Updated at 8:07 a.m. on January 31.
A “rational” immigration policy will likely become law in the United States, but only after “some time,” former President George W. Bush said in a question-and-answer session aired Sunday night.
Evoking the “America first” policies that predated World War II, Bush said he fears that isolationism, nativism, and protectionism are creeping back into American life. “I’m a little concerned that we may be going through the same period,” Bush said at a Southern Methodist University forum recorded January 24.
Bush pushed hard for comprehensive immigration reform in his second term, costing him standing in the Republican Party, where the initiative was assailed as amnesty. In the book he released last year and has been promoting, Decision Points, Bush labeled the failure of his immigration overhaul one of his presidency’s disappointments.
“It’s because people were nervous about a populism that started to emerge,” he said during the C-SPAN question-and-answer. Fielding mostly softball questions from C-SPAN moderator Brian Lamb and a student audience at SMU -- “What was your single most greatest challenge?” -- Bush repeatedly said he was through with the electoral back-and-forth but said he intended to keep a hand in policy.
“I’m through with politics, I’m tired of politics,” he said. At another point in the hour-long session, Bush said, “I don't want to go out and campaign for candidates. I don't want to be viewed as a perpetual money-raiser. I don't want to be on these talk shows, giving my opinion, second-guessing the current president. I think it's bad for the country, frankly, to have a former president criticize his successor. And, look, it's tough enough to be president as it is without a former president undermining the current president. Plus, I don't want to do that. In other words, in spite of the fact that I’m now on TV, I don’t want to be on TV.”
Asked about the January 8 shooting in Tucson that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., seriously wounded, Bush brushed back speculation that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had been motivated by incendiary talk radio: “My view is there was an absolute lunatic who got a hold of a weapon.”
Bush said he had penned the book largely as a way to provide context for historical evaluations of his presidency, which saw him leave office with cratered poll ratings.
“When... objective historians show up that truly want to analyze the effects of my presidency, and the effect of the decisions, this will be a reference point,” he said, adding, “I had future historians in mind when I wrote it.” He defended “controversial decisions” he made to protect the country after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying, “If I had to do them over again, I would have done them again.”