CBS Bids Good Riddance to Bush

Katie Couric and Douglas Brinkley, CBS During live coverage of President Bush leaving on the presidential helicopter immediately following the swearing in of Barack Obama, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric got reaction from liberal historian Douglas Brinkley, who observed: "Keep in mind, a lot of Americans are thinking it's pretty cool that he's leaving, too. A lot of Americans didn't take him as the real president after the Gore election in 2000. He's been very controversial. And a lot of people voted to get rid of Bush policies. So, and for some people are cheering the helicopter leaving, because they felt stuck for eight years." Couric agreed: "Right. Some people cheer in support, and some people, as Doug said, cheer because he's getting out of town."

Later, Couric asked Brinkley about Bush’s farewell press conference, particularly about the president’s defense of his response to Hurricane Katrina: "Doug Brinkley, you wrote a book all about Katrina and I was just curious to get your reaction to how the president assessed his performance vis-a-vis that disaster in that last news conference." Brinkley went on a left-wing rant:

He created a fairy tale for himself. Everybody knows the Bush Administration did not do a good job during Katrina. In fact, August, 2005, is the turning point. Even the national media -- which had been intimidated by the Rove White House for a while -- they changed. I was in New Orleans for the storm and the media was so angry at the seemingly lackadaisical response of the federal government and then the fact that the President of the United States did a flyover, didn't put his boot heels on the ground in Louisiana or Mississippi, didn't touch the flood waters. Many people I talked to remembered Hurricane Betsy in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson went there in the dead of night with a flashlight in his face saying 'this is your president.' Our president was AWOL during Katrina and it's, I think, probably going to be one of the hardest parts of his legacy to somehow fix by writing it -- changing it in a memoir or something.

Couric followed up by asking: "What about his assessment...sort of saying Mayor Nagin and the Governor of Louisiana, that they couldn't get their acts together and that really impeded the federal response?" Brinkley continued his ranting:

Well, the problem was, politics went into it a lot. FEMA was starting to look for buses that were from Republican companies to come down to New Orleans. They did blockades of people. There was -- it was on every level FEMA and Homeland Security was a mess. Michael Chertoff was at an Avian Flu convention in Atlanta while 80% of New Orleans was underwater. It was -- it's mind-boggling he was able to keep his job after Katrina when the head of Homeland Security doesn't know a major port city like New Orleans is underwater. And, incidentally, it was on the list of Homeland Security threats after a terrorist attack in New York, San Francisco earthquake, levees breaching in New Orleans, it was a very slow response. The 101st Airborne needed to have been called immediately and I interviewed men from the 101 and they all wanted to get into the action to help and they didn't get to.

Couric also spoke to Clinton advisor Vernon Jordan about the press conference, who argued: "I would have advised that he not give this farewell press conference...and I think that may be some regret that he did it, because it did not go really well. And it goes to the old saying, if you don't have anything to say, don't say it." Brinkley supported that idea, as did Couric: "And it highlighted his failures rather than his successes...for the most part." Brinkley then added: "We probably wouldn't be talking about Katrina if he didn't."

During Tuesday morning CBS live coverage, Brinkley compared Obama to Franklin Roosevelt and Bush to Herbert Hoover.

Here are transcripts of the relevant portions of Tuesday afternoon coverage:

12:53PM SEGMENT:

KATIE COURIC: Let's just take a moment and watch the 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush, climb aboard that chopper and say good-bye to the nation for the last time.

BOB SCHIEFFER: One of the most poignant moments of every presidency.

VERNON JORDAN: I think it's got to be mixed emotions, you know, one of -- one of relief and one of sadness, melancholy.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Presidents that are successful find a sense of relief. When Eisenhower gets to -- got to go to Gettysburg or Ronald Reagan to California, or somebody-

JORDAN: Or Harry Truman to Missouri.

BRINKLEY: Well, and -- but you had Nixon, who wasn't that, remember that moment when he had to do the famous flash good-bye, and it was a very sad moment. This has been a tough year for President Bush with the economy taking the hit that it has. And they've been trying to put the legacy in perspective the last month. But it's been difficult to get the public opinion polls above 30%. So there have got to be some regrets, even though the word is that 'we did everything we could, we feel good about ourselves.' They have to see some missed opportunities.

JORDAN: But it's also a no more Camp David, no more Oval Office, no more Air Force One, no more-

BRINKLEY: No more M&M's being served in bowls-

JORDAN: -no more hail to the chief. You got to miss it.

COURIC: Something tells me that President Bush is ready to step down. Dan, would -- do you think that's accurate, that after eight years, eight very, very difficult years for this country and personally difficult for him with a lot of hard choices, he's sort of happy to hand over the reins to someone else?

DAN BARTLETT: I think he is. I mean, every president goes through those emotions, whether they be regrets or missed opportunities or business left unfinished, but he's also somebody who looks forward to the next chapter in his life. He's always been confident in that the direction of his life will serve a greater purpose. And days -- I've talked to him in recent days, and he really is looking forward, and doing so in a very genuinely happy way, get to spend more time with Laura and the family, and the new son-in-law, and really kick back in Texas and really reflect upon a consequential eight years. So he does leave with his head held high, he leaves with obviously those mixed emotions that are being discussed there, but also somebody who is very much looking forward to the next chapter in his life.

COURIC: I know he's very, very proud of the awareness and aid that he has provided in Africa for HIV and AIDS and for malaria. Do you think he'll continue that work, as Laura Bush will continue her work fighting to help women in Afghanistan and the Middle East and promoting democracy, say in Myanmar?

BARTLETT: Absolutely. I think you'll see him carve out areas of interest, like he talked about, about the continent of Africa. I think here at home he will also -- he's always had a passion about education. I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if he continues those efforts here at home. And as you said, the issue about democracy and dissidence all across the world from various countries that live under authoritarian control, I think he wants to continue to try to give voice to their plight. So I expect him to be a very active former president in that regard, around issues that he had spent a lot of time as president focused on.

COURIC: And Dan, we're watching his chopper actually fly -- just flew across the dome of the U.S. Capitol right before our very eyes, and you know, despite his approval ratings, people waving and cheering, it is a very poignant moment.

BARTLETT: I remember, Katie, my first time on Marine One with the president, and we were banking around the monument, and he caught me looking out the window, kind of eyes wide open, he says 'pretty cool, huh' and I said, 'yeah, it's really cool.' So he's probably doing something the same, soaking it all in on that last trip around the -- around the nation's capital.

BRINKLEY: Keep in mind, a lot of Americans are thinking it's pretty cool that he's leaving, too. A lot of Americans didn't take him as the real president after the Gore election in 2000. He's been very controversial. And a lot of people voted to get rid of Bush policies. So, and for some people are cheering the helicopter leaving, because they felt stuck for eight years.

JORDAN: And that's always the case. The president leaves, and some people are happy and some people are not so happy.

COURIC: Right. Some people cheer in support, and some people, as Doug said, cheer because he's getting out of town. Alright, Dan Bartlett, have a safe trip to Texas.

DAN BARTLETT: Thank you very much. We'll tune in when I get there.

COURIC: Okay, thanks a lot, Dan. And we'll be back with much more of the 44th inauguration of now President Barack Obama, including the inaugural parade, and we'll tell you about the congressional luncheon as well right after this.

1:16PM SEGMENT:

KATIE COURIC: As we can see, that is the shot of Andrews Air Force Base, the presidential heli -- the former president -- I've got to get used to changing that -- is arriving.

BOB SCHIEFFER: And the former presidential helicopter.

COURIC: That's right, no longer a presidential helicopter. Will be landing at Andrews Air Force Base and he'll boarding a plane and heading to Texas. Jim Axelrod covered the Bush presidency. And Jim, everybody must be pretty emotional. And how about you?

JIM AXELROD: Well, it is certainly an interesting set of emotions. I'm just thinking about President Bush right now. You know, we talked about he's the president who leaves office with the lowest approval rating measured in the history of polling, in modern polling. You think about the breadth of his presidency. He also recorded the highest approval rating right after 9/11, when his approval rating was at 90%. So I'm just thinking about the highs and lows that this former president experienced during his presidency and how it reflects the journey the country's been on the last eight years as well, Katie.

COURIC: And, Jim, you know, he did give a really very interesting and unique press conference to reporters who have covered him for years now. And he talked more candidly than he had before about sort of some of the pitfalls and successes of his presidency. And I'm going to ask you what I asked Andy Card earlier. Do you think he would have been helped if he had been sort of more candid and forthcoming prior to that press conference and sort of shown more emotion about those highs but primarily about the lows?

AXELROD: I think that's such an interesting question to think about the effect at the end of the time in office as a president is thinking about his place in history, his legacy, what went right, what went wrong. And obviously when he expressed himself at that news conference, there was some contrition, as I think we talked about, Katie. In addition to sort of standing firm and some defiance -- his policies. But it was the contrition that sort of struck people. Of course that would have helped him over time, but it just wasn't part of the makeup of the man. What we saw at the end was so striking, because it was such an anomaly compared to the man we had seen in office for the prior, much of the prior eight years, Katie.

COURIC: But Jim, with that contrition there was a lot of defiance, too. I was particularly struck about what he had to say about Katrina in the closing days of his presidency, talking about how many people were actually saved and suggesting that the local and state government officials made things very, very difficult in terms of the federal response. You almost felt like he had been dying to say that for a long time and felt liberated to do so now.

AXELROD: You know, I was sitting in the front row that day and that was the moment of the news conference that I thought was the most defiant, almost pounding the podium as he talked about the 30,000 people picked off of roof tops in New Orleans. Which I know didn't play so very well with all the folks in New Orleans, having talked to a couple people down there. But that was the moment where he was most defiant. And it did seem as though he was going to get a few things off his chest at this news conference as well. So while there were moments, again, as we talk about it being contrition as opposed to out and out regret, there was certainly interlaced with moments of strong resolve in defense of his policies over the last eight years.

COURIC: Jim Axelrod. Jim, thank you very much. As we wait for the president -- former President Bush and former President George Herbert Walker Bush and their spouses to depart -- or deplane from the helicopter, Doug Brinkley, you wrote a book all about Katrina and I was just curious to get your reaction to how the president assessed his performance vis-a-vis that disaster in that last news conference.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: He created a fairy tale for himself. Everybody knows the Bush Administration did not do a good job during Katrina. In fact, August, 2005, is the turning point. Even the national media -- which had been intimidated by the Rove White House for a while -- they changed. I was in New Orleans for the storm and the media was so angry at the seemingly lackadaisical response of the federal government and then the fact that the President of the United States did a flyover, didn't put his boot heels on the ground in Louisiana or Mississippi, didn't touch the flood waters. Many people I talked to remembered Hurricane Betsy in 1965 when Lyndon Johnson went there in the dead of night with a flashlight in his face saying 'this is your president.' Our president was AWOL during Katrina and it's, I think, probably going to be one of the hardest parts of his legacy to somehow fix by writing it -- changing it in a memoir or something.

VERNON JORDAN: You know-

COURIC: What about his assessment -- I was just going to ask real quickly, Vernon -- sort of saying Mayor Nagin and the Governor of Louisiana, that they couldn't get their acts together and that really impeded the federal response?

BRINKLEY: Well, the problem was, politics went into it a lot. FEMA was starting to look for buses that were from Republican companies to come down to New Orleans. They did blockades of people. There was -- it was on every level FEMA and Homeland Security was a mess. Michael Chertoff was at an Avian Flu convention in Atlanta while 80% of New Orleans was underwater. It was -- it's mind-boggling he was able to keep his job after Katrina when the head of Homeland Security doesn't know a major port city like New Orleans is underwater. And, incidentally, it was on the list of Homeland Security threats after a terrorist attack in New York, San Francisco earthquake, levees breaching in New Orleans, it was a very slow response. The 101st Airborne needed to have been called immediately and I interviewed men from the 101 and they all wanted to get into the action to help and they didn't get to.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But isn't it fair to say this was a failure of government at every level, at the local level, at the state level, and at the national level? Another thing, President Bush's stance at that news conference was really characteristic of modern politicians. Politicians don't admit mistakes much anymore in this age of the blogs and this intense criticism. They're not contrite very often, maybe it was always that way. But it seems to me now they're not even self-deprecating anymore, very much. Because if you are, someone will immediately agree and say, you know if you say 'I fell down' and somebody says 'he admits, he did fall down.' The criticism is so intense now, you're not going to see very many modern politicians admit mistakes.

JORDAN: If I had been advising President Bush and advising presidents, something I've had experienced with, I would have advised that he not give this farewell press conference.

BRINKLEY: I agree.

VERNON JORDAN: That he not say anything. His father did that. He did not have a farewell statement and I think that may be some regret that he did it, because it did not go really well. And it goes to the old saying, if you don't have anything to say, don't say it.

COURIC: And it highlighted his failures rather than his successes-

JORDAN: That is correct.

COURIC: -for the most part.

BRINKLEY: We probably wouldn't be talking about Katrina if he didn't-

SCHIEFFER: And no matter how far he went, there would be somebody who would say he didn't go far enough. So I think I agree with you, Vernon. I think it probably have been best that he didn't.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC