In a Republican event that brought political dynamos old and new to New York for a lively day of tax and budget talk, former President George W. Bush and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey on Tuesday kicked off a series of panel discussions and break-out sessions that targeted President Barack Obama’s current fiscal policy.
The timing of Bush’s public appearance in the nation’s financial capital clearly coincided with the presidential election season as Mitt Romney looks increasingly likely to become the Republican candidate to face off against Obama in November.
Sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute, the Tax Policies for 4% Growth Conference at the New York Historical Society brought together a group of heavy hitters ranging from Bush and Christie to House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, Bush deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, the former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, the former National Economic Council director Lawrence Lindsey and Republican governors from the states of Maine, Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Also on hand as the ultimate Republican éminence grise was Henry Kissinger, secretary of state under Richard Nixon.
Against a backdrop of a dozen American flags on the Historical Society’s main stage, about 200 enthusiastic audience members stood and applauded as Bush entered the auditorium to deliver some brief, unscripted remarks before the day’s panels started.
Looking tan and relaxed as he spoke to the roomful of party insiders, Bush said he was happily retired and focused on building his presidential museum that will focus not just on his legacy but the global principles of freedom and democracy. His current projects include supporting U.S. veterans, fighting cervical cancer in Africa and supporting women in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt.
“I have decided to stay out of the limelight,” Bush said. “It’s not good to undermine our president. I’ve been asked if I miss the presidency. I really don’t, but I really do miss being commander in chief. We have a calling to save lives in the developing world. We can’t be isolationists and hope for a peaceful tomorrow.”
With his characteristic sense of humor, Bush also spoke of his mountain bike rides with wounded war veterans, saying, “I don’t like being beaten by a one-legged veteran on a mountain bike.”