In a discussion that ranged over the power of prayer, the financial bailout and Vladimir Putin's soul, former President George W. Bush took his national book tour into friendly territory Monday with an appearance at Saddleback Church in Orange County.
Bush drew cheers and sustained applause over the course of an hourlong conversation with Pastor Rick Warren, himself a bestselling author ("The Purpose Driven Life") and perhaps most widely known for having delivered the invocation at President Obama's inauguration.
Bush conceded that he was "shamelessly peddling my book," a memoir of his two terms in office called "Decision Points." He joked that reaction to it has been "slight shock.… A lot of people didn't think I could read, much less write."
As he has in numerous interviews and public appearances, Bush steered clear of any criticism of Obama or discussion of current politics. Although he isn't given to introspection, the setting did prompt discussion of his faith and philosophy of leadership.
About two dozen protesters gathered outside the Saddleback campus in Lake Forest, carrying banners and signs with such slogans as, "Torture Is NOT a Christian Value." Twice during Bush's talk, women stood up and shouted until they were escorted out. It was impossible for the vast majority of the 3,100 people in attendance to hear what the protesters were saying.
Speaking of faith, Bush told Warren that he read the Bible every morning of his presidency, adding: "I think religion is discipline." He said it wasn't easy to reconcile the ego necessary to run for president with the humility needed to be religious.
The former president defended his decision to bail out major Wall Street banks, saying it violated his principles but was necessary to spare the country from a major depression.
"Here's what I was confronted with: Depression, no depression. Pretty stark, isn't it?" he said. Addressing the audience, he added: "I decided to use your money to bail out Wall Street, and I was really unhappy about it, but nonetheless I do believe that decision saved the country from a depression."
He recalled his first meeting with Putin, Russia's then-president, which led to the famous Bush comment that he had looked into Putin's eyes and "was able to get a sense of his soul." He said he was thinking of a discussion he had with Putin about a cross.
Still, he conceded that when people accused him of being naïve, "I probably deserved it."