Former President George W. Bush made a brief visit Wednesday to Utah, where he spoke at length about his eight years in office, the burdens of leadership and the need for the United States to stay engaged with the rest of the world.
In unscripted remarks that lasted about 90 minutes, Bush appeared relaxed and engaged as the keynote speaker at Zions Bank’s trade and business conference at the Marriott City Creek in downtown Salt Lake City. He spoke about his experiences with world leaders and his belief that the U.S. should not turn away from its global leadership role.
"Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see his casual demeanor and his candidness," said Jeff Flamm, CEO of eyeQ, a Salt Lake City education products company. "He really expressed well his love of America and the freedom we enjoy. Then he expressed his belief that countries like Syria will accept democracy, but it may take decades."
Bush "clearly emphasized that safety at home begins with the human condition abroad," said Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the University of Utah’s business school and Salt Lake Chamber chief economist. "He spoke about the generosity of this country, specifically about his … initiative to invest money in Africa and help with the AIDS epidemic."
Bush said that world leaders should "scrape and paint," Gochnour said, and that service to people in need changes one’s perspective.
"You can be enamored with so many things about a president, but in President Bush’s case, I think it’s just his pure humanity and his willingness to open up and be accessible. He just used such common language and was so colorful and witty and quick turning a phrase. That’s different than he’s sometimes portrayed."
Gochnour said Bush also talked about his library, his father and being a grandfather.
In response to a question about critics, Bush asked: "Where’s my man Rocky?" in reference to former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who pressed to impeach Bush.
Bush told the audience that, on immigration, the solution is to make undocumented immigrants go to the back of the line, but make the line move faster.
Dave Hansen, a former Utah Republican Party chairman, said Bush "loved being president, and he loves being out of being president and has no desire for any notoriety or a force in public life or anything. He’s just enjoying life right now."
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