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Former President Bush Addresses Business Leaders

Former President Bush Addresses Business Leaders

By Ed Reynolds

Flanked by a pair of giant video screens and an enormous American flag, former President George Bush addressed the Business Council of Alabama’s annual Chairman’s Dinner October 18 at the Richard M. Scrushy Conference Center. Security was tight but not suffocating. At 6:55 p.m., a voice requested that everyone in the corridor enter the conference room because “the doors will be secured in five minutes.”

As Foxxy Fatts and his four-piece jazz combo effortlessly lounged through a breezy version of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” an audience of approximately 1,600, including politicians, lobbyists, and corporate executives, clutched cocktail glasses and bottles of beer as they meandered into the huge banquet area. The sudden entrance of Bush diverted conversation to the front of the room as the band smoothly shifted to a saxophone-heavy version of “Hail to the Chief.”

Attendees ($100 a head, $5,000 per corporate table) sipped wine and poked at tangerine salads. Suddenly, all conversation stopped and the room grew dark as the video screens flashed identical images of airliners flying into the World Trade Center towers. Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to be an American” provided the soundtrack as images of firefighters picking through rubble drew tears from many in attendance.

Governor Don Seigleman and two of his top challengers for the state’s number one elected position, Representative Bob Riley and Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom, were introduced, along with other Alabama congressmen. Riley easily got the biggest round of applause. Senator Jeff Sessions then introduced Bush, recounting the ex-president’s heroic World War II exploits and praising him for “fixing the CIA.”

Lauding Alabama as a “Bush-friendly state,” the 77-year-old former president was surprisingly adept at humor, delivering one-liners effortlessly as he impersonated comedian Dana Carvey, whom he noted was the “one guy that misses me in Washington.” Admitting that he doesn’t yearn for presidential press conferences, Bush bragged that the Florida recount drove him to join “press-haters anonymous.”

Bush addressed the World Trade Center attack, comparing the current war on terrorism with the military effort that removed Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. He acknowledged that the enemy was obvious during his term, and that public opinion regarding our involvement was more divided at the time. Joking that it was “unfair” that Hussein still had a job and he didn’t, Bush defended his controversial decision not to kill the Iraqi president because it would have made Hussein a martyr. He added that if American forces had killed retreating Iraqi troops as some had urged, it would have been immoral. Bush praised America’s intelligence network as “the best in the world,” emphasizing that they must not be forced to fight “with one hand tied behind their back.”

Recounting a visit to San Francisco as a “real character-builder,” the former president told of a woman that he described as in need of a bath jumping in his face and screaming, “Stay out of my womb!” With perfect timing, Bush replied, “No problem, no problem,” as the audience erupted in laughter. He then acknowledged that his two biggest regrets while president were “throwing up on the prime minister of Japan and saying, ‘Read my lips.’”

Bush concluded on a sentimental note as he acknowledged how proud he and Barbara are to have sons in positions of great power and influence. His voice shaking with emotion, the former president choked back tears, softly concluding, “We’re the luckiest parents in the whole world. Thank you very much.”