FORT WORTH — After nine months of being nearly invisible -- a big outing has been to a Dallas hardware store for flashlights -- George W. Bush debuted in his latest incarnation: motivational speaker.
Nearly 15,000 people heard the former president, known more for mangling the English language than for his eloquence, reminisce this week about his White House days. Bush, who is writing a book about the dozen toughest decisions he had to make, used much of his 28 minutes onstage to talk about lighter topics, such as picking out a rug design for the Oval Office that reflected his "optimism."
Bush, who lives in nearby Dallas, beamed at the standing ovations from the crowd.
Looking relaxed and younger than his 63 years, he didn't appear to have an overarching theme, and instead strung together anecdotes and jokes and frequently mentioned his faith in God.
"I don't see how you can be president without relying on the Almighty. Now, when I was 21 I wouldn't have told you that, but at age 63, I can tell you that one of the most amazing surprises of the presidency was the fact that people's prayers affected me. I can't prove it to you. But I can tell you some days were great, some days not so great. But every day was joyous." That he attributed to the prayers of others.
His speech came after the crowd at the "Get Motivated!" seminar stood up and danced to the Beach Boys song "Surfin' USA" and batted around beach balls tossed into the audience.
Many interviewed afterward said they liked Bush, perhaps even because he wasn't the best speaker of the day.
His most memorable story, one after another said, was about Barney, his Scottie:
Mindful of his new neighbors, who have had to endure as many as 650 people a day gawking at the ex-president's new house, Bush said, he took Barney for a walk with plastic bag in hand to scoop poop. That was a moment, he said, when he realized, "man, my life has changed!"
"He is just a normal guy! He wasn't the best speaker. But I was happy to see him," said Lubbock salesman Patrick Kruger, 50.
Other speakers Monday included former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and the Rev. Robert H. Schuller.
Tamara Lowe, co-founder of the speakers series, said she was contractually bound not to reveal the fee Bush was paid. His spokesman also declined to comment on reports that estimated it at $100,000.
"I kept looking for a teleprompter, but I didn't see one," said Joanne Ryan, 35, a financial advisor in the audience.
Ryan said Bush seemed more comfortable speaking now than he did as president.
Chris Clarke, 25, a salesman from Dallas, said that other speakers were better -- Powell was his favorite -- but he thought Bush was good.
In fact, he said, Bush may be more suited to motivational speaking than being president. He said that when Bush misspeaks, it sounds "incompetent if you are president. But here it can be inspiring. It makes him seem like a regular guy, no better than me."
Jordan writes for the Washington Post.