At this relatively mellow moment in his life, George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, wants nothing more than to be a good friend and neighbor. Standing on the front step of his red brick ranch house in suburban Dallas, sipping a cup of coffee, his black Scottish terriers Barney and Miss Beazley at his feet, he comes to life when he spots the guy next door getting ready to leave for work. "Sleeping in this morning?" he yells across the lawn with a friendly grin. "That's where Barney made his deposit," he adds, referring to an amusing story in his new memoir, Decision Points, about being leader of the free world one day and scooping Barney's mess off the neighbor's front yard the next.
Aside from a few Secret Service agents and a big American flag hanging near the front curb, there is little that sets this house apart from the others on the cul-de-sac where the former president and first lady live — except maybe the beautifully landscaped putting green that George, who loves golf, built on the empty lot he owns next door. "Laura turned it into Versailles," he says. "I turned it into Augusta."
In his book, President Bush explains why and how he made some of the most momentous — and at times controversial — decisions in his life, including his decisions to marry Laura, to stop drinking, to run for president, to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to step in and prop up U.S. banks in 2008 to avert a global financial crisis. Of his political decisions, right or wrong, he writes, "On every one, I did what I believed was in the best interests of our country."
Since leaving office, President Bush, 64, has virtually disappeared from public view, refusing to criticize his successor or weigh in on political events, including the rise of the Tea Party movement. So I was curious about what he's been thinking and how he's feeling after two years of reflection. His passion for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, as well as for the Texas Rangers (the baseball team he once co-owned) and the Republican party are a given. Our conversation therefore turned to the other six big R's that define his postpresidential life: reinvention (a word he doesn't use), risk taking (credit his Texas upbringing), his controversial reputation ("There's nothing you can do about it"), regrets (he admits to a few), relationships (he feels " blessed"), and retirement (an "old-fashioned" term).
AARP The Magazine (ATM): At 40 you gave up drinking. By 50 you were governor of Texas. At 55 you were president. What do you do for an encore? How do you go from 100 mph to 10 mph?
President Bush: (Laughs.) First of all, I'm just experiencing what it means to go from 100 mph to 10. I was able to adjust initially by plunging right into the book and the Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University. And it turns out that there is a good way to make a living by giving speeches. So I'm in a transition period from presidency to active citizenry. I want to go 100 mph again — well, maybe not 100. Maybe 80. I want to live out principles that became a part of my life in my 40s, 50s, and 60s. One principle is the universality of freedom. I'm a freedom lover. And I feel a sense of obligation to our troops and their families because of the decisions that I made. So I'm involved with veterans.