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What's Next for George W. Bush?

His values are unshaken by a controversial presidency: "I take pride in being the same person."

George W. Bush portrait on his ranch in Crawford, Texas; 10/23/2010

— Dan Winters

ATM: Jimmy Carter does Habitat for Humanity. Bill Clinton has worked on global AIDS. Do you have any big plans like that?

President Bush: Yeah, I do. Promoting freedom around the world, particularly with women in the Middle East. Working on global disease. Working on accountability in public schools. And advocating for a free marketplace and an economic environment in which businesses can innovate and create jobs.

ATM: What do you think of the word "reinvention"?

President Bush: It's a word that doesn't fit into my vocabulary. Reinvention means you're kind of re-creating somebody. Well, I'm the same person, in terms of values. My priorities — my faith, my family, my friends, the values of personal responsibility and universality of freedom, and "to whom much is given, much is required" — haven't changed.

ATM: Are you comfortable moving into the role of elder statesman?

President Bush: I'm comfortable moving into the role of elder person. "Statesman" presumes I'm out there giving opinions all the time about things, and no, I'm not interested in opining on a lot of subjects. I really think it's important for presidents to exit the stage gracefully. "Statesman" gives the impression that every time a major issue comes up, I'll be popping off. And that's not what's going to happen.

ATM: The reason I ask is that today there's perceived to be a lot of obstructionism, a lot of extremism, in the Republican party. Is there any role that you'll play in bringing the party and the country together?

President Bush: I think by not participating in the current political debate, hopefully I'm sending a signal that will help set a tone. In other words, I think that not criticizing my successor is a statement unto itself, in terms of trying to create an environment where people are able to have a meaningful discussion or debate without trash talk.

Now, the problem is, there was plenty of trash talk during my presidency. A lot. (Laughs.) And I did not engage in it. But a lot of the reason why the debate is acrimonious is because of the 24/7 news cycles, blogs, and people being able to just throw something out there in order to get attention. And I'm not going be out there doing the same thing, trying to trash my successor or call attention to myself. I hope that's a positive contribution to the dialogue.

RISK TAKING

ATM: You've won just about everything you've set out to get in life. What are your secrets for winning? How much is family? luck? persistence?

President Bush: I think it's a combination of all of the above. First of all, I was very fortunate to have had a mother and father who loved me in spite of my failings. And in spite of the fact that at times I would challenge their authority. They provided unconditional love.

I was also fortunate that I was raised in a part of the world, West Texas, where individualism is strong. Where people can dream big dreams and achieve them. But where people also have a great sense of community. They cared about their neighbors. And those values, I think, have stood me well.

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