Laura Bush photo

Interview of the First Lady by Kardelen in Istanbul, Turkey

June 28, 2004

Q: Mrs. Bush, we are very proud to have you as a guest on the Kardelen Show.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much.

Q: Because Kardelen I'd like to translate to you -- is snowdrops. And you know how they flower, against all odds --

MRS. BUSH: Comes up in the very cold weather.

Q: It can stand so much. And then we decided this was the symbol of our program because we -- our viewers are women, and we're watched not only in Turkey, but all the Middle East, all of Asia, Australia, et cetera. So I'm very proud, on behalf of Turkish Radio State Television network that you have asked us to come and have you as a guest. I'm so very proud.

First of all, I would like to thank you for the second time on this event yesterday in Ankara, in our capital. We watched on television your and your husband's visit to the Ataturk Mausoleum. And in so doing, we were very impressed that you were very next -- close to your husband while you were laying the wreath. Plus, another surprise was your signing -- his asking you to sign your autograph. I think this is the first time any first lady has done this, and I'm very proud of it.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you.

Q: In your words, what does Ataturk mean to you -- have you had a chance to read up on --

MRS. BUSH: Yes, of course. I've read about him. I've read some histories of Turkey before I came, because this is my first visit, and so I wanted to read about Istanbul and about Ankara and about Turkey. And I know that he's the father of modern Turkey, and that what he brought, which I think is very, very important, is a tolerance for the diversity that is Turkey -- a tolerance for every religion, a secular state that allows each religion to flourish in any way that they want to. And I think that's really important.

That's also a very important value of the United States of America. You know, we're very diverse. We're made up of people, immigrants from every country and members of every religion. And we pride ourselves on that, because we think that adds to the diversity and to the richness of the fabric of our country.

Q: Absolutely. And he also stressed the importance of having women --

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q: -- be close to the men in education, wives were in the work force, so that this is how our country would develop, as we have seen in the United States.

MRS. BUSH: Which we think is, of course, so obvious. It should be obvious that if you leave out half of your population, it's really hard to be successful.

Q: That's right. Now, I understand you have two lovely daughters, Barbara and Jenna.

MRS. BUSH: Named for their grandmothers. (Laughter.)

Q: What are they doing now?

MRS. BUSH: They just graduated from university. Barbara went to Yale University, which is where her father went, and she just graduated from there. Jenna went to the University of Texas, which is where I went, and she just graduated. So right at this very moment, they're packing up at Jenna's house, in Austin, and then they'll move to Washington and work on the campaign until November. This is the first time they've been old enough, in all their father's or their grandfather's political races, this is the first time they've been old enough to be involved.

Q: They must be looking forward to it.

MRS. BUSH: I think they are. We're really looking forward to having them with us this summer.

Q: They're prepared for it, their school must have done that, which brings me to this next question. Of course, do you sincerely wish your husband to run a second term?

MRS. BUSH: Sure, absolutely. I do sincerely wish it. It's difficult. Politics is a difficult life. It's difficult on the family, certainly, and we know what it's like to be the children of the President, as well as, of course, I know what it's like to be married to the President. But it's also very, very important, it's really important for people of goodwill to try to serve in government, to run for office, to be involved in government. It's very, very important. And in my experience, most people who are involved in government, of course, that's -- the people I know the best are in the United States -- are very sincere and really trying to do the very best for their country. And I think that's worth doing.

Q: Well, we wish you luck, that's for sure. Now, regarding this G8 summit you had just recently, you had a roundtable there --

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q: -- for the ladies, and I'd like to hear some information --

MRS. BUSH: Sure. I had the spouses of the G8 members who were there, with Cherie Blair from Great Britain, and Madam Chirac from France and Sheila Martin from Canada and Ludmila Putin from Russia. And then I invited a woman -- an Iraqi woman from the Governing Council and an Afghan woman from their Governing Council, and an Iraqi Fulbright Scholar, a beautiful young woman who is studying in the United States, because she -- we just opened our Fulbright Scholarships up again to students from Iraq and from Afghanistan. So she came. And then the fourth person at our roundtable is an American woman who watched on television in January 2002; she worried so about the women in Afghanistan that, because her husband was the President of the university, she called universities around the nation and asked them if they would give a full scholarship to Afghan students. And so they did, and she has 11 students in the United States who are studying.

So we -- what we heard, really, is what we've already said, that a society can prosper if both men and women are involved in the society, and both men and women can contribute in a very meaningful way to society. And that's what we heard from these women.

We also heard what their hopes are -- what their hopes are for their country. They're hoping for peace, they're hoping for human rights for women and men, they're hoping that little girls can be educated, as well as little boys. They're looking forward to the day that they're totally independent, both Afghanistan and Iraq, and to build their country based on justice and rule of law and human rights.

Q: And freedom.

MRS. BUSH: And freedom and democracy.

Q: Absolutely. Now, when you just mentioned education as being necessary for men and women, you know, Mrs. Bush, sometimes I think it's more necessary for women.

MRS. BUSH: Of course, because women make most of the decisions for their families.

Q: And they need to know, don't they? (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: That's right.

Q: We're more involved.

MRS. BUSH: I mean, we know that women -- this is true in the United States -- it's estimated that women make about 75 percent of the decisions for their children -- whether they go to school, where they go to school, whether they get their shots from the doctor, and whether they go for their well-baby check-up, and what they eat -- all of those decisions.

Q: Statistically, all the --

MRS. BUSH: So we know how important it is that women are educated, because if women are educated, they can make the wisest decisions for their child.

Q: So what we're trying to do, or you around the roundtable, then, with those members, are trying to fight ignorance. And ignorance is the biggest enemy.

MRS. BUSH: That's right. I mean, we want people to be educated, men and women, so they can reach their full potential as human beings. But also, when you think about women, in many cases, women are dependent economically on their husbands. Well, what if they're widowed? And I hope that fathers will think about that, with their own girls. Do they want their girls older -- when they're older in life, if they needed to have a job, if they needed to be able to support themselves because they were widowed, how important it is to have an education.

Q: So actually women's rights is human rights.

MRS. BUSH: Human rights.

Q: And we agree with that. Now, you have another project called Reach out and Read clinics. Why did this ever come up?

MRS. BUSH: This is a really great project that was started by a doctor at a Boston's children hospital in the United States. And he just added the medical community's authority to literacy, so that when mothers or dads take their children in for their checkups, the doctor rights a prescription for reading, to encourage the mother or the father to read to their baby, because we know that babies who have been read to -- all of the things that mothers know instinctively --

Q: Are we going back to --

MRS. BUSH: Children who have been read to, have been talked to directly, have more language.

Q: Has your mother read to you?

MRS. BUSH: My mother read to me, of course, and I made my love of reading into my career -- I became a librarian.

Q: I know you are, and we're very proud. That's why I know, and we're all behind you with that library reading project. But as a child, you were read to by your mother, and you read to Barbara and Jenna.

MRS. BUSH: Barbara and Jenna. And I loved that. That was a very special time in their childhood -- at night, before bed, when they would sit on my lap, and I could put my arms around then and read to them. Sometimes they'd be sucking their thumb or holding their little blanket. But it was very, very sweet. It was just very sweet time of life. I'm so happy I have read to them and that they have that memory, and that I have that memory.

Q: And they will probably carry that on to their own family.

MRS. BUSH: That's right. They both like to read.

Q: As you know, Mrs. Bush, I hope every woman on Earth married and with two or three children, have the same opportunity as you and I -- I was the same way -- to be able to do that to their children, because that is an unseen foundation of a healthy society.

MRS. BUSH: That's right, that's right. We know that children who have been read to when they start school have a much larger vocabulary. And we all love stories. We love to hear stories. We still love to hear them when we're grown up. And I know the Turkish people love to tell stories.

Q: That's true. Do you think television, with all this violence, has a bad effect on children?

MRS. BUSH: I think it can have a bad effect. And I think parents need to watch and be very vigilant. And if they see their children watching something that they don't think is appropriate, just turn off the TV. It's that easy.

Q: And there's, of course. the AIDS problem and the drugs problem. Are you active in that area, drugs, do you --

MRS. BUSH: Yes, and my sister-in-law, Columba Bush, who is the first lady of Florida in our country, is very, very active in that. But, really, there are so many groups around the United States, and I hope they're here, too, that help treat people with either alcohol addiction who are alcoholics, or drug addiction. And it's very important. And it's particularly important to encourage children never to start, go ahead and try to make really wise and healthy choices for themselves as soon as they're able to make their own choices.

Q: That's such a general term, healthy choices. But what really lies behind that, do you think? Why do they go towards such addictions?

MRS. BUSH: Well, you know, I don't know. I think that's still a study that people are trying to understand. But sometimes I think it's low self-esteem. And I think education can build self-esteem. I think if people are educated they feel good about themselves, and children who are little and they learn to read, or they learn to do math, they feel good about themselves.

Also I think their faith, the values that their parents have passed on to them, and that's another very important role of parents, mothers and fathers --

Q: And family.

MRS. BUSH: -- and family. And that's really the strength of every society, is if families are strong, then society can be strong.

Q: I'm very proud of having you as a guest on our show. And I want you to give us -- first of all, on behalf of my viewers, I hope every sergeant, soldier, whoever is now on the field, gets back to their family safely.

MRS. BUSH: That's what we all pray for.

Q: We sure pray for that and we're behind you on that, because I'm sure they miss their families.

MRS. BUSH: And their families miss them.

Q: Of course. Yellow ribbons are still all over the U.S.. What would be your last comment to the viewers of this program, Kardelen. When times are tough, I see you as a beacon of light. I'm sure there are many stresses, but you're behind your husband, you're always with a smile. Where do you get this strength? Who do you lean on?

MRS. BUSH: Well, I lean on my husband, of course. But we both lean on our faith. And we have a strong faith, and that's helpful. And then we give each other a lot of emotional support. My mother -- I still call her, and I act like I'm calling to reassure her that I'm okay, but I'm really calling so she can reassure me.

Q: Oh, that is so nice.

MRS. BUSH: I was very lucky to have loving parents. And my father died in 1995, and my mother's still in my home town, in Midland, Texas.

Q: She wouldn't be living with you in the White House?

MRS. BUSH: No, she's not. She could really, she certainly can live with us, but she has all of her friends in Midland. And I go up there as often as I can.

Q: Did you ever think when you were a young girl that someday you would be in this position?

MRS. BUSH: No, no, I never guessed it. I would never have guessed it.

Q: But, you know, you act like you are used to this, and you're very comfortable, and it's a difficult position.

MRS. BUSH: It is difficult, but it's also a privilege. It's a huge privilege to be able to talk about things that are important to me, that I think are important to my country, and to be as constructive as I possibly can for the United States. It's really a privilege.

Q: I wish you good luck on the roundtable effort, because we do appreciate the importance of it. And we thank you for coming with your husband to our country. And we hope you take good times from here to the people of your country.

MRS. BUSH: Thank you very much, and thank you for the very warm hospitality here in your beautiful country.

Laura Bush, Interview of the First Lady by Kardelen in Istanbul, Turkey Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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