George W. Bush was the 43rd president of the United States. The son of President George H. W. Bush, Bush Jr was often referred to as “W.” He was sometimes the butt of jokes for his gaffes and lack of conventional book-learning. But he also became a controversial figure — loved by some, hated by others — after 911, when he led the nation to war in Afghanistan and then Iraq.
Senator John McCain and George Bush butted heads during Bush’s presidency over the Bush administration’s views on the treatment of prisoners. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, was a staunch opponent of any form of torture, and he spoke out against the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.
George Bush’s wife, Laura, is a former librarian who dedicated herself to the cause of literacy and was widely respected and admired during her time as a first lady.
Here’s what you need to know about what George W. Bush is doing now:
1. Leading Art Critics Have Called His Portraits ‘Sophisticated’ and’ Warm’
George W. Bush took up painting after leaving the White House. But what started out as a private hobby also turned into a way to raise awareness for causes that the former president was interested in. And leading art critics said Bush was actually a good painter, especially for someone who lacked formal training.
In 2017, Bush published a collection of his paintings of military personnel and veterans. Proceeds from the book, which was titled “Portraits in Courage,” were donated to charities that work with veterans. The book was a best-seller which also won critical acclaim.
The Washington Post’s chief art critic, Philip Kennicott, said, “No matter what you think of George W. Bush, he demonstrates in this book and in these paintings virtues that are sadly lacking at the top of the American political pyramid today: curiosity, compassion, the commitment to learn something new and the humility to learn it in public.”
2. Bush’s Popularity Has Soared Since Trump Came into Office
George W. Bush left office with an approval rate of just 33 percent. But by January of this year, 61 percent of Americans had a favorable view of him, according to a poll by CNN.
Former presidents tend to get a boost in popularity after leaving office, in part because people tend to be nostalgic for earlier times. But analysts believe that in Bush’s case, his approval ratings soared because many Americans were unhappy with President Trump. One Republican fundraiser told the Washington Post that voters are nostalgic for Bush’s good character. Speaking off the record, he said, “It’s nostalgia for the personal characteristics,” said one Republican fundraiser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly about his party’s leaders. “Bush had a swaggering, wiseguy kind of personality, but he knew when to deploy it and when to behave like a president. He wasn’t particularly articulate in his use of syntax. But he was someone who had real fidelity to the Constitution, to the norms of presidential behavior, to his wife. He . . . seemed to be a good man.”
The Bush family reportedly has a low view of President Trump, who was insulting to Jeb Bush when he ran for the Republican nomination. Bush senior has described him as a “blowhard” and has said, bluntly, “I don’t like him.” And Bush Jr. did not cast a ballot in the 2016 election.
3. Since Leaving Office, Bush Has Written Two Books, One of Which Is An Homage to His Father
Bush actually has published three books since leaving the presidency: his most recent, “Portraits in Courage,” is a collection of his paintings of members of the military. The former president is also the author of “Decision Points,” a memoir of his years in the presidency, and “41: A Portrait of My Father.”
The New York Times compared “41: A Portrait of My Father” to a “Hallmark card,” noting that the book is careful to avoid the controversial aspects of Bush Sr’s life. But the Times says that the book’s conversational tone makes for an engaging, fun read, even if the book feels a bit like the “a greatest-hits collection from family reunions at the famous oceanside compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.”
The New York Times called “Decision Points” both oddly informal and surprisingly introspective. A review in the Times by Michiko Kaukutani said, “Certainly it’s the most casual of presidential memoirs: how many works in the genre start as a sort of evangelical, 12-step confession (“Could I continue to grow closer to the Almighty or was alcohol becoming my god?”), include some off-color jokes and conclude with an aside about dog poop?”
4. Bush Has Earned Tens of Millions of Dollars on the Lecture Circuit
Since leaving office, Bush has followed in the footsteps of many other ex-presidents, earning enormous speaking fees for his public appearances. Politico reported that the former president earns $100,000 to $175,000 for a typical speaking engagement and that he rarely speaks for more than an hour at a time.
Bush has spoken to, among others, the National Grocers Association and the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. He has addresssed global wealth management firms and multinational energy companies. He has given lectures to motivational seminars and boat builders, and he has spoken in front of the chambers of commerce in San Diego and Wichita.
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton — and Barack Obama — are also regulars on the “lecture circuit.” Bush joked to Robert Draper even before he left office that he was looking forward to earning “ridiculous money” to “replenish the ol’ coffers” as a speaker on the lecture circuit.
5. He’s Become Close Friends With Bill Clinton and Has Teamed Up With Obama to Raise Funds for Flood Victims
George Bush and Bill Clinton have developed a close friendship over the years — something which came as a surprise to many who remembered the bitter moments between Bush Sr and Bill Clinton during Clinton’s campaign for president. But in recent years, Bush Jr has repeatedly referred to Clinton as his “brother with a different mother” and both men have spoken about their fondness for each other.
In 2017, Clinton and Bush teamed up with the other three living former presidents — Obama, Bush Sr, and Jimmy Carter — to launch an appeal for disaster relief in Puerto Rico and the continental United States. The “One America” appeal raised 42 million dollars for flood victims in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the American Virgin Islands.