MARK K. UPDEGROVE: Mr. President, your transition into private life—how did you find leaving the most powerful position in the world and going back to being a private citizen?
GEORGE W. BUSH: First of all, the transition was made smoother by friends. Laura and I value our friendships. I made friends during my presidency. But I had a lot of friends, we had a lot of friends, that went on the journey with us, so to speak. Even though they may have lived in Midland or Dallas or Austin, they participated with us through that eight year period. And those friends, many of those friends, were on the airplane back home. “Back home” was Midland—where 30,000 people greeted us—and then 4,000 people at the airport in Waco. And so the initial transition was affected by the friends we had—in other words, the “welcome home” and the “thank you for giving it your all.”
I woke up the next morning and I had to realize—one thing you had to learn [after the presidency] was that you no longer had the sense of responsibility that became ingrained in your system—so when I read the newspapers, the Dallas Morning News and the Waco newspaper, I saw the headlines (and I can’t remember what they were, of course) and there was a “what are we going to do about this?” And then I realized, it wasn’t me. It was my successor.
So I gathered up Barney and Beasley, got in the pickup truck, drove over to my office, and started writing anecdotes for my book. Day one. I occupied my time with projects. The major project was writing the book but also beginning to raise money to get this Library and Institute, not only funded, but to get the strategy in place.
And then my speaking engagements began. They were fun events, they’re all off the record—a couple of them weren’t initially but they’re now all off the record—and it gives me a chance to share experiences about the presidency. I transitioned by focusing on projects and a way to make a living. I was a little taken aback at first with being paid and giving speeches. I had done it for fourteen years for free and all of a sudden somebody’s willing to pay me—it didn’t take me long to adjust but nevertheless I did a lot of that.
And I stayed fit. I wanted to make sure that my fitness was strong so I rode my mountain bike a lot and then I took up golf, or retook it up. The interesting thing about golf is that the presidency requires focus and discipline, and golf requires focus and discipline. It was a way to make sure that parts of my life were focused and disciplined.
UPDEGROVE: Your father had been there before you. Did he help in the transition?
BUSH: My father has helped. It was a different transition. Mine was a transition of a guy who served eight years. He had an unbelievably difficult transition and yet he handled it with unbelievable class and dignity. He helped in this sense: I watched him carefully and how he moved on with his life—he didn’t linger, he didn’t have a sense of needing to hang on to the presidency. For me, I learned from him that when it’s over, it’s over. I view my time in politics as a chapter, not my life. I’m forever a former president and I understand that, but at this point in my post-presidency, I don’t want to be involved with politics. Secondly, I don’t want to interfere with my successor’s presidency. [My father] taught me (at least he showed me) a dignified way to be a former president is that once you’re off the stage, you’re off the stage. So I learned a lot from him.
UPDEGROVE: Let’s talk a little bit about Decision Points, Mr. President. In talking to your father and other former presidents, and hearing from Mrs. Bush, it is my understanding that the process of writing a memoir can be very cathartic.
BUSH: I think it is.
UPDEGROVE: How so?
BUSH: Well, first of all, it focuses your mind. When you’re writing about something that happened, it helps you transition to the present. Ironically enough, by focusing on your presidency, it helps you realize that you’re no longer the president. By reliving moments, it helps you stay focused on the moment. In other words, my book is very anecdotal and only I can tell people what it was like to meet with the widow of someone who lost their life in Afghanistan. Telling that story and typing it, in an interesting way, adds finality to the presidency.
I spent a lot of time on this book. I would think that not spending time on a project could create anxiety and negative feeling—“if only this” or “gosh, I still wish I was there”—and I didn’t experience that at all. Maybe it’s because I was spending so much time on the book. You know, I’m a content person and I’m content knowing that I gave it my all when I was president. But I’m also content because I’m a busy person. I don’t think you can run for president or be president unless you’re a busy person. The book kept me busy and it was interesting to relive moments of my presidency.
People ask, what were your resources? There are diaries, there are notes. The national security advisors would take extensive notes from important meetings—and we would read those notes and I would read them and researches would read them—and it was fascinating to relive the presidency. And so I became absorbed with the book, which made me happy.
UPDEGROVE: Mr. President, you wrote about the key decisions in your life and presidency. Upon reflection, were there any decisions that you thought better of?
BUSH: Well from a personal perspective, quitting drinking is a decision I felt good about. Running for president was a good decision. Marrying my wife was