In a book tour stop in California, President George W. Bush sat down for an intimate chat with FaceBook CEO Mark Zuckerberg —and up to 50 million “friends”. It was the best interview I’ve ever seen him give. Blunt, transparent, witty, laid-back, confident, and—whatever one might think of his administration’s policies – infinitely likable.
A round-up, in no particular order, of the Top 10 moments from the hour-long exchange which can be found here:
10) When his book, Decision Points, is shown to the audience at the beginning of the interview, Bush says, “It’s the only thing I could read, much less write” – a reference to critics who, over the years, have relied on labels like “stupid”, “moron”, “idiot” and “dunce” to lazily dismiss Bush’s policies outright rather than to bother mounting a coherent argument against them.
9) Bush says he has had enough of being in the public spotlight for 14 years, is happy living a quiet life, and has “zero desire to generate publicity” beyond his book marketing obligations. He adds that he doesn’t feel it’s appropriate for a former president to criticize a sitting president. When asked if there was something he feels President Obama was doing right, Bush said he approved of the Obama administration’s troop surge in Afghanistan.
8) Bush discloses that his two top economic advisors said that if he didn’t authorize an economic bailout—if he just did nothing—the country would be faced with a great depression. He said he had to make the call based on that advice, and within a very limited time frame, even though it wasn’t a decision that was aligned with his free market values. He said that’s the harsh reality of day-to-day management and decision-making—with which Zuckerberg says he empathizes as a CEO.
7) In response to Zuckerberg’s question about why Bush chose to come to FaceBook, Bush responds quite bluntly that he has a book to sell and FaceBook reaches a lot of people. When asked what technology he enjoys at home, Bush says that he doesn’t even use his iPod anymore because he “likes to listen to the birds” on his bike rides, adding that he does have “Decision Points on his iPad,” while winking at Zuckerberg over the successful insertion of product placement into his answer.
6) Bush tells a hilarious story which he feels best sums up USA/Russian relations: Vladimir Putin came to visit him and appeared to “kind of diss” Barney. Bush says he was a bit hurt by that because he’s “crazy about Barney.” Later, when Bush visited Putin in Moscow, he showed Bush his own dog, a giant hound, and said to Bush: “Bigger, faster and stronger than Barney.” Bush told the story to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who remarked, “At least he only showed you his dog.”
5) Bush feels that the way to change the world and to make it freer is to engage countries economically in order to have a chance to influence them—and to not shut out China, for example. He said that 60 years ago, his father and the father of Japan’s leader were each signing up for military service to fight each other’s country, but “today their sons are working together to keep the peace.” He says he has the same confidence in such a vision for the Middle East.
4) When the suggestion is raised that education is a shared passion of both President Bush and Mark Zuckerberg, Bush turns to Zuckerberg and says, “You didn’t even graduate from college.” In response, a laughing Zuckerberg extends his arm towards Bush to offer what some now recognize as a “terrorist fist bump” (or “the crunch”, in more common terms). Bush then reiterates his appreciation for entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg, people who use their talents to create something and employ others, and a country that gives people that opportunity.
3) Bush emphasizes that presidencies and historical events aren’t judged in their immediate aftermath, and the story of his time in office will ultimately be weighed and considered in its proper context with distance and the passing of time.
2) Bush expresses a preference for “creative tension” and being surrounded by people who disagree with him and who aren’t afraid to do so up until the point where it becomes destructive or out of hand. He says he wanted people to feel and know they were “serving the country rather than me”, and thinks that that is the sign of a good leader. Clearly an expert in management, Bush explained the importance of aligning responsibility with authority.
1) Bush explains that a ranch foreman in Arizona once told him that it was important not to be “book-smart and sidewalk-stupid”—so caught up in intellectualism that common-sense goes out the window. He says he always remembered that.