Meredith Quotes Hillary to Laura Bush on 'Fear Factor Presidency'

Meredith Vieira used the occasion of Laura Bush's in-studio appearance on this morning's Today to pepper the First Lady with criticisms from Hillary Clinton and even Republicans. The First Lady was on to promote her global literacy initiative but, not surprisingly, she ended up having to defend against Today's attack line of the day. After a set-up piece from NBC's Kelly O'Donnell that noted: 'some of the biggest names within [the President's] own party....continue to resist some of his plans for how terror suspects are treated,' Vieira asked if the First Lady's global literacy initiative would help restore the nation's reputation, presumably, destroyed by the President's anti-terror policies:

"Do you, do you feel that, that doing this, Mrs. Bush, will have an added benefit in the sense that our reputation around the world, fairly or unfairly, has been tarnished in recent years. Do you hope that by getting out there with this initiative that somehow you can resurrect?"

Then after noting the President: "...took a pounding in recent days, not from Democrats but from three key Republican senators who are greatly opposed to his proposal for interrogating and trying those suspected of terrorism," Vieira specifically cited Hillary Clinton's criticism: "And at the same time Hillary Rodham Clinton, the senator, has said some pretty strong things about your husband. I think she referred to his presidency as the, 'fear factor presidency.'

However the strangest moment of the interview came when Vieira actually pondered if the government should do something about the state of how American girls view their body image.

Vieira: "I have to ask you as a mom of two daughters, I have one daughter, your reaction to Madrid banning skinny models at the Fashion Week? In fact that came up in London over the weekend. Do you think the government should get involved in body images?"

Bush: "I don't see our government getting involved."

Vieira: "Should it?"

The following is O'Donnell's entire set-up piece followed by all of Vieira's questions to Laura Bush. The relevant portions are bolded: 

Matt Lauer: "On Close Up this morning the President takes Manhattan. President Bush is headed here to New York this morning for a high stakes meeting of the United Nations General Assembly this week. The President wants to promote democracy in the Middle East but it's democracy here at home that's causing some problems. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell has more this morning from the White House. Hi, Kelly, good morning."

Kelly O'Donnell: "Good morning, Matt. You know the President knows when he heads up to the UN that he will be having to practice some diplomacy there but he probably didn't expect he'd need to work it with some of the biggest names within his own party, people who continue to resist some of his plans for how terror suspects are treated."

[George W. Bush: "Mr. Secretary General..."]

O'Donnell: "The President heads to the United Nations today to visit an organization he describes as 'frustrating,' where his views are not necessarily embraced."

[Bush: "It's always an interesting experience, Richard, for a West Texas fellow to speak to the United Nations."]

O'Donnell: "But talking Texan to his own party has been tough enough. Key Republican senators with extensive military expertise and former Secretary of State Colin Powell fear the consequences of the President's insistence that the 60-year-old Geneva conventions be clarified."

[Sen. Lindsey Graham: "I am very concerned that if we do not watch it we're not gonna just redefine the law to meet the needs on the war on terror, we're gonna redefine America."]

[Colin Powell: "As a soldier I believe that the Geneva Convention, all parts of it, especially Common Article 3 should not be modified, explained, clarified or redefined in any way."]

O'Donnell: "On interrogation tactics the President wants more definition of what's legal so CIA questioners won't be tried as war criminals. Opponents say U.S. enemies could decide to change their rules too, leaving Americans at risk. Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte disagrees."

[John Negroponte: "We are certainly not seeking permission for torture, torture is against the law, it's illegal..."]

O'Donnell: "The President's return trip to the United Nations is designed to promote Mr. Bush's agenda that freedom and opportunity can prevent the spread of terrorism. Perhaps most anticipated, the President and Iran's leader with his nuclear ambitions, together in the same UN complex for the first time, but expect no showdown."

[Bush: "No, I'm not gonna meet with him."]

O'Donnell: "President says that until Iran can prove it has suspended its uranium enrichment there will be no contact between the U.S. government and the Iranian regime. The President is going to meet with the leader of Malaysia to try and highlight how that country is both a moderate Muslim state and a democracy, a point he's trying to make more broadly for the Middle East. Meredith."

Meredith Vieira: "Kelly O'Donnell, thanks very much. Another member of the First Family will also be stopping at the UN this week. First Lady Laura Bush is in New York to focus on global issues including healthy, literacy and poverty. Mrs. Bush welcome, thank you so much for joining us."

[Laura Bush]

Vieira: "Get off your feet for a few minutes."

[Bush]

Vieira: "Exactly. How do you like the new digs?"

[Bush]

Vieira: "To your suit so you look lovely. It's high-definition so Democrats and Republicans are equal here."

[Bush]

Vieira: "That's right it's dangerous for all of us. I mentioned before that you were here for an international conference on global literacy, we're gonna get to that but you've been traveling all over the world talking about literacy and all over this country really campaigning for Republican candidates. Is there any one issue that most people ask you about? Any one issue that stands out as the one most asked?"

[Bush]

Vieira: "Well your number one..."

[Bush]

Vieira: "Sure."

[Bush]

Vieira: "And your number one issue right now, in terms of being here, in New York really is global literacy."

[Bush]

Vieira: "And these are countries that obviously have real issues with literacy, obviously, and you've promoted it in this country quite a bit as a, both as a former librarian and a teacher and said that literacy is power. Why now focus outward? Why take it out?"

[Bush]

Vieira: "You had a lot..."

[Bush]

Vieira: "And most of them are women, which I find so interesting."

[Bush]

Vieira: "Why do you think that is, Mrs. Bush? And given that, even if you have wonderful proposals, which you do, how do you convince the governments in those countries to enact them?"

[Bush]

Vieira: "So why the governments gonna grant it?"

[Bush]

Vieira: "Do you, do you feel that, that doing this, Mrs. Bush, will have an added benefit in the sense that our reputation around the world, fairly or unfairly, has been tarnished in recent years. Do you hope that by getting out there with this initiative that somehow you can resurrect?"

Bush: "Well I mean that's certainly, that'd be a nice side effect, if that's what happened but no, the real purpose of it is to try to make sure governments invest in education for their citizens and the way, any ways that UNESCO as a UN agency or other pri-, either private foundations or our government can help, we will. And our government already does. We have an African education initiative where we're publishing text books. Six American universities are matched with six African countries and they're publishing textbooks in Africa that are traditional stories that would, that African children would want to know and African teachers would want to teach. And so there are many ways, already, that our government is working on it. But today's conference will really be a charge to every nation to invest in their people by investing in education. If people are educated economies are better, we know that. The countries with the highest education also have..."

Vieira: "So it affects everybody obviously."

Bush: "...the best economies."

Vieira: "I want to focus now for a second on, on what's going on here. The good news is people love you, your approval rating is 61 percent, the bad news is that people don't feel quite the same way about your husband. His approval rating is about 42 percent which may be why you're out on the campaign trail. You tend to be the face, very often. And you've raised..."

Bush: "Well I'm on the campaign trail but he is too. He's on the campaign a lot."

Vieira: "But you really are and you've raised a tremendous amount of money. I believe it's $11 million for Republican candidates. When you are out there and you meet somebody who's on the fence, isn't sure how they're gonna vote, at this point, and they, and they ask you about the war in Iraq what do you say to them?"

Bush: "Well I say exactly what the President says, that we need to stay the course. That it's really in our interest as Americans to make sure Iraq can build a stable democracy. You've seen lately in the last few weeks the prime minister of Iraq talking here. They want us to stay there. They want to be able to build a democracy. And if we left now we would leave a country without the support they need to build a democracy. I'm optimistic about it."

Vieira: "And yet so many people are uneasy."

Bush: "I think they really can build a democracy. Of course people are. No one wants war."

Vieira: "Yeah."

Bush: "The President doesn't want war. No one does."

Vieira: "How did the President respond? He took a pounding in recent days, not from Democrats but from three key Republican senators who are greatly opposed to his proposal for interrogating and trying those suspected of terrorism, and they, in fact, said that it could undermine, the President's proposal could undermine our reputation around the world and beyond that, I just want to quote from Secretary of State, former Secretary of State Colin Powell who said, quote, 'The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.' Those are strong words."

Bush: "Well they are strong words and the President has asked the Congress to make sure that all of those articles are specifically, that they are the ones that make the laws. That they write them so that they're very clear and that's really important for them to do and they'll, they will come to some sort of consensus I think."

Vieira: "But the..."

Bush: "Both the President and the three senator and congressmen that you mentioned and I think that they will come out with something that's very clear. Obviously Americans are not for torture and neither is the President."

Vieira: "But the fact they questioned him, Mrs. Bush, and, and him..."

Bush: "Well I wouldn't say they questioned him."

Vieira: "His proposals: "

Bush: "I think they're questioning some, some of the ideas. It's a whole way that both the executive branch and the congressional branch work together for the best for the United States. And that's the, what is going on."

Vieira: "Did it upset him or surprise him? Did it upset or surprise him that these people, I mean he's..."

Bush: "Well no not really I mean he's, he knows these men very well, obviously. All of them. He's, knows them very well. He knows what their issues are and he wants the Congress to make a clear definition, clear legal definition so that we can proceed from that definition. Obviously he thinks it's very important to be able to interrogate in a way that is not demeaning because it's important for us to know to..."

Vieira: "So you don't believe he..."

Bush: "...to protect ourselves as a country from, from terrorist attack. This is not like any other war we've ever fought."

Vieira: "You know if somebody said to me six years ago that the Bushes and the Clintons are gonna be cozy, I would've said, 'You're crazy.' But first I see your, your father-in-law, the former president Bush, joining forces with Bill Clinton in terms of tsunami and Katrina relief. And now you're gonna be joining forces with Bill Clinton on his initiative this Wednesday. And at the same time Hillary Rodham Clinton, the senator, has said some pretty strong things about your husband. I think she referred to his presidency as the, 'fear factor presidency.' Given your relationship now, with Bill Clinton, how do you reconcile those kind of comments? 'Cause if it was, somebody said that about my husband I'd wanna knock 'em, you know? I'd just get angry."

[Bush]

Vieira: "So you can put aside that, the politics?"

[Bush]

Vieira: "I have to ask you..."

[Bush]

Vieira: "I have to ask you as a mom of two daughters, I have one daughter, your reaction to Madrid banning skinny models at the Fashion Week? In fact that came up in London over the weekend. Do you think the government should get involved in body images?"

Bush: "I don't see our government getting involved."

Vieira: "Should it?"

Bush: "...in skinny models but our government is involved in obesity and that is talked about a lot. Our Department of Health certainly and all the new studies that show how children are heavier than they were in previous generations for a lot of reasons we know from a lot of fast food, a lot of large portions as well, of course so much more time sitting watching television or, or on the Internet or playing video games."

Vieira: "Exactly, just not moving."

Bush: "That's right. So..."

Vieira: "One last question Mrs. Bush. We're doing a segment later on, on happiness, finding happiness later on in life. Are you happy and if so how do you define it?"

[Bush]

Vieira: "I'm 52 you can..."

[Bush]

Vieira: "It is such a pleasure to meet you finally. Thank you so much."

[Bush]

Vieira: "First Lady Laura Bush, thank you."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.