George W. Bush charms Wichita Chamber audience

11/03/2011 10:54 PM

11/03/2011 10:54 PM

Former president George W. Bush used a combination of humor and serious reflection to charm and draw frequent ovations from his audience during a speech in Wichita on Thursday.

An example of the approach came during a question-and-answer session when Bush was asked what he missed most after leaving office.

"Well, we actually had to stop at some stoplights on our way over here," he said. "I miss being pampered."

Then he said what he missed most was saluting soldiers who fought for the country in the wars in the Middle East.

Bush spoke to about 5,000 people at the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting at the Convention Hall in Century II. It was the first sold-out crowd in chamber history, chamber officials said.

Some of his remarks were taken from material in his biography, "Decision Points."

Bush talked about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the principles that guided his presidency, and some of his policy decisions.

He also shared anecdotes about friends from Texas who visited him in Washington D.C., his furniture in the Oval Office, his parents and even his pets.

Bush took a poke at himself by joking that the book came as a "palpable shock" to people on the East Coast when it was published.

"People didn't think I could read, let alone write," he said.

Gov. Sam Brownback attended the speech, which gave Bush a chance to tell him, "I remember when you were somebody — a U.S. senator."

Among more serious topics, Bush spoke of his willingness to spend taxpayer money to help Africa during its pandemic, his faith-based initiative to prevent AIDS in children, and his actions after the terrorist attacks.

Bush remembered this thought process after hearing about planes crashing on the East Coast that day:

"The first plane was an accident, the second was an attack, and the third was a declaration of war," he said. "I conducted my presidency accordingly."

Bush admitted to making mistakes during his presidency. He said he regretted using the phrase "Bring it on," during early fighting in Iraq.

He also said his wife, Laura, chastised him for a lack of sophistication after he said he wanted Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive," blaming the expression on "the Texas in me."

And he said flying over New Orleans after it was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina was a mistake.

But he defended sending troops to Iraq.

"Getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing. I'd do that again," he said. "Twenty-five million people now have a chance to live in a democracy."

Bush also addressed the nation's financial situation, drawing one of the loudest ovations from his chamber audience when he said, "The fundamental question we ought to be asking is, how do you grow the private sector of the economy?"

Outside, before the event, about 40 Occupy Wichita participants gathered to protest both Bush and the chamber.

Some shouted "Shame on the chamber" as attendees arrived.

Janice Bradley said she was about equally opposed to the chamber and to Bush.

She objected the chamber's position on tax policy.

Bush, she said, was responsible for wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, bank bailouts and the economic recession.

"He's responsible for some of the worst policies that have brought our country to the position it is today," she said.

But inside, Bush was greeted with standing ovations when he was introduced and when he finished his remarks. His speech lasted 30 minutes before the question-and-answer session.

"He was just exactly what I thought. He's just a good ol' Joe," said Marvin Richards, a small businessman from Valley Center who attended the event. "He admitted there's things he doesn't know. He didn't do everything right, but he did make decisions."

"It was even greater than we expected," said Woodrow Crawshank, an accountant from Marion, who attended with his wife, Laura. "He's a terrific speaker and he brings a range of knowledge from the world's greatest temporary job."

Eight local businesses contributed to cover Bush's speakers fee, which according to published reports ranges from $100,000 to $150,000. Hawker Beechcraft flew him to Wichita.

Bush, the 43rd president of the U.S., served two terms beginning in 2001. He had made previous visits to Kansas, touring tornado-stricken Greensburg and the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas in Wichita.

Ticket prices for the speech ranged from $25 to $125.

Attendees were required to show photo ID at the door, and weren't allowed to use cameras, or audio/visual recording devices, including cell-phone cameras.

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