Sunday, February 16, 2014

President George W. Bush at NRF

During my trip to New York last month, I got a lot done, with a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and a trip to the World Trade Center as two highlights.  But among those experiences was one more that really struck me, and that was seeing President George W. Bush provide the keynote speech for the National Retail Federation conference.

I know Bush is a lightening rod personality for many, and in certain camps he's downright hated.  However, I have always been a fan of his, and while I have disagreed with some of his decision making, I greatly admire him as a leader, war-time President, and a man.  

Since I am a fan, I made sure that I was a much up front for entering the speech hall as possible, so I got there 45 minutes before opening.  Much to my chagrin, I was late, as there were already 300-400 people ahead of me.  But, upon entering the hall when they finally released us, I was able to quicken my pace, navigate the crowd, and made my way up front; three rows away from center stage.  

I was surprised to see very little overt security.  I saw only two clear Secret Service agents, both posted on the stage.  Beyond that, there were no uniformed security, no metal detectors, no bag searches, no anything.  There was just a wide area around the stage that was blocked off.  That was it that I could see.  That was really shocking to me, especially considering that a good part of the Middle East would want nothing more than to see George W. Bush dead.  While I know there had to be more security behind the scenes that I just didn't see, it was still very unsettling to be so close to a man so hated by so many.  

Given the vitriol around him, I wondered how he'd be received, and that was quickly answered with a sizable standing ovation at his introduction and entry onto the stage.

The speech was less of a speech and more of a moderated conversation.  In it, the President conveyed a lot of the stories that made up his book (well worth the read), but expressed them in a less formal, less Presidential manner.  He came across as a man that was very comfortable in his own skin, one that understood the magnitude of what the Presidency means, and one that very deeply and very personally cares for our armed forces.  

The highlight of the speech was a conversation about his Presidency, and how it will be viewed by history.  And in talking about it, Bush showed a lot of candor.  I'm paraphrasing, but it went something like this,"People tell me all the time 'You need to do this or that to protect your legacy.'  My legacy?  There is NOTHING I can do right now to modify how history will judge me.  That will occur many years after I'm gone.  And I hope that at that time they will fell I did a good job.  But I know that what I did do is the best job that I knew to do."

Overall, he came across as a man at peace with what he's done, and one that needs no affirmations from anything or anyone.  Just thoughtful, quiet, and confident.  Funny, too.

I was curious how the crowd would react at the end, and the ovation was larger than the one that greeted him.  

There's a internet meme out there that kind of sums it up:

Judging by the ovation, I wasn't alone in that sentiment

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