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Bush On TARP: I Couldn't Have Lived With Myself If Country Suffered Second Depression

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WASHINGTON -- The conventional wisdom, at least in some parts of the political press, held that President George W. Bush did the Democrats a disservice by not launching his book tour before the 2010 elections. The thought process being that a reminder of the follies of his administration would have caused series headaches for the Republican Party, which was pledging that they had moved beyond the Bush years.

On at least one policy front, however, it seems likely that the Obama White House would have welcomed Bush's presence in the national political conversation. For the second time in as many days promoting his book "Decision Points," Bush offered a hearty defense of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which was initiated under his watch to save failing banks but was used to tar Democrats in the 2010 elections.

"If you are the pres you don't have time to gamble and I didn't like using taxpayers money to bail out the people who got us in trouble. I didn't like it at all. But when you are president you are faced with stark choices and I couldn't have lived with myself had the country gone into a deep depression," Bush said, during a radio interview with conservative host Rush Limbaugh. "People's lives would have been affected, people thrown out of work. There are a lot of people not in work today and all of us are concerned about that. But the situation could have been a lot worse."

Would he do it again? "Yeah, I would've," he said.

A good chunk of the country, it's now known, mistakenly believes that Obama was the one who initiated the TARP in part because it fits in a common, preconceived narrative that government intervention into the economy is Democratic philosophy. Bush was asked about the misconception during a sit down interview with NBC's Matt Lauer and, as with Limbaugh, was upfront about the reality.

"Fifty percent of the people were wrong 'cause it happened on my watch," he said.

Such bluntness would have been a welcome relief for the current White House and others in the Democratic Party, which took a heap of blame from the Tea Party crowd for rescuing the financial sector in the fall of 2008. Obama did oversee the second part of TARP but a reminder of the program's ties to Bush and its support by a good chunk of the GOP could have disarmed a bit of the voter anger that was exhibited last week.

"They do hate it. I can understand that," Bush told Lauer. "Look, the idea of spending taxpayers' money to give to Wall Street and the banks to save them... a lot of people think they created the crisis in the first place and so I can understand the angst. But in my case, I wasn't worried about angst, personal angst or contradiction. I was worried about the economy goin' down. And I believe TARP saved the economy."

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