Mark Updegrove on George Bush Post-Presidency

Nov 04, 2013

As Bush Settles Into Dallas, Golf Tees and Family Time Now Trump Politics
Peter Baker
[published in the New York Times on November 2, 2013]

DALLAS — When the executive director of former President George W. Bush’s public policy institute decided to move on recently, he stopped by for an exit interview. Mr. Bush asked if he had anything in particular he wanted to talk about.

“O.K.,” Mr. Bush replied, “I want to talk about painting.”

After early self-portraits in the shower and then dozens of paintings of dogs and cats, Mr. Bush, it seems, has now moved on to world leaders. He told Mr. Glassman that he wanted to produce portraits of 19 foreign presidents and prime ministers he worked with during his time in the White House.

Nearly five years after leaving office, the nation’s 43rd president lives a life of self-imposed exile in Texas, more interested in painting than politics, recovering from a heart scare, privately worried about the rise of the Tea Party, golfing with fervor, bicycling with wounded veterans and enjoying a modest revival in public opinion. While Bill Clinton criticizes Republicans on the campaign trail and Dick Cheney chastises the current administration on his book tour, Mr. Bush resolutely stays out of the public debate.

That his voice remains silent may be all the more striking given how much he seems at the center of the debate anyway. Some of the issues dominating Washington trace their roots to his time in power, including whether to use force to counter nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the Middle East and how to find the right balance between security and privacy when it comes to the surveillance state.

When the rollout of the federal health care exchange was botched, some looked to Mr. Bush’s expansion of Medicare for lessons. When President Obama vowed to fix it, he promised a “tech surge,” echoing the language used for Mr. Bush’s second-term troop buildup in Iraq. And when Mr. Obama pushes lawmakers to overhaul the immigration system, he makes a point of noting that his predecessor supported it too.

But Mr. Bush seems to miss none of it. “He’s moved on,” said Mark K. Updegrove, the director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, who has been interviewing him for a book on the two Bush presidents. “He’s comfortable with the decisions he made. He doesn’t obsess about his place in history.” read more