January 9, 2009
By TODD J. GILLMAN
The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON – After eight years of days carved into five-minute increments, each begun with an update on mortal threats to the nation, President George W. Bush said Thursday that he's eager for a more carefree life in Dallas.
He's just not sure what that will entail.
"The routine is gone," Bush said, relaxing in a high-backed Oval Office chair, sounding wistful and a bit relieved that soon, the burdens will fall to the next president. "Being a type-A personality, I'm confident I'll be able to fill my days with activities."
In an exclusive Dallas Morning News interview with a dozen days left in his presidency, Bush expressed few regrets over policy fights misplayed or opportunities lost. He displayed an ease some might find remarkable for a president who has recorded some of the highest and lowest approval ratings in history and who leaves office with the economy teetering and two wars unresolved.
For him, the days ahead will bring bike rides on trails he hasn't yet ridden. An office at Preston Center. A memoir. Maybe some baseball games, though he's not sure if he'll get season tickets to his beloved Texas Rangers.
There will be lots of time raising money for his presidential library, and encouraging debate there on "big ideas."
"I remember eight years ago, thinking about the sense of anticipation about coming here to Washington, and how much our life was going to change," Bush said, the first lady at his side. "I feel that same sense of anticipation with – obviously with less of a sense of heavy responsibility about to ascend on me."
In the 75-minute interview with his hometown paper, Bush laid out his vision for the library and Freedom Institute he'll build at Laura Bush's alma mater, Southern Methodist University. He pledged that the project won't be used to promote a whitewashed perspective on his presidency.
"This is not going to be a 'George Bush is a Wonderful Person Center,' or the 'Center for Republican Party Campaign Tactics,' " Bush said. "It's going to be a place of debate, thought, writing, lecturing."
Through much of his tenure, Bush predicted the couple would spend their days in Crawford after leaving the White House. The plan now is weekends at the ranch, weekdays in Dallas, where Laura Bush picked out an 8,500-square-foot home on a secluded Preston Hollow cul-de-sac.
Bush said it's a huge relief to know there's a home awaiting them in Dallas, though for the first few nights after Barack Obama takes occupancy of the White House on Jan. 20, the Bushes will stay in Crawford.
"I hope shortly after the 20th I'll be able to meet the moving van and move in," Laura Bush said. "We don't have very much furniture yet."
The first lady, cheerfully looking ahead to what she has called the "afterlife," revealed how she ended up choosing the house that the leader of the free world has yet to see.
"This is called 'faith,' " he said, as they shared a laugh.
"I looked at a whole lot of houses over months in Dallas," she said. Unable to find anything she liked, she began looking at lots.
"I was really pretty much thinking we were going to build," she said, but one last house turned out to have "everything we wanted."
One touch the former librarian especially loves: a room with three walls of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.
If she hadn't found the house, the president said: "I don't know what we would be doing – living in an apartment or hanging out with some friend, or something."
Not about him
The debates he envisions for the Freedom Institute won't focus on his policies on Iraq or Afghanistan.
At the library next door, the facility run by the National Archives, he said, scholars and historians and others will have ample opportunity to dig through the millions of documents generated during his eight-year stint.
But at the institute, "it shouldn't be debate about me. It ought to be debate about big ideas" – immigration policy, or how to save Social Security, a challenge that has eluded presidents of both parties for years.
"I am a free-trader. I think protectionism would be terrible. But that could be a useful debate," he said.
He envisions offering a stipend and a place to write to Vaclev Havel, the former Czech president. Someone like John Kufuor, Ghana's former president, could have a place to work after ceding power. Dissidents like Cuba's Oscar Biscet could come – if he ever gets out of "Castro's dungeon," Bush said.
And other world leaders will stop by to speak. "I mentioned this to Tony Blair and he said, absolutely. I mean, we've befriended a lot people in the course of eight years."
Laura Bush will use the institute to continue her work for a free Myanmar, and promoting the cause of women in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The president anticipates continuing the fight against malaria and AIDS in Africa.
"I spent a lot of time with dissidents, or wives of political prisoners," Bush said.
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