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Laura Bush praises Obama, bemoans excessive partisanship

  • Story Highlights
  • Laura Bush sits down with CNN during U.N. meeting in Paris, France
  • She says President Obama is doing good job under tough circumstances
  • Former first lady criticizes excessive partisanship of Washington
  • She also defends Cheney's defense of Bush administration actions
From Zain Verjee
CNN
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- Former first lady Laura Bush praised the performance of her husband's successor Monday, breaking with many Republicans in telling CNN that she thinks President Obama is doing a good job under tough circumstances.

Former first lady Laura Bush defended President Obama's decision to address the nation's schoolchildren.

Former first lady Laura Bush defended President Obama's decision to address the nation's schoolchildren.

She also criticized Washington's sharp political divide during an interview covering a range of topics including her thoughts on first lady Michelle Obama, former Vice President Dick Cheney, the situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar, and life after eight tumultuous years in the White House.

Bush sat down with CNN on Monday during a United Nations meeting in Paris, France, where she was promoting global literacy, a cause she trumpeted during her husband's administration.

The typically reserved former first lady defended Obama's decision to deliver a back-to-school speech to students, putting her at odds with many conservatives afraid that the president will use the opportunity to advance his political agenda.

"I think he is [doing a good job]," Bush said when asked to assess Obama's job performance. "I think he has got a lot on his plate, and he has tackled a lot to start with, and that has probably made it more difficult."

Michelle Obama is also "doing great," she said, in part by turning the White House into a comfortable home for her family. Video Watch more of the interview »

Referencing the uproar over Obama's address to schoolchildren, which will be aired nationwide Tuesday, Laura Bush said it's "really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States."

Bush didn't completely dismiss the concerns of some conservatives but noted that controversial Education Department plans recommending that students draft letters discussing what they can do to help Obama had been changed.

"I think there is a place for the president ... to talk to schoolchildren and encourage" them, she said. Parents should follow his example and "encourage their own children to stay in school and to study hard and to try to achieve the dream that they have."

Bush indicated that she didn't think it was fair for Obama to be labeled a "socialist" by critics and expressed her disappointment with the intensely polarized nature of contemporary American politics.

Part of the reason for the polarization, she said, was the increase in the number of congressional districts dominated by either strongly conservative or liberal voters.

"We've seen that for the last eight years, certainly, and we're still seeing it," she said. "That's just a fact of life." iReport.com: Share your thoughts on Obama's speech

Bush conceded that after her husband was elected president, he was unable to replicate his success as governor of Texas in reaching across the aisle to Democrats.

"He was disappointed that that was not the way it worked out in Washington," she said. "I'm sure President Obama didn't expect it to be that way [either]. ... All of us need to do what we can to come together on issues."

Despite her husband's disappointment, he is "doing very well," she said. Both of them are now working on their memoirs, she noted.

Though the former first lady criticized the excessive partisanship of Washington, she expressed gratitude for Cheney's decision to vocally defend her husband's performance.

Cheney has been outspoken in his defense of the Bush administration's national security record, which has been sharply criticized on, among other things, questions relating to the detention and interrogation of terrorist suspects.

"I think that Vice President Cheney has every right to speak out, and I appreciate that he is defending" the administration, Bush said. "I think that is important. I think there is a place for that."

Bush also said it doesn't bother her husband that Cheney's "out there being critical."

The former first lady said her husband still speaks with Cheney occasionally. Multiple sources have indicated that the two men parted ways on several issues in the last years of their administration, including Bush's refusal to offer a pardon for former top Cheney aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Libby was convicted on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators looking into the leak that resulted in the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson.

Though Bush expressed confidence that her husband will ultimately be remembered as "somebody who stood for freedom and who stood for the security of our country," she admitted that she's worried about the current situation in Afghanistan.

"I'm very concerned, of course," she said.

"All of us are concerned, and everybody, as they look at Afghanistan from around the world, really hope and want to [do] whatever they can to help the government stabilize, to see that the elections were fair."

Bush said she hoped people "will redouble their efforts" to help the country fend off Taliban and al Qaeda extremists.

She also repeated her outspoken criticism of the government of Myanmar, also known by its former name of Burma, which has come under fire for imprisoning pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

"She's always been held under house arrest [because] they're afraid of her popularity. They think that undermines their regime," Bush said.

"I hope that they'll see what she really wants. ... She wants [the nation to have] a peaceful transition to a democracy and to have the chance for Burma to really build itself [into] a very wealthy and educated nation."

After her husband's eight controversial years in the White House, what does Bush have to say to critics who believe he had a negative, destructive influence in the world?

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"I would say that that's absolutely not right," Bush said.

"I don't think they have either the right view of him or what his responsibilities are and were as president of the United States."

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