George W. Bush Addresses Michigan Economic Club Former President George W. Bush is starting to ease back into public life. Since leaving office, he has made only a few appearances. Thursday night, he addressed the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan in Benton Harbor.
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George W. Bush Addresses Michigan Economic Club

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George W. Bush Addresses Michigan Economic Club

George W. Bush Addresses Michigan Economic Club

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Former President George W. Bush is easing his way back into public life since leaving office. He's made just a few low-key appearances. Last night he addressed The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan in the city of Benton Harbor. Reporters were not actually allowed to record the speech, but Dustin Dwyer of Michigan Radio was there taking notes, and he has this report for us.

Mr. DUSTIN DWYER (Michigan Radio): About 2,500 people crammed into an auditorium at Lake Michigan College to hear the former president. Southwest Michigan is a conservative area, and the crowd greeted him with a standing ovation. He spent the next hour and a half describing his time in the White House, in sometimes vivid detail. He told the audience nothing I'm saying is meant to criticize my successor. He then went on to defend harsh interrogation tactics that President Obama's administration now calls torture.

Mr. Bush said he believed the tactics were legal, and he said the information gained saved lives. He said that decision, like many in his presidency, was shaped by his experience on 9/11. He described to the crowd trying to remain calm in front of school children, being rushed from his bedroom late that night when his staff believed the White House itself was under attack. He said the experience of that September day stuck with him, even while the rest of the country seemed to move on.

Quote, "I definitely thought about it every day as president." Mr. Bush also talked about the economic crisis that developed last year. He said he believes in the free market, but he admitted a major culprit in the crisis was a lack of responsible regulation. Part of the point of this speech, of course, was to shape his legacy, and for those who were there, it seemed to work. Ken Fisher says Mr. Bush came off as more polished and nuanced than he did while in office.

Mr. KEN FISHER: He's not a philosopher, you know. He's not Socrates or Aristotle, but he's deeper that I think his image is.

Mr. DWYER: Former President Bush has another public event scheduled for today. He'll appear with his predecessor, President Clinton, in Toronto.

For NPR News, I'm Dustin Dwyer in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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