Former President Bush (41) reflects on his legacy, including 'Read my lips'

In a Parade Magazine interview former president George H. W. Bush talks about what he learned from Ronald Reagan, his surprisingly close relationship with Bill Clinton, and – oh, yes – his infamous tax pledge.

Eric Gay/AP
Former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush arrive for a ceremony to dedicate a gallery that carries his name at the National Museum of the Pacific War, in Fredericksburg, Texas, in 2009.

One of the most powerful unelected men in Washington for years has been Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

He’s most famous for pressuring members of Congress and other elective offices – more than 1,100 to date – to sign a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” in which they “solemnly bind themselves to oppose any and all tax increases.”

In 2010, 88 percent of Republican “Young Gun” congressional candidates signed the pledge, according to a Huffington Post tally, although that seems to be dropping off in 2012 as more incumbents and first-time candidates assert their independence.

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One politician who signed the pledge way back in 1987 and still gets pretty steamed over it is former president George H. W. Bush.

Running for the presidency a year later he made perhaps his most famous pronouncement: “Read my lips: No new taxes” – a pledge he broke in compromising with congressional Democrats. Four years later, “Read my lips” came back to haunt him when he lost his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

Today, Mr. Bush says, “The rigidity of those pledges is something that I don’t like. You know, the circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist…. Who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?”

That was in an interview in this weekend’s edition of Parade Magazine.

Asked to respond, Mr. Norquist told Huffington Post, “He didn't lose this election because he lied to me, he lost the next election because he didn't keep his word to the American people.” But, adds Norquist, "It was 22 years ago. Let's give the guy some slack.”

"He had an otherwise successful presidency,” he says. “He got Iraq out of Kuwait without occupying the place for a decade – he ought to have a conversation with his son about how you do that. But he had one big hole in the bottom of the boat, and that was a tax increase."

Interviewed with Mrs. Barbara Bush by presidential historian Mark Updegrove at their home in Kennebunkport, Maine, Mr. Bush commented on other aspects of his political and family legacy.

Asked what he learned serving eight years as vice president under Ronald Reagan, he replied:

“Oh, I just learned a lot about decency, and honor, and kindness, and those broad values. He was a remarkable man and a kind guy – and generous. What I learned was more of those broad qualities than it was about individual issues. He didn’t care about the day-to-day legislation and amending the previous motion and all that kind of stuff. He was broad-gauged and on the issues he was fine.”

About his relationship with the man who defeated him 20 years ago, Mr. Bush says: “Well, he knows a lot about everything. He’s a very knowledgeable, bright man. And he sat out here one time and we talked about every possible [subject] – one after another.”

Mrs. Bush weighed in more effusively:

“He never said a mean word about anyone…. ‘My brother by another mother,’ the [Bush] boys call him. But he’s very nice – I think he thinks of George as the father he never had. Truthfully. I mean that as a great compliment. He’s been very thoughtful about calling and he’s a good fellow…. I was surprised by the fact that I liked him, truthfully. And I do like him a lot. And he and George W. have worked together. I think they’re patriots.”

How will history ultimately view George Herbert Walker Bush? the former president was asked.

“Well, I hope kindly, but I don’t know – we’re not trying to shape [history]. We’re not trying to write the memoir, [or] have the seminar to point out all the wonderful things we did. I mean, I think you’ll find out what I did right and what I did wrong. I think history will get it right.”

“I think we had an honorable administration,” he said. “I think we were relatively scandal-free and blessed by good people – getting a lot of good people involved.”

QUIZ: Know your US presidents? See if D.C. Decoder can stump you!

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