While president, Bush, 88, found himself breaking his pre-election promise of "no new taxes" and now conservative activist Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, has gotten most Republican congressmen to sign his "Taxpayer Protection Pledge."
"The rigidity of those pledges is something that I don't like," Bush said in an interview published Sunday by Parade magazine. "You know, the circumstances change and you can't be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It's -- who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?"
Former first lady Barbara Bush chimed in that she thinks Norquist "ought to go back to Alaska," reminiscent of a comment she made about Sarah Palin in a 2010 interview when she said, "I think she's very happy in -- Alaska -- and I hope she'll stay there."
Bush said when his son, George W. Bush, became president they would talk but he never offered advice to the younger president.
"He never said the 'Dad, what do I do now?' kind of thing," Bush said.
Barbara Bush added that there was no competition between the two.
"People always, I think, said, 'I read that George was just doing this because he wanted to beat his father,' or something ridiculous," she said, "... and they were stupid. It wasn't true, and there just was no competition at all."
Bush said the things he learned from President Ronald Reagan, with whom he served two terms as vice president, were "a lot about decency, and honor, and kindness, and those broad values."
"He was a remarkable man and a kind guy -- and generous," Bush said. "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."
Bush said President Bill Clinton, who foiled his bid for a second term, "knows a lot about everything."
"He's a very knowledgeable, bright man," Bush said. "And he sat out here one time and we talked about every possible [subject] -- one after another."
Barbara Bush said she was "surprised" to find she like Clinton and noted that during their long conversation, Clinton "never said a mean word about anyone."
"Now that's pretty good if you took 4 hours and he never said a mean word about anybody," she said "'[My] brother by another mother,' the 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."
As for his legacy, Bush said he doesn't worry about it, figuring that "history will get it right." In 1993, Bush said he didn't think Americans knew his "heartbeat," and now, he said, "I think they just see an old guy up here sitting around."
"I find it difficult to think that they even remember. It was so long ago, [my] presidency," he said.
Bush said he sees the Middle East as an area of greater concern for the United States than the emergence of China as an economic power.
"These are industrious people and they're on the move, and it shouldn't concern us," he said. "It shouldn't be a matter of grave worry for the United States. I think some people would disagree with that, but I think we have a good relationship [with China]. We ought to be sure we keep it that way."
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