George W. on Laura Bush, Putin and getting the Hollywood treatment

And why Calgary was the first stop on his speaking tour

A sampling from the former president’s appearance in Calgary today, which included a post-speech interview with former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna.

On the Hollywood treatment: McKenna wondered whether Bush had seen Will Ferrell’s You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush, a Broadway show that also aired on TV this month. No, said Bush. “I don’t pay attention to Hollywood.” Had he seen any of the films made about him (W., by Oliver Stone, likely uppermost in McKenna’s mind)? “No.”

On Vladimir Putin: “He’s a tough dude. I liked him.” He added: “He and I saw eye to eye on Iran.”

On Laura Bush: After arriving home in Texas, Bush said to his wife: “Baby, free at last.” Replied Laura: “You’re free to take out the trash. Just consider it your new domestic policy agenda.”

ALSO AT MACLEANS.CA: George W. speaks in Calgary: Defends his decision to invade Iraq. Offers Obama help, if he wants it. And “They got the shoe cannon, eh“: While awaiting George W.’s arrival, two worlds collide on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue.

On his mother Barbara’s recent heart surgery: When his departure from the White House neared, Bush called his mother and told her he would soon be home—that it would be like old times. “She immediately checked herself into hospital for open-heart surgery,” said Bush. He maintains, however, that Barbara is a “tough old bird.” Barbara has told him she doesn’t like this expression. “Mom, it’s a sign of affection,” he told her. “Plus you are.” Considering his emotional reaction to his wife’s illness, George H.W. may be less so. “It is clear to me that he can’t live without her,” George W. said.

On the team of economists that have worked on the recession: Bush recalled how former treasury secretary Hank Paulson (“who I came to admire”) and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke (“a good solid guy”) last year marched into the Roosevelt Room and declared: “Mr. President, the situation is dire … could be easily as great as the Great Depression.” Hmmm, thought Bush. “A heck of a way to end the presidency.” He added: “Wall Street got drunk and we got the hangover … I didn’t like it.” Bush said he was reluctant to say I told you so, but: “I actually tried to regulate Fannie and Freddie,” he said, referring to the government-sponsored mortgage enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, because, he said, they were over-leveraged. Bush reminded the audience he’s no economist (he was a history major and likes to tell C students: “You too can be president”). But when Bernanke says–as he did on 60 Minutes last week–that he predicts growth in the fourth quarter, “I trust him,” says Bush. “I don’t know what he’s basing that on.” But: “I like him.”
McKenna later wondered whether Canada’s banks hadn’t got it right. “Seems like your banking system was a lot more sober than ours,” Bush replied. Drink, offered McKenna, “but not the whole bottle.” “Not the whole crate,” said Bush.

On former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi:
After Sept. 11, he said, then-PM Junichiro Koizumi called Bush in the Oval Office. “I’m with you, brother,” Bush recalled Koizumi saying. It is the kind of conversation, between a U.S. and Japanese leader, that 50 years ago would have been unthinkable, Bush said. “Koizumi, by the way, is a piece of work,” he added. Taking the Japanese PM to Graceland and seeing him sing Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog “was one of the great highlights of my presidency.”

On picking Calgary as his first stop on the speaking circuit:
McKenna noted that Tony Blair also picked Calgary as the site of his first Canadian speech after leaving government in 2007. “In Blair’s case he wanted to,” replied Bush. “In my case it was my only choice.”