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?
BUSH: Not really. If you had told me 15 months ago, "You're going to be judged on who got the most popular votes as opposed to the electoral count," I suspect you'd have seen us run a different campaign. For example, I might have spent more time in my state of Texas trying to run up the score.
The election was essentially 50-50. Had I won 51-49, there would still be a lot of people who wonder whether or not I'm going to be their President. And my response is, you bet I am.
TIME: The greatest wounds may be among blacks who felt particularly disenfranchised in Florida. I know you felt you campaigned to get more black and Hispanic votes ...
BUSH: I did. Got whipped pretty good.
TIME: Is there something dramatic you can do now to reach out to African Americans?
BUSH: I think it's going to be dramatic to name African Americans to positions of power, because that signals George W. looks at people for who they are and not based upon how they voted. Those who did not vote for me may not like it initially, but I am their President.
TIME: What did you learn about being President from watching your father?
BUSH: I learned how to earn political capital and how to spend it.
TIME: You think he didn't spend it well late in his term?
BUSH: I think he did not. History has shown that he had some capital in the bank that was not properly spent.
TIME: What did you learn about being President from watching Bill Clinton?
BUSH: Great question (long pause). I felt like he tried to spend capital on issues that he didn't have any capital on at first, like health care. He became very good at using his position in the public relations arena. He also became very skillful in dealing with the members on Capitol Hill. He used the government shutdown in 1995, for example, to his advantage.
TIME: What do you think will be going through your head when you shake hands with President Clinton on Jan. 20?
BUSH: Let me put it to you this way, I am not a revengeful person. This victory has everything to do with the country and what I believe is possible and little to do with the fact he beat my dad. In the '94 campaign for Texas Governor, some thought I sought the office to teach Ann Richards a lesson for having said what she said about my dad at the Dukakis convention. [At the 1988 Democratic Convention, Richards mocked Vice President George Bush "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."] You cannot win an office if your heart is set on revenge. People are not going to elect someone who's running out of spite. I get no satisfaction out of defeating Bill Clinton's Vice President.
TIME: You have two daughters. Would you ask President Clinton for advice about how he protected Chelsea?
BUSH: I would. As a matter of fact, at the Al Smith dinner in New York in October, I talked with Senator Clinton about Chelsea and the protection at Stanford. And I will tell you, I think the Clintons have done a very good job of raising Chelsea Clinton, and they deserve a lot of credit for that.
TIME: How will you get along with Senator Clinton?
BUSH: The assumption is that we won't see eye to eye, but who knows? Maybe we'll come up with a bill to guide the Medicare plan that she's comfortable with. It'll be an interesting relationship. She's going to be one of 100, and I hope I can get her vote on some issues.
TIME: When John Kennedy was asked who he would want in the room when he was making big decisions, he said Bobby Kennedy. When we asked that of President-elect Bill Clinton in 1992, he said one word Hillary. Who do you want in the room?
BUSH: Cheney. Let me tell you something about Vice President Cheney. I picked him to run the transition because I wanted him to have a little capital himself, so that when he goes up to the Hill, people will know not only Dick Cheney is speaking but that he's bringing the message from the President. Remember, this is a man who does not want to be the President. It's kind of a unique relationship. I'm trying to think back. It may be the most unique relationship in that aspect. Most Vice Presidents aspire to be the President.
TIME: Do you worry that you might put too much of a premium on loyalty?
BUSH: If the question is whether an emphasis on loyalty makes me blind to failure or blind to talent, no. I'm a results-oriented person. As a matter of fact, I worry that there's not enough loyalty in politics right now. Look, I understand politics. This is a world where there are people who want to join the Administration to make more money eventually, to further their own cause at the expense of being a team player.
The definition of loyalty is also somebody like Karen Hughes or Karl Rove, who walks in and says you're wrong. I do worry about becoming encapsulated in the presidency if I don't get solid, honest opinions from people.
As my brother said to Lee Atwater, here's the definition of loyalty: if there's a hand grenade rolling around the Old Man, we want you diving on it first. Karl is that way. You can name 20 others, and they'd be the ones rolling the grenade. You heard them all in the course of the campaign when times were rough, they were all the anonymous second-guessers saying, "Bush needs to have more Washington experience." That's a code word for "Bush needs to have me, so I can tell some foreign government they need to double my fees, by saying I'm on the inside of the campaign." They make money for doing nothing.
TIME: Do you delegate too much?
BUSH: No, I don't. My management style is that I set the goals, make no mistake about it. They understand where I want to go. I hold people accountable. But I trust them.
It's also important to stay in touch. I mean, I talk to Vice President Cheney all the time. There's no big decision made without aides conferring with me. And that's one of the characteristics of a good chief executive officer or a President. Somebody who can decide. You look at the facts, you delegate and you make decisions. And then you expect everyone, once the decision is made, to march forward as a team.
TIME: What is the biggest misconception about you?
BUSH: That I'm not sensitive to racial issues. You know, it may be because I'm from Texas. It may be because I've got Republican by my name. Certainly, it isn't what I think.
TIME: What about the charge that you're intellectually incurious?
BUSH: I wouldn't say that. I admire a good thinker particularly if they're practical. And I like to read a good book. I'm a history buff. I just finished Stephen Ambrose's book on building the transcontinental railroad.
TIME: You spend a lot of time at the ranch, which leads some to say, "He's not engaged."
BUSH: Yeah, I know. I'm trying to put this as delicately as I can. I think there's a difference between people who are intellectually curious and people who are intellectually haughty. I appreciate people who are intellectually curious, who want to learn and know more. I am turned off by people who think they're smarter than everybody else. Because there's a heck of a lot of wisdom in Crawford, Texas. And a good President understands the people who make a living working with their hands as much as the people who make a living working with their brains.
There's book wisdom and there's practical wisdom. And I hope it's said that I am mindful of both and that I never lord myself over people because I have an educational background that somebody else may not have had. Listen, I appreciate a very smart person. I appreciate people who've got a great capacity to think. And I listen ... a lot.
TIME: Do you ever lose sleep over anything?
BUSH: Sometimes I do, but I've been sleeping very well lately. My anxiety level is pretty darn low. Maybe it's because of what's happened the past month. One of the great things about a campaign is that it's supposed to end. And we worked our hearts out, and all of a sudden it didn't end. So it's been an interesting period of time that has helped me cope with anxiety and made me a more patient person.
TIME: What did you learn from the campaign?
BUSH: It's a humbling experience. And it's important for a President to remember that.
TIME: Give us an example.
BUSH: Well, first of all, there was the humbling aspect of constantly being the butt of everybody's jokes. The good news was I wasn't the only butt in the race. It's part of a test of focus and keeping things in perspective. I'm also a more patient person, more deliberative as a result of a long campaign. It steels somebody for the job, helps boost the confidence of the person running, when all's said and done. I'm a better person for the campaign.
TIME: What's the most important thing you learned about Al Gore?
BUSH: He's a tough competitor. I admire somebody who's relentless in his quest. I've always been a sportsman, and I came away with respect for somebody competing just as hard as I was.
TIME: If you had been in Gore's shoes, would you have been calling for the recounts?
BUSH: It's hard to tell. (Pause.) It's too hard to tell.
TIME: So you don't resent him for trying?
BUSH: I don't resent the Vice President's attempts. I did win the count and recount, in certain counties four times. There are rules and laws for a reason. But I harbor no bitterness.
TIME: Do you look forward to facing Al Gore again in 2004?
TIME: Or would you rather run against Senator Clinton?
BUSH: (Chuckles.) I look forward to my swearing-in.