George Bush in Real Life | vanityfair.com
The 1,500 people in the audience—men in dark-blue suits and women who look like they could be B.F.F.’s with Sarah Palin—spent $400 each to hear Bush give his first speech since leaving office. This is his test run, kicking off his post-presidency. No media invited. The organizers of the event, Andy McCreath and Christian Darbyshire of tinePublic (pronounced “Tiny Public”), won’t say how much W. is getting for this appearance, but they’re the same guys who helped launch Bill Clinton’s lucrative post-presidential juggernaut, with a multi-city tour of Canada—reportedly at about $150,000 a stop.
On May 29, they’ll take Bush to Toronto, where he’ll appear with Clinton for a first-time-ever public “conversation.” “His popularity is only going to increase with this,” predicts McCreath.
“This is my maiden voyage,” Bush says, onstage, in that way of his that could almost be ironic. He starts off by telling everybody he’s feeling great. “I’m a lucky man,” he says, “to have been married to Laura Bush. She’s awesome!”
Applause—everyone claps for awesome Laura Bush!
The former president says that his first day home in Preston Hollow, the suburb of Dallas where he and his wife moved in January, he kicked back on the couch and hollered, “Baby, free at last!” To which Laura responded, “‘Yeah, you’re free to take out the trash. Consider it your new domestic policy agenda.’”
Big laugh. A woman at my table mouths, “He’s so funny!”
“I had not gone for a walk in a neighborhood in 14 years,” Bush says, referring to his time as governor of Texas and then president. He tells of how weird it felt to be able to go outside and take his Scottish terrier, Barney, for a walk. “Barney made a deposit in the yard,” he says, adding that when he bent down to retrieve it with a plastic bag, he got to thinking, “I was dodging this stuff for eight years—now I’m picking it up!”
The crowd goes wild on that one. Welcome to the George W. Bush post-presidency, which will be all about exorcising the demons, and trying to forge a comeback for a failed figure and his party.