Former President George W. Bush was conspicuously absent from the midterm election campaign, despite Democratic efforts to resurrect him as a political punching bag.
But just a week later, the former president is back in the public eye, launching a publicity tour for his book “Decision Points,” which comes out Tuesday. The tour includes a prime-time network special and a visit to Oprah’s couch.
The book’s excerpts and the interviews offer new insight into Bush’s presidency, but show a familiar certainty and self-assuredness about the decisions he made.
On the decision to launch a war with Iraq, Bush expressed no hesitation when asked if he would make the same choice again, knowing all that he knows today.
“You just don’t have the luxury when you’re president,” Bush told NBC’s Matt Lauer in an interview that aired Monday night. “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.”
Among revelations: Bush and Cheney had a serious clash over the fate of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s former chief of staff, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for his role in leaking the identity of then-CIA operative Valerie Plame in an effort to discredit her husband. Bush commuted Libby’s sentence, sparing him from a 30-month prison term, but Cheney wanted a full pardon that would set aside the verdict and a fine.
“I can’t believe you’re going to leave a soldier on the battlefield,” Cheney told Bush, according to his book.
“I chose to let the jury verdict stand after some serious deliberation,” Bush told Lauer. He said he and Cheney have since repaired their relationship.
“We are friends today,” he said. “I was a little concerned at one time.”
There also was some Oval Office intrigue four years earlier, when Bush considered replacing Cheney on the ticket in his reelection bid. The idea of dropping Cheney came from the vice president himself, Bush wrote, according to excerpts reported by the New York Times.
On his book tour, Bush has acknowledged some missteps, citing the public response to Hurricane Katrina. For instance, a photo showing Bush surveying the damage while flying over in Air Force One was a “huge mistake,” he says now.
But not all bygones are bygones. Popular rapper Kanye West’s remark during a telethon for victims of Katrina that Bush didn’t care about black people was “one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency,” he said.
“My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance,” Bush said. “It was a disgusting moment.”
As he makes the rounds, Bush is offering his thoughts on present-day politics, telling Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity that the “tea party” movement is “a good thing for the country.”
“It inspires me to know that our democracy still functions,” he said in the interview, set to air Tuesday.
He also said he wishes — probably in vain, he realizes — that his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would run for president. “He has made it clear he is not running in 2012,” he said. “And when the man says, ‘I’m not running,’ he means it.”
Beyond that, Bush said he’s keeping out of politics — even when it comes to talking about his predecessor, or about another potential White House hopeful — Sarah Palin.
“I am not a political pundit. I’m really not,” he tells Oprah Winfrey in an interview also airing Tuesday. “A lot is gonna happen between now and the nominating process. I have no clue.”
In the book and interviews, Bush dwells on his heavy drinking earlier in life, calling it “a love” that interfered with his family life. Bush quit drinking at the age of 40, about 10 years after receiving a drunk driving ticket that first became public weeks before the 2000 presidential election.
Once, he said, he was drunk at his parents’ dinner table, with his family and wife. “And I’m sitting next to a beautiful woman, a friend of Mother and Dad’s,” he recalled. “And I said to her out loud, ‘What is sex like after 50?’”
The episode showed he was a “wiseass,” Bush told Lauer. Then, on his own 50th birthday, the same woman wrote to Bush when he was governor of Texas and asked if he had discovered the answer, the former president said.
As Bush’s publicity tour rolls on, he also is set to break ground on his new presidential library in Dallas on Nov. 16. It is due to be completed in 2013.