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BUSH: There may be moments of that, but I'm not playing my cards at the beginning of the game. I'm going to wait until the deck is at least shuffled and the hands are dealt. I understand the process very well. I also understand that the reason I sit here is because of the agenda I'm bringing to Washington. I wish I could say it's because of my charming personality or the fact that I can string a few sentences together.
TIME: So you think you truly have a mandate?
BUSH: I do. The issues are very powerful in a campaign, and the issues helped me gain this position. Some would say, well, maybe the closeness of the election meant those positions weren't all that palatable, but that's not how I look at it. I look at it that I was running against a very formidable opponent who was basically the incumbent with the economy in good shape going into the election and the world at peace. And it required something extraordinary to get me into the position I'm in. And I believe that the Social Security position, the Medicare position, the tax-relief position were all positions people heard loud and clear.
TIME: What about campaign-finance reform?
BUSH: Well, I talked to Senator McCain about that, and he is anxious to work with the Administration on a bill, and I look forward to working with him. During the primaries, he and I had a lot of public discussions about campaign-funding reform, and one of the sticking points is whether or not there would be paycheck protections. And in our debate, he and I agreed on that position. And I think that's a good starting point. We may be able to tie campaign finance to a larger election-reform package. There needs to be a broader vision.
TIME: So you wouldn't be willing to embrace McCain-Feingold as written?
BUSH: Well, no. As I said during the campaign, I think there need to be some additions.
TIME: Are you concerned that Al Gore got more of the popular vote than you did?
BUSH: Not really. If you had told me 15 months ago, "You're going to be judged on who got the most popular votes as opposed to the electoral count," I suspect you'd have seen us run a different campaign. For example, I might have spent more time in my state of Texas trying to run up the score.
The election was essentially 50-50. Had I won 51-49, there would still be a lot of people who wonder whether or not I'm going to be their President. And my response is, you bet I am.
TIME: The greatest wounds may be among blacks who felt particularly disenfranchised in Florida. I know you felt you campaigned to get more black and Hispanic votes...
BUSH: I did. Got whipped pretty good.
TIME: Is there something dramatic you can do now to reach out to African Americans?
BUSH: I think it's going to be dramatic to name African Americans to positions of power, because that signals George W. looks at people for who they are and not based upon how they voted. Those who did not vote for me may not like it initially, but I am their President.
TIME: What did you learn about being President from watching your father?
BUSH: I learned how to earn political capital and how to spend it.
TIME: You think he didn't spend it well late in his term?