In a personal and wide-ranging interview conducted by his sister about his legacy, his faith and the influence of his father, President George W. Bush said he hopes to be remembered as a liberator of the Iraqi people.
"I'd like to be a president [known] as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace," Bush told his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, in a conversation recorded for the oral-history organization StoryCorps for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.
An excerpt of the interview was aired on National Public Radio Thursday, and the White House released additional excerpts with both the president and first lady Laura Bush today.
"I would like to be a person remembered as a person who, first and foremost, did not sell his soul in order to accommodate the political process," Bush said, according to White House excerpts.
"I came to Washington with a set of values, and I'm leaving with the same set of values. And I darn sure wasn't going to sacrifice those values; that I was a president that had to make tough choices and was willing to make them," he said.
Bush is ending his eight-year presidency with historically low public approval ratings, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a dire economic crisis.
The president told his sister he is proud of the "tough decisions" he made.
"I surrounded myself with good people," Bush said. "I carefully considered the advice of smart, capable people and made tough decisions."
Bush said his No Child Left Behind policy, which has been widely criticized by educators as too focused on test scores, is one of his significant achievements.
"I think the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the significant achievements of my administration because we said loud and clear to educators, parents and children that we expect the best for every child, that we believe every child can learn, and that in return for Federal money we expect there to be an accountability system in place to determine whether every child is learning to read, write, and add and subtract," he said.
Bush said because of his administration's No Child Left Behind policy, the "achievement gap" between white children and African-American and Latinos is "narrowing."
"The promise of No Child Left Behind has been fulfilled," Bush said.
Asked how he would like to be remembered, Bush said he wants to be known as a president "that focused on individuals rather than process; that rallied people to serve their neighbor; that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria on places like the continent of Africa; that helped elderly people get prescription drugs and Medicare as a part of the basic package; that came to Washington, D.C., with a set of political statements and worked as hard as I possibly could to do what I told the American people I would do."
First lady Laura Bush, who seemed to gain more confidence in recent years to speak out on foreign policy issues she cares about, said her most rewarding work was on behalf of women in Afghanistan.
"It's certainly been very rewarding to look at Afghanistan and both know that the president and the United States military liberated women there; that women and girls can be in school now; that women can walk outside their doors without a male escort," the first lady said, according to White House excerpts.
"I worry about Afghanistan, but I will always have a special place in my heart for the women that I've met there," she said. "I think as we look all around the Middle East, we'll see that women can be the ones who really lead the freedom movement, and that American women are standing so strongly, I think, with the women in Afghanistan and other places."
Asked by his sister to describe the influence their parents had on him, Bush said, "I think that the gift our dad gave to all of us is unconditional love. It is the greatest gift a father can give a child. And it has made life so much easier in many ways, because if you have the ultimate gift of love, then the difficulties of life can be easier handled. And to me that is a great gift."
Heaping praise on his father, former President George H.W. Bush, the president said, "He also taught me -- and I think you and Jeb and Neil and Marvin -- that you can go into politics with a set of values and you don't have to sell your soul once you're in the political system. And you can come out with the same set of values."
Bush, who is a born-again Christian, spoke about the role his faith has played in his presidency.
"I've been in the Bible every day since I've been the president, and I have been affected by peoples' prayers a lot. I have found that faith is comforting, faith is strengthening, faith has been important," Bush said.
"I would advise politicians, however, to be careful about faith in the public arena," he said.
"In other words, politicians should not be judgmental people based upon their faith. They should recognize -- as least I have recognized I am a lowly sinner seeking redemption, and therefore have been very careful about saying [accept] my faith or you're bad. In other words, if you don't accept what I believe, you're a bad person. And the greatness of America -- it really is -- is that you can worship or not worship and be equally American. And it doesn't matter how you choose to worship; you're equally American. And it's very important for any President to jealously protect, guard, and strengthen that freedom."