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Interview with the president

"Interview with the president" Continued...

And that is beginning to happen in the West Bank. The prime minister is doing a really good job, along with the president.
THOMAS: I went back and looked at the first interview you gave me shortly after you became president, and among the things you said was that you were not that worried about the deficit-this was in 2001-because the deficit would seem to control congressional spending. Would you like to revise and extend those remarks?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Actually, this was before the attacks.
THOMAS: Right.
PRESIDENT BUSH: The tax cuts had just been implemented to deal with a recession, and we were actually closing the current account deficit through the growth of revenues, as a result of increased economic activities, and at the same time were funding our troops and defending the homeland. And the other thing I kept saying was that the deficit that we truly ought to be focused on is not the current deficit, but the deficit inherent in the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare. Those were the big deficits.

Now, obviously, there's going to be a short-term increase in the deficit, as I took actions necessary to prevent this economy from collapsing, from a complete financial meltdown. People have asked me, was there a defining moment? Well, there was an important meeting in the Roosevelt Room when Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke, in essence, said the financial situation is such that if you don't do something, Mr. President, we could have a depression greater than the Great Depression.

And if you're the president of the United States, you can sit there and say to yourself, "Well, I'm going to stick to principle and hope for the best," or "I'm going to take the actions necessary to prevent the worst" And I took the actions necessary to prevent the worst. And I fully concede that I flew against the principles of free market. In normal circumstances, my response would have been if they had made terrible decisions, let them fail. The problem in this case is the letting them fail scenario would have caused the average working guy immense grief.
THOMAS: So what good are the principles?
PRESIDENT BUSH: The principles are to make the decision necessary to defend the principle itself. In other words, the whole purpose is to take the actions necessary to be able to have a free market in the future.

People say, well, they were just exaggerating the issue. I don't have the luxury of listening to my two top economic advisers and saying, "Well, you may be just exaggerating; we'll see what happens."

Now, I readily concede people are concerned about the decisions I made, no question about it. I think that there is a lot of concern that this is the end of free markets as we know it; the free enterprise system, which has been so wonderful for America, will be discarded. I disagree with that, obviously. I think it's going to be very important for rational voices to continue speaking out as this economy recovers, and it will, and as the assets that will collateralize our positions get redeemed, that we remind people about the wonders of free markets and free enterprise.

One of the reasons why I hosted the international meeting in Washington-and if you look at that statement, it is very clear-it says, yes, we need to take actions to prevent a financial meltdown without destroying the foundations of free markets and free enterprise.
THOMAS: You may be aware of a resolution before the Republican National Committee that says we can't be a party of small government, free markets, and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism, high taxes at the expense of individual freedoms. They're calling you-some of them, including James Bopp, the vice chair-calling you a socialist. What do you think of that?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I'm not aware of the resolution. I fully understand people's concerns about whether or not this country will be a country of free enterprise and capitalism and markets. I believe it will be. But I do know that the actions I've taken were necessary to prevent a major financial meltdown.
THOMAS: I hate to quote somebody like former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who said, cynically in the '60s, "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties." Is there? And what does it mean to be a Republican in 2009?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, that's very important for our party to make sure that we establish the principles that enabled me to win in the first place, and become the underpinnings of the policies that were enacted when I was president-not only me, but also other presidents-such as the universality of freedom. We ought to be the party that says freedom is universal, and freedom yields peace; the party that says, absolutely, we took the steps necessary to protect ourselves at home and, in the meantime, liberated 50 million people, and then helped them develop democracies in parts of the world where it was deemed impossible to have a democracy at some points in time.


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