Morning Joe | June 13, 2012
>> of the hour. welcome back to " morning joe ." nicolle wallace is still with us and joining the table, executive editor at random house , pulitzer prize his store yan and contributing editor jon meacham . do you think i'm mean?
>> not on even days.
>> not on even days.
>> and the ceo of the aspen institute , author and biographer walter isaacson .
>> let's talk, walter knows you are --
>> let's talk last night.
>> the president. turns 88, right? was it 88?
>> the president.
>> the president turns 88.
>> george herbert walker bush .
>> the last gentleman you're going to be writing a biography about him and you got to see --
>> hbo did --
>> jerry weintraub inspired beautiful film.
>> great film. it was -- they did -- hbo did a nice event at saint ann 's church where george herbert walker bush 's parents were married and the family --
>> family church and then had a lovely party and it was -- it fulfilled sort of all your -- what your expectations would be. he was in -- the film is very good. it's all in '41's voice basically, and -- which is ineffable, it's hard to make that up, predicate sometimes happens, sometimes they don't.
>> sometimes they don't.
>> who needs them. he's a small government guy. and very gracious. the senior -- the 43rd president was there and much of the family and mrs. bush. it was lovely. and reminder of -- sort of, obviously, comes to mind when you look at president obama sort of retroactively still blaming the last eight years, obviously different parties, you didn't hear a lot of bush '41 blaming the deficits on the previous eight years. i think people want you to move forward.
>> and it's fascinating where we find george h.w. bush , a one-term president, who in this political culture where everybody seems to be demonized, there seems to be one man who has risen above, loved and respected, really by presidents on both sides, you get the sense bill clinton looks at him almost as a father figure and that barack obama , asspires to be like him -- aspires to be like him.
>> i think the obama affection for the senior bush is quite genuine but i also think there's a his store cycle back story there, which is you can be a one-term president and be redeemed by history and i think that -- i sort of know from some conversations with people in the obama white house , that president obama 's interest in the bush '41 story, really kicked up in late '09, early '10 when president obama realized this isn't all going to be easy. and i think history has, as we've talked about before, i think history has redeemed much, if not all, of what defeated the senior president bush in 1992 .
>> walter isaacson , why is that?
>> well, first of all he was one of the best foreign policy presidents of our time. he was able to bring a soft landing to the cold war without doing some victory dance on the brandon burg gate, able to do an iraq war in which jim bakker himself truly formed a great coalition to do it. he's a man of genuine humility but good nature. i remember right after hurricane katrina , when his son, the president, asked him and bill clinton to co-chair things, it was just a perfect team. he's just a caring individual.
>> you hear all these stories of town hall -- towns -- town squares being named after ronald reagan in eastern europe , but you talk to german leaders today, they will tell you they are a unified country because george h.w. bush didn't listen to the french, didn't do a victory dance on the brandonberg gate, but stayed back quietly not to shame anybody and to bring unification together. it seemed he was the right man for that extraordinarily historic time in 1989 .
>> he had a great team, too, brent scowcroft , jim bakker and they were realists who understood. you're looking at the headlines today about syria and the russians helping syria . you've had a long history of russia being allied with syria . jim bakker knew how to play that because the elder bush was great at that.
>> jim bakker knew how to play everything.
>> still does.
>> it was like a jedi mind trick . you want to be a member of the cold war .
>> john's book, because the question of how he did the the economy and domestic policy and that compromising, that seems to me, i mean my old friend ben franklin said compromises may not make great heros but they make great democracies, that was a brilliant compromise but he was vilified for it.
>> let's talk about that right now. we were going to go to syria , but this leads into what jeb bush said yesterday. and jeb right now, a man that many consider to be a future republican presidential nominee, getting absolutely secu lly skewered by many on the right for having the courage to make that praise.
>> jeb bush said his father and ronald reagan would have a difficult time with the climate in the gop today. bush said, quote, ronald reagan would have based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground as would my dad. they would have had a hard time . if you define the republican party , and i don't, as having an orts doxy that doesn't allow for disagreement, doesn't allow for finding some common ground . jeb bush touted his father's 1990 deficit reduction deal as a model for political compromise.
>> nicole, there has been, of course, a misunderstanding from idiots on the extremes about what jeb bush was saying yesterday. you and i know jeb very well. very, very well. and we worked very closely with him. jeb 's as conservative as they come. he's a small government conservative. i don't know that he would have done the deal in 1990 , but he was making one big point yesterday, and that was, in a democracy like we have, you have got to compromise at times.
>> jeb was making a point about the need to govern and i think his point, i went back and read everything because i kept thinking i must have missed something. did he say pro-choice is the way to go? no, he said you must get things done, you must govern. i was his first press secretary when he was governor of florida and the things he did were so, so -- he was the tip of the spear for conservative education reform . he was, you know, i think the second state to --
>> went to war on vouchers, went to war on affirmative action, went to war on spending. he vetoed republican spending bills.
>> balanced his budget every year.
>> he was the conservative's conservative.
>> when he stood up and said on monday, was that you must govern. you can't disinvite people from sitting down around the table because they have different views.
>> what does it take to govern?
>> i think to govern you have to do what lindsey graham said yesterday and you have to be willing to put everything on the table. you can't come out the other end with any legislation with any progress unless you're willing to put everything on the table.
>> what is that saying? what is he saying about the party today? what are they not doing.
>> by signing grover norquist 's pledge, everyone ruled out the possibility of getting anything done because everybody arrives at the table with their red lines drawn.
>> i can imagine a lot of people are thinking this is massive nostalgia and mythologyizing about if george h.w. bush walked across the atlantic ocean would he sink? yes he would.
>> revisionist history ?
>> but as arthur used to say, the main duty we owe to history is to rewrite it which keeps us employed.
>> we like that. that's our stimulus. but in real time , we have the documents, we know he did it. george herbert walker bush struck that deal at andrew's air force base in 1990 and knew it would probably cost him the election.
>> it wasn't a maybe this will be bad, maybe this will be rough. this was, i'm doing this because it's right, it's going to break the base, i may pay with -- the job may cost me. and then that got sort of lost because of what happened on the 2nd of august, 1990 , saddam invades kuwait and then -- the narrative shifts. george h.w. bush knew in the back of his mind, that what he had done could cost him his job. how many people in office today will do something, explicitly on the day they do it, say i'm going to do it right even if it costs me my job.
>> walter isaacson , courageous moments have consequences. he did that in 1990 . the democrats, against the advice of people like myself, all raised taxes in 1993 . the republicans in 1995 , made massive spending cuts, recessivision revisions, and all three cases you had political lives put like laid waste and put to the end and yet, you had a decade of great prosperity.
>> the first time we balanced the budget in a generation, two years later. we balanced the budget four years in a row for the first time since the 1920s . the -- 22 million jobs created. i mean courage actually pays off in the long run.
>> yep. and that's unfortunate because you have to pay off in the short run people like meacham and myself that write the long run, not everybody is playing for history. they usually are playing for the next election. it is true, that even now, we pretty much know how to deal with the fiscal issue. if people had some courage and sense it would be within 5 or 10% of where simpson-bowles got us. this is a solvable issue and we know how to solve it. it's not like the european debt crisis which i'm not sure how you solve that one, but we know how to do this one. it takes both of the candidates to say, you know what, we're going to get near to simpson-bowles by the time if you elect me.
>> that's great point, walter. we could all sit around this table and in ten minutes we could figure out how to slow down the rate of growth for medicare , social security , medicaid, over the long term, save this economy for a generation. now, how do we take care of the economy over the next two, three, four years? that's tough. but that's not our long-term challenge. that's not the existential threat to the american economy or the dollar.
>> those are separateble challenges. you can deal with the long-term deficit and on the other hand how we're going to get out of this doldrums we're in.
>> who are the --
>> i think there's some people meeting doing that.
>> who are the leaders now that have the guts to stand forth? let's talk about the president. the president said in february of 2009 , he didn't want to kick the can down the road anymore for social security or medicare . and he's done it. why --
>> clatter you hear in the background is the can.
>> why -- at the end of the day , it is -- it comes down to the president, whether it's george w. bush who, guess what, he didn't have the courage to do it. instead he added a $7 trillion unfunded mandate to medicare .
>> he tried social security reform and couldn't bring his own party to the table.
>> tried on social security .
>> and tried to make that sustainable.
>> and then on medicare added $7 trillion debt. i mean he tried social security . and then he wrote a huge check for medicare that we're going to be paying for for years. neither side seems to have the guts to do this.
>> i think
>> reform, is that the sacrifice?
>> that's what he's going to think. in the narrative -- he's a writer, ask him it -- chapters of the book, it seemed to be he wasn't directing it straight at barack obama , but he kept talking about how the lesson of johnson is a lesson of how a president who understands how to use that office, can dominate not only washington and the world, i think barack obama has in other ways.
>> again, is is that president obama just doesn't talk to members of congress. george bush didn't much either. i remember when lincoln chafy left the party, that was after a year. he would never talk to george w. bush . jim jeffords never talked to george w. bush . i mean these last two guys, pretty isolated.
>> and you can think of it as maureen dowd did the story 20 years ago now, of -- called polaroid diplomacy, how bush had -- bush 41 had a one-step camera back when that was cutting edge and all the members of the house, the house, come down and sit on the lincoln bed and he would take a picture of them so they would have a picture taken by the president of the united states . they could have forever.
>> and, you know, then you have johnson calling people in the middle of the night . you don't --
>> but bush and obama both have vice presidents who are of that body who are very active who their ambassadors.
>> i just don't think you can subcontract it.
>> not the same.
>> there's a president.
>> you get the president --
>> can't subcontract connecting with people.
>> and then you get --
>> we try.
>> we try all the time.
>> as men we try and it doesn't work out.
>> really quickly, we have to go. i'm curious both of you guys, because it's a question that keeps going, it's like as i read the caro book, it goes back, '57 lyndon decides to move on that civil right bill did he do that out of political expediencesy or becoming the guy he wants to be.
>> becoming the guy he wants to be. i think if there's one small thing i disagree on caro the second volume where stevenson is painted too large and good. i think lyndon johnson stuck with truman in '48 and that tells you the trajectory he's going to be on and i think he believed it, believed in fighting for the little guy, and i think he had his heart in civil rights . it wasn't just the political expediency.
>> and the tragedy of vietnam --
>> is the next volume.
>> is that you had a man who could take white, southern, democrats to a certain place and then he created a political situation with vietnam.
>> walter isaacson , thank you very much.
>> mr. ambassador, thank you for being here.
>> mr. meacham , his eminence, the reverend dr. meacham .
>> still ahead, we'll get a second opinion on a pricing new study linking strokes to a lack of sleep. dr. emanuel and nancy snyderman join the conversation. up next tim pawlenty . you're watching " morning joe ," brewed by starbucks. i want