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Bush memoir reveals McConnell meeting; online poll asks if opinions have changed

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 9, 2010 at 11:21 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 10 at 2:31 PM

Poll:
Has your opinion of George W. Bush changed since he left office?

In his newly released memoir, former President George W. Bush reveals that in a private Oval Office conversation with U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky senator asked him to  "bring some troops home from Iraq" ahead of the 2006 midterm elections.

Bush writes that he "made it clear I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls" and that McConnell made the suggestion without knowing that Bush was planning an opposite move, a troop surge.

The former President adds that McConnell - who he described as having a "sharp political nose" - later supported the surge after Bush announced it and "graciously later admitted to me that he had been wrong to suggest a withdrawal."

<excerpt>

In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching, my friend Mitch McConnell came to the Oval Office.  The senior senator from Kentucky and Republican whip had asked to see me alone.  Mitch has a sharp political nose, and he smelled trouble.
"Mr. President," he said, "your unpopularity is going to cost us control of the Congress."
Mitch had a point.  Many Americans were tired of my presidency.

<excerpt>

"Well Mitch," I asked, "What do you want me to do about it?"
"Mr. President," he said, "bring some troops home from Iraq."

<excerpt>

"Mitch," I said, "I believe our presence in Iraq is necessary to protect America, and I will not withdraw troops unless military conditions warrant."  I made it clear I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls.
What I did not tell him was that I was seriously considering the opposite of his recommendation.

Bush also reveals that he considered Indiana's Dan Coats for Secretary of Defense before choosing Donald Rumsfeld.

Bush calls now Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels "a fiscal hawk" and Indiana Senator Richard Lugar the "thoughtful chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee"

Though Bush told talk show host Oprah Winfrey that he has resisted criticizing his successor, President Barack Obama, the release of "Decision Points" comes at the low point of Obama's presidency, an historic loss of Congressional seats in the midterm elections.

At the end of his term, 58 percent of Americans thought President Bush would be remembered as a below-average president.  In a new Gallup Poll, Americans give Bush a 44% approval rating while an aggregate of Obama polls gives the current president a 45.4% approval rating.

Kentucky and Indiana voted for George W. Bush by wide margins in both 2000 and 2004.  With his book for sale at Borders Books in Downtown Louisville, WHAS11 asked people in and outside the bookstore whether their opinions of Bush had changed in the last two years. 

"One of my proudest accomplishments is that I didn't sell my soul for the sake of popularity," Bush told television host Oprah Winfrey.

Two years later, his memoir at the downtown Border's is on sale right next to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid - the Ugly Truth."

Judy Hanmaker was one of the first to buy the book in Louisville after watching Bush's interview with NBC's Matt Lauer Monday night.

"As George said last night, twenty years or maybe after I'm dead, we will be able to judge him with facts that are not revealed to us now," Hanmaker said, "so I think that I liked him better because he was... so honest."

Winfrey challenged Bush to explain his response to Hurricane Katrina devastation in New Orleans, a response that Bush now admits was inadequate.  Yet, he categorically rejected rapper Kanye West's assertion during a Katrina relief telethon that Bush "did not care about black people." 

"I can see how the perception can be maybe Bush didn't care," Bush told Winfrey, "But to accuse me of being a racist, is disgusting."

Hanmaker says Bush's explanation and candidness prompted her to buy the book.

"You do the best that you can at the time with the knowledge that you have," Hanmaker said, "And I liked when they kind of did the flashback of him flying in the airplane over New Orleans and he said that was a mistake. And I told my husband, 'that's refreshing.'"

Yet, many of the people WHAS11 stopped outside of Borders were less receptive to Bush's version of history.

"Sean" said he approves of Bush less now than when he was President.

"I just didn't think he did a good job at all whatsoever," Sean said.

"He put this country in such debt," Diane Ousley complained, "and now they blaming it on Obama when it was like that when he got into office."

"I don't like him too much," Jeshante said, "I just never have.  He's just never done nothing for us, really."

"George W. Bush, he did an awful job of being president," one man said, "And as far as him changing our ideal as far as me changing my ideal? No - it hasn't changed at all."

"I was disappointed in his presidency," said Cathy Harris, "I just don't think he was a decisive leader and I think he put us in a bad place that we are still trying to come out of."

Chad Gaines, however, said he has a "good opinion about (Bush)."
 
"I think there will be mixed emotions about him through history just like any other president," Gaines said.

"He was okay," said Tony Smith, "That's about all I can say to be honest."

"He's got his flaws, but they all do," added Jason.

"He wasn't the best president we've had," Alisha said, "but I will give him more credit than what people give him."

"Long term history will probably be more favorable to him than we are right now," Karen said.

"It's an important thing in life," Bush explained to Winfrey, "that if you chase popularity, you're chasing something that is just a fleeting moment.  But principles last forever."

Earlier

Former President George W. Bush's memoir hits stores, today.  "Decision Points" is nearly 500 pages about issues Bush faced both in the White House and earlier in life.

Bush appears at 4pm today with Oprah Winfrey on WHAS11.

And we want to know what you think about George W. Bush. Has your opinion changed in the last two years? You can vote and leave your comments - right now - on WHAS11.com. And tune in tonight at five - after Oprah - to hear what Kentuckiana is saying about the former president.

In the book, Bush takes responsibility and defends approving waterboarding for terror suspects. He says the enhanced interrogation techniques provided valuable information about Al Qaida. He also blasts the government's response to Hurricane Katrina--- calling it unacceptable. Bush blames himself for not acting faster and more decisively.


Has your opinion of George W. Bush changed?  Take our poll and leave your comments below.

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