DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We are remembering the life and times of President George H.W. Bush this morning. And I want to bring in the voice of commentator Cokie Roberts. She's, of course, our regular expert on American politics for our series Ask Cokie. And I want to talk to her about the Bush family, a family, Cokie, you knew very personally, right?
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: I got to know them pretty well doing a variety of events for the Family Literacy Foundation that Barbara Bush established, which is a wonderful organization, and various other things. But recently just in the very end of August, last day of August, I was in Kennebunkport to do something for the Literacy Foundation, and I had my 13-year-old grandson with me, and we had the great joy of being ushered into the president's room at Walker Point. And we met the now-famous Sully, the dog, and the president that day had said he wanted to jump out of a plane on his 95th birthday. And when I asked him about it...
GREENE: Always wanted to jump out of that plane, didn't he?
ROBERTS: I know. When I asked him about it, he nodded, and then when he was reminded that his last landing hadn't gone so well, he said very clearly and forcefully, why concentrate on that? The judgment of my 13-year-old grandson was he definitely still has a good sense of humor.
GREENE: Well, it sounds that way. You know, so many things I want to ask you but one is the friendship that he developed with President Bill Clinton, who, of course, defeated him in that bitter loss for him after his first term. How did that friendship evolve over the years?
ROBERTS: You know, it didn't happen right away. I had a long interview with Bush in 2004, and he told me he thought he and Clinton would never become friends the way Ford and Carter had. But then they did. But actually it was very natural for a man who really exemplified decency the way Bush did to form that friendship. And, you know, there's been a lot said about Bush being bipartisan in recent days. That's not really true. He fought mightily with the Democratic Congress. He vetoed 44 bills in four years.
GREENE: That's a lot.
ROBERTS: That's compared with George W. and Obama, each 12 in eight years. But Bush never demonized his opposition. He saw them as the opposition, not the enemy.
GREENE: Well - and that's one of the things even some of his critics have been pointing out in these last couple days. I mean, there have been thousands of tributes from all kinds of people. Anything that surprised you?
ROBERTS: Not so much surprised me as amazed me, David - the specificity of the stories. This isn't just we mourn your loss. One after another of these messages includes a thank you for what he did, whether it's the NIH saying what he did for the Human Genome Project or the former director of the Constitution Center saying that he really saved that institution or the Mayo Clinic thanking him for helping educate about its vision, the countless, countless personal stories of graciousness and care, taking time to comfort people in distress or congratulate those who had some success. Since he was so famous for his thank-you notes, it seems especially fitting to me that his eulogies are forms of thank-you notes to him.
GREENE: Yeah. Well, you mentioned the thank-you notes from him, and you got one of those, right?
ROBERTS: Yes. I sent him a pair of Uncle Sam Wants You socks (laughter)...
GREENE: (Laughter) I love it.
ROBERTS: ...From the National Archives, and he immediately responded, telling me life is good for the Bushes, and I hope the same is true for you and yours. And that's true, David. Life has been good for the Bushes. But much of that has been true because of the incredible decency of George Herbert Walker Bush. And I'm glad that the country has had the opportunity this week to really learn about that.
GREENE: Cokie, thanks for taking a few minutes to talk about him.
ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, David.
GREENE: That was commentator Cokie Roberts.
(SOUNDBITE OF EASTERN YOUTH'S "KADO WO MAGAREBA HITOBITO NO")