Former U.S. President George W. Bush recounted the harrowing moments of 9/11, reminisced about growing up with a famous father, and cracked plenty of jokes during the keynote this morning at ASI Dallas. In "A Personal Conversation with President George W. Bush,” the 43rd President sat down for an hour-long Q&A with ASI President and CEO Tim Andrews that touched on many of the key moments of his presidency and his life.
The President recalled the anger he felt initially on 9/11 when he was informed that the second World Trade Center tower had been hit. But as a leader, he said, he didn't want to panic or lose control of his emotions. Sitting in that Florida classroom, watching a young child read and processing the news, "There was a moment of clarity that I had to protect her, her family, and the country in which she lived," he said. He talked about the immediate aftermath of the attacks, from the false alarm that night of the White House being attacked (a U.S. airplane pilot had forgotten to turn on his transponder) to his decision to authorize the legal torture of the number-three man in Al Qaeda, but only after vetoing certain methods like waterboarding.
President Bush also touched on many other topics, from the war in Iraq to the financial crisis. He recalled growing up in a family that wasn't very political at first but very involved in sports and competition as well as serving others. He cited his reluctance to enter politics and run for President because he knew firsthand how difficult it was on his family during his father's presidency. "It's hard watching someone you love being characterized in ways that aren't true," he said about his father, George Bush. But he also learned in that time that "you can do your duty as a husband and a father. You don't have to sacrifice what's important in life."
In this morning’s talk, President Bush also offered business advice for the enthusiastic Dallas audience, ranging from the importance of surrounding yourself with knowledgeable people to the essential quality of honesty in personal diplomacy. "It matters in life that you keep your word," said the President. "The leaders who kept their word to me, I admire a lot." He urged that the private sector must be reinvigorated by the current government to encourage job growth within small businesses.
At ease with his audience, President Bush was quick with a joke and generated consistent laughter. "I never wanted to be President," he recalled about growing up. "If I wanted to be President, I would have behaved a hell of a lot better in college." He talked about his current pursuits, including taking up oil painting and trying to stay away from the limelight. "I had all the fame I need," President Bush said. "I don't want fame now. I don't want power."