm tweeting that right now.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah, I mean...

MARTIN: I like him.

Mr. TORRE: I like Fallon.

MARTIN: I like Fallon.

Mr. CHRISTIE: Fallon's my boy.

MARTIN: (Unintelligible) yeah, Ron likes him too. We think he's funny.

Mr. IZRAEL: Jimmy Fallon does not care about good humor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TORRE: Oh, come on.

MARTIN: Ow.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And you need to apologize for that. Youre going to have to apologize for that.

Mr. IZRAEL: Anyway...

Mr. CHRISTIE: Stop it, fellas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: My take on Conan, I'm just glad that he owns his own show, a la, you know, Leno - Letterman, this time out, through his company.

Mr. TORRE: Right.

Mr. IZRAEL: He owns his own show, so I'm down with that.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He can do his own thing.

NORTHAM: Yeah, yeah. And also, I was glad to see the masturbating bear make a comeback.

MARTIN: Oh, no. No. No.

Mr. CHRISTIE: No.

Mr. IZRAEL: I wonder how many of his other characters...

MARTIN: No, we dont - we dont that there.

Mr. CHRISTIE: No.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: That's not an approved word...

MARTIN: The other thing - there's only one other thing though, which is the ongoing issue about the diversity in late night. I mean there was - so who's, you know, so George Lopez has been pushed into the later timeslot - I take your point, Pablo - but then Mo'Nique is still there but then Wanda Sykes gone.

Mr. TORRE: Magic Johnson, where are you?

MARTIN: Where, yeah, I dont know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What is it about, I dont know. Does anybody care that they're just - I mean since Arsenio there really hasn't been a person of color who has had any real presence in late night. I don't know, does anybody care?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Until George Lopez, as you said...

Mr. IZRAEL: I like Wanda Sykes.

MARTIN: Yeah, I dont know.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Bigger fish to fry. Bigger fish to fry.

MARTIN: Okay, bigger fish to fry.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible) concentrate on getting African Americans in the U.S. Senate and call it a day. How about that?

MARTIN: Okay, well, there you go. Well, one more thing, before we let you go, can we please talk about the Dallas Cowboys? Ruben, you're in Dallas today.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yes.

MARTIN: You know, they love their Cowboys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: They do. Lately.

MARTIN: Having a rough time. America's team, having a rough time.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It's a tough, it's a tough love this season. I'll tell you. I came in from San Diego, where they're also having a tough season with the Chargers, and there's a lot of that going around. There's some really good teams out there normally having bad years.

Mr. TORRE: Right.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: And in Dallas you have the added little dimension too. You have this wonderful, beautiful, expensive stadium, the best stadium, I think...

Mr. TORRE: Billion dollars, yeah.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: ...probably in the country, and yet, you know, unless you get a winning team, youre going to have trouble at some point filling the seats. Right now you don't have a problem with that. People go to the stadium, they watch the games and all, but they're struggling and they just got rid of their coach and you wonder now whether - you know, you can't replace some of those high placed players. You got a wonder, is it an owner problem? Is it a player problem? It's the coach who gets fired, so - there's no tenure for football coaches in the NFL. You dont win, you're gone.

MARTIN: But let me just go there. Pablo, I mean is Dallas the team now, of course we're in Washington so you can take it with a grain, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: There's that whole traditional rivalry.

Mr. TORRE: Yeah.

MARTIN: But, this whole America's team thing, who get's to be America's team? Who voted - who votes for that? What's up with that?

Mr. CHRISTIE: Exactly.

Mr. TORRE: That's a great question.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Raider nation, baby. Raider nation.

MARTIN: Who gets to vote...

Mr. TORRE: And the same thing with the Braves. Remember the Braves are supposed to be America's team for baseball? Yeah, who anointed you?

MARTIN: Who anointed them? Pablo, so are the Cowboys a team we love to hate? That's why we're like reveling in their distress?

Mr. TORRE: It is. I mean I was going to say (unintelligible) the Cowboy's failing that there's all this Schadenfreude about them failing. I mean they are the equivalent of the Yankees, a billion-dollar stadium, an owner who, I mean I talked to him last year and if I, you know, I was saying this to a couple of friends, if I told them his team was going to be, you know, one in seven in 2010, was going to start one in seven, he'd punch me in the face. I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHRISTIE: (Unintelligible) crazy.

Mr. TORRE: Who is so prideful and so entrenched in Dallas and has this image of the team as America's team. I think that's a testament - I mean I guess the lesson is if you spend enough money you can call yourself America's team. I mean he who spends most can apply that label to himself. And the team failing and...

MARTIN: I dont know. I'm sorry, I think it has to do with blondeness. I'm not trying to be mean about it.

(Soundbite of crosstalk)

MARTIN: What is up with that? I just...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: The question now whether America wants the label back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh - Pablo, I'm sorry, are the Yankees...

Mr. TORRE: Yes.

MARTIN: We are America's team, okay? Of course, you know I'm a Mets fan, but New York above all, right? You know that. You know that.

Mr. TORRE: Well, I'd like to think so at times. I'm, of course in New York myself, so...

MARTIN: So, Jimi, what do you think? Do you care? I dont think you even care, do you?

Mr. IZRAEL: You know what, sometimes, you know, if you're going to cook a meal you've got to change the grease. So change is good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Change is good.

Mr. TORRE: So many parts...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: (Unintelligible) can't wait (unintelligible)

Mr. TORRE: So many parts this team stink that it's hard to isolate what's the real problem.

MARTIN: So there's no chance of the Super Bowl being - Dallas being and the Super Bowl being played in that new stadium. Brand spanking new stadium. Not going to happen?

Mr. TORRE: I pegged him for a team that would've gone to the Super Bowl and now - that shows you how smart all sportswriters are, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It comes and goes. I guess it will be another season - it will be in a long season, though, here in Dallas unless they start turning things around for sure.

MARTIN: Ruben, are we going to have you an escort for you out of the studio after youve ragged on their team?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, I just want everybody to know that I didn't say these things. It was Pablo saying these things and I'm in the studio in Dallas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you, Pablo. I appreciate that. (Unintelligible) thank you.

MARTIN: Pablo, before we let you go, who is your pick for the Super Bowl now that things have changed a lot during this season?

Mr. TORRE: You know, I'm going to shift over, stay within the NFC East and go with the Giants, who SI did pick, thankfully, I can proudly claim as the number one team in the division. But God knows, I mean the NFL is a sport of parity and change and God knows what's going to happen.

MARTIN: Oh, man, spoken like the poet you are. All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Pablo Torre is a reporter for Sports Illustrated. He joined us from our studios in New York. Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. He's normally in California but today he joins us from Dallas. Jimi Izrael is the author of "The Denzel Principle" and he was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. And with us in Washington, Ron Christie, Republican strategist, former aide to President George W. Bush and author of a new memoir, "Anyone's Christie Strategies." He's here with me in our Washington, D.C. studio.

Thank you all so much.

Mr. TORRE: Take care, fellas.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Thank you...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup-yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. Im Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Lets talk more on Monday.

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