TIME: How can you heal the wounds?
BUSH: There is an opportunity here for both Republicans and Democrats to show the country that we can come together, that our Federal Government can function and rise above partisanship. It is a unique moment, and I intend to seize it.
I know that by far the vast majority of those elected on the Democratic side recognize this opportunity. And my job is to convince them that I will share credit. That I'm good on my word. That I come to Washington with the full intention of seizing the moment and not politicizing the process.
TIME: So the closeness of this race is more of a plus than a minus?
BUSH: Absolutely, absolutely. It gives us a chance to show we can rise above a divided house, that there are some issues--educating our children, taking care of our seniors, making sure the retirement system is working, protecting the peace and our economic strength--that are more important than that which has divided the house.
TIME: But won't bridging the partisanship in Washington be tougher than it was in Texas?
BUSH: There's no question that Washington is a tougher place than Austin, because the partisan hostility is more embedded there. Nevertheless, that does not deter me in the least. You see, part of the ability to get along with folks is to be able to give a person your word and keep your word and to understand where the other fella is coming from. But I also firmly believe that shared success is more beneficial to all parties than failure. That success will have many authors, and failures give everybody the opportunity to point blame. There's a lot of talk about "Well, does so-and-so want to stop an agenda in order to gain political points." I just don't think that's going to fly. I think that there's too good an opportunity for all of us to benefit.
TIME: Does that mean you'll be governing from the center?
BUSH: Not necessarily. It depends on how you define the center. Take tax relief. The notion of cutting taxes isn't necessarily a right-of-center or a left-of-center concept. To me it's going to be part of an insurance policy against an economic downturn. But it's also an understanding that we have an opportunity to make the code more fair and easier to understand. So it's a reformist idea as well.
TIME: But governing from the center might mean compromising on the size of the cut.
BUSH: Well, I'm not prepared to compromise. I think it's the right size. Dick Cheney and I have said there are some warning signs about our economy. Tax relief is not only an opportunity to trust people with their own money. Tax relief also says the economy may be a little softer than we want to admit. I come from the school of thought that says you need to reduce all marginal rates to encourage economic growth. I also believe that Social Security reform, with the establishment of personal savings accounts, is an important part of capital accumulation in the private markets, which will help the economy continue to grow.
TIME: But what about making compromises in order to find the common ground?
BUSH: There may be moments of that, but I'm not playing my cards at the beginning of the game. I'm going to wait until the deck is at least shuffled and the hands are dealt. I understand the process very well. I also understand that the reason I sit here is because of the agenda I'm bringing to Washington. I wish I could say it's because of my charming personality or the fact that I can string a few sentences together.
TIME: So you think you truly have a mandate?
BUSH: I do. The issues are very powerful in a campaign, and the issues helped me gain this position. Some would say, well, maybe the closeness of the election meant those positions weren't all that palatable, but that's not how I look at it. I look at it that I was running against a very formidable opponent who was basically the incumbent with the economy in good shape going into the election and the world at peace. And it required something extraordinary to get me into the position I'm in. And I believe that the Social Security position, the Medicare position, the tax-relief position were all positions people heard loud and clear.
TIME: What about campaign-finance reform?
BUSH: Well, I talked to Senator McCain about that, and he is anxious to work with the Administration on a bill, and I look forward to working with him. During the primaries, he and I had a lot of public discussions about campaign-funding reform, and one of the sticking points is whether or not there would be paycheck protections. And in our debate, he and I agreed on that position. And I think that's a good starting point. We may be able to tie campaign finance to a larger election-reform package. There needs to be a broader vision.
TIME: So you wouldn't be willing to embrace McCain-Feingold as written?
BUSH: Well, no. As I said during the campaign, I think there need to be some additions.
TIME: Are you concerned that Al Gore got more of the popular vote than you did?