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The Bushes Do Dr. Phil

And wouldn't you know it? They're just like you!

5:00 PM, Sep 29, 2004 • By DAVID SKINNER
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THE PRESIDENT and first lady appeared on Dr. Phil today in an interview that was recorded in June. Dr. Phil's wife joined him for the living room heart-to-heart, in which the first couple discussed parenting and home life.

Politics was not on the agenda. But spanking, teenaged drinking, and what kind of men the Bushes hope their daughters choose as husbands all were.

Asked if they had had a definition of success for the twins, Mrs. Bush demurred. "Nothing formal," she said, beyond the basics of doing well at school and demonstrating good behavior. The president emphasized the gift of unconditional love, which he said allows a child to take risks.

When Mrs. Bush offered an answer from which the president took exception, the first husband said, "I have a little different take on that," but quickly caught himself from correcting his wife, "Not to say that wasn't brilliant."

The president said he was in the car with Jenna Bush when she stuck her tongue out at the press early this summer. "She's working on her impulsiveness," chimed in Mrs. Bush. "You just made national news," the president said he told his daughter. "She's a dignified young lady and that wasn't a dignified move."

Did they spank the twins? Dr. Phil boldly asked.

"Not much," was the answer. "We fussed at them," said Mrs. Bush. The president said they weren't spankers so much as they were "to-your-roomers," meaning parents who sent their kids to their room when they misbehaved. In disciplining their daughters, President Bush said, "I think I did a pretty good job of backing up Laura. I know she did a great job of backing me up."

At times the Bushes came off as typical of their class. Explaining why they bought daughter Barbara a sewing machine some years back, Mrs. Bush mentioned her daughter's "high motor skills."

The president said that it was hard for parents who drink and drive to convince their children not to. Mrs. Bush quoted James Baldwin: "Children are never very good at listening to their elders but they never fail to imitate them."

In choosing mates, the proud parents said they hoped the twins would marry men who loved them. Mrs. Bush said she hoped their husbands would be interested in parenting, and pointed out that her husband had driven car pool when their daughters were in school.

Dr. Phil's questions were characteristically long. For example, "Do you think your girls have personal truths that will empower them to go out and do something for society?" And that was after a good bit of windup. Yes, answered Mrs. Bush.

How did they learn such conviction? "I loved them," said the president.

The president said he came to the ranch to unwind, for the sake of "lifting the spirits and cleaning the pipes." However, he allowed, sometimes, while on the ranch, he failed to be as considerate a husband as possible. His failing was he didn't always wipe his boots before coming in the house.

Entering the personals section of the interview, Dr. Phil said he'd spoken to some people who weren't sure they knew what George Bush was all about. What did the prez have to say to them?

He was, Bush said, a man who "loves life . . . can relate to people from all walks of life . . . loves to read history . . . loves to laugh a lot." He was a "team-builder."

Entering the daytime talk section of the show, Dr. Phil wondered how the Bushes thought parents should deal with negative outside influences, like "epidemic levels of oral sex in the middle schools," drugs that can be bought on the Internet, and dirty language in popular music.

President Bush said he wanted parents to know "you're making a great contribution to the country you love by being a loving, strong parent, whether you are a single parent . . . or living in a two-parent household." Being a single mother, he said, was the hardest job, and he wants government to track down deadbeat dads. In Texas, he said, they were taking away the hunting and fishing licenses of deadbeat dads.

"It is the role of government to stand on the side of parents and help them get the tools" they need, he said.

The best exchange of the show however came during a teaser for a coming episode in which a woman explained why she had so much rage. "I had a very cruel father," she told Dr. Phil. "He made me eat dog food." "Off the floor?" asked the doctor. "Yes," said the poor woman.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.