- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 3, 2008

President Bush unexpectedly offered a rare glimpse into his psyche yesterday, revealing the burden of being a president’s son, his preoccupation with his daughter’s pending nuptials and his affinity for Laura’s White House.

“Interestingly enough, it is a lot harder to have been the son of the president than to be the president,” Mr. Bush said after being asked about his post-presidency plans during a town-hall forum on the economy with high-tech company employees in St. Louis.

Speaking to a crowd of about 200, seated in bleachers surrounding a ring around which the president walked back and forth, Mr. Bush said they could ask him anything that was on their minds.

“I got a lot on my mind by the way,” he said, shrugging. “I’m getting ready to march down the aisle.”

The president’s comment transformed him from the commander in chief talking about the economy into a dad wistful, sad, proud, and maybe just a little bit scared about losing one of his twin girls. Jenna Bush will marry longtime boyfriend Henry Hager one week from today at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Video: Bush ‘confident’ economy will ‘come on’

Mr. Bush talked more reflectively about his time in office than at any other time since he entered the home stretch of his presidency.

“What’s probably counterintuitive to you is that this has been a great experience for our family. I’ve lived in the White House now for seven and a half years, and the furniture is interesting but it’s like a museum,” he said, the crowd laughing.

“And there’s love in that White House, thanks to a good wife,” Mr. Bush said of first lady Laura Bush, as the crowd applauded. “She’s great … which is one of the reasons this has been a fabulous experience.”

“You know, obviously, there’s some good days and some bad days,” he then said.

“So the first thing is I’m heading home. I came from Texas with a set of values, and I’m going to go home with the same set of values,” Mr. Bush said.

“In order to be making consistent decisions in this complex world, you can’t be shifting your principles in order to be the popular guy.”

The crowd clapped again.

The president, who has been noticeably chipper at many public events in recent weeks, was in rare form yesterday during his interactions with audience members at Worldwide Technology Inc.

When a Japanese-American man raised his hand to ask a question, Mr. Bush walked over to the man, put his arm around him, and held his microphone up the man’s mouth.

“In case I’m a talk show host afterwards, you know?” the president said, getting another good laugh.

The questioner asked about rising food prices, but said he was asking “partly because I’m hungry.”

“By the way, that’s a polite way of saying, ‘Hey, man, how about cutting it short?’ ” Mr. Bush said.

He also sought to reassure Americans about the economy, and appeared to be making up for a gaffe in February when he was ignorant that gas prices are rising toward $4 a gallon.

“I know it’s tough times and I know you’re paying more at the pump than you want. But this economy’s going to come on. I’m confident it will,” Mr. Bush said.

“I understand the pain,” he said a few minutes later.

In his discussion of policy, the president was noticeably sharp and energetic.

He talked about his belief in religious and political freedom — in the face of fascists within the Islamic world who kill opponents — with a vigor and hopefulness that contrasted with the anger and frustration that has marked many of his exhortations on the subject.

And he appeared to grow emotional as audience members applauded the point.

Mr. Bush also launched into stories and personal observations several times without being asked, sharing his feelings on the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the U.S. and telling a story about picking out the rug for the Oval Office.

He said that he delegated the rug choice to Mrs. Bush, and used that as an example of how a president should operate.

Mr. Bush praised top advisers whom he has delegated to, mentioning Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

He did not mention Vice President Dick Cheney, who has wielded enormous influence over many decisions within the Bush administration, but who has been blamed for many policies regarding the Iraq war, detainee treatment and other national security matters.

Mr. Bush didn’t return to the comment about being a president’s son, but he has previously said he was protective of his father, President George H.W. Bush.

Though some have said there was tension between the two when Mr. Bush was younger, Mr. Bush today shares a warm relationship with his father and talks to him regularly.

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