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George W. Bush is a hit on the motivational speakers' circuit
Mindful of his new neighbors, who have had to endure as many as 650 people a day gawking at his new house in a cul-de-sac, Bush said he took Barney for a neighborhood stroll with "plastic bag on his hand" to scoop poop. That was a moment, he said, when he realized "Man, my life has changed!"
"He is just a normal guy! He wasn't the best speaker. But I was happy to see him!" said Lubbock salesman Patrick Kruger, 50.
Anthony Champagne, a professor of politics at the University of Texas at Dallas, said many presidents go underground for a period after they leave the White House, but then "even Richard Nixon came back in the public eye."
He said approval ratings of presidents often rise the longer they are out of office.
Along with Bush, former secretary of state Colin Powell, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, retired football great Terry Bradshaw and a host of professional speakers spoke on a stage decorated with red-white-and-blue signs that said "Motivate!" and "Achieve!"
Sparklers, rock music and a perky master of ceremonies ever-complimentary of Fort Worth kept the crowd on its feet.
"Cut the word 'impossible' out of your vocabulary!" thundered the Rev. Robert Schuller, televangelist and author. After telling the sad story about his daughter getting her leg amputated after a motorcycle accident, he came back big with an account of her playing baseball, trying for home runs so she wouldn't have to run: "Never look at what you have lost. Look at what you have left."
Powell, speaking after a drawing for a door prize of a high-definition flat-screen TV, told the audience to celebrate America's freedom. "We must never be afraid of some clown hiding in a cave," Powell said. Then moving on from Osama bin Laden, he talked about the Chinese: "The only fight we have with them is they want more shelf space at Wal-Mart!"
All this face time -- on giant screens for those in the rafters -- cost $4.95 for most people. The VIP seats in the front rows went for $89.
Tamara Lowe, co-founder of the motivational speakers series, which did a brisk business selling workbooks and other materials, said she was contractually bound not to reveal how much Bush was paid. His spokesman also declined to comment on published reports that estimated his fee at $100,000.
In Britain, where Bush remains wildly unpopular, the media have been reporting his return to public speaking with incredulity. Some commentators recalled his famous flubs: "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" and "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."
A Telegraph news article noted that the Republican former president -- whose policies inspired millions of Americans to vote Democratic in the 2008 election -- was now managing to draw crowds and "may yet have the last laugh."
"I kept looking for a teleprompter, but I didn't see one," said Joanne Ryan, 35, a financial adviser in the audience who noted, "I know the media makes him out to be an idiot," but he seemed genuine and "down-home."
Ryan said Bush seemed more comfortable speaking now than he did as president.
In the crowd of real estate agents in suits, housewives in jeans, students and senior citizens, Chris Clarke, 25, a salesman from Dallas, stood at the back. Like many people, he said that other speakers were better -- Colin Powell was his favorite -- but he thought Bush was good. In fact, he said, it could turn out that Bush may be more suited to motivational speaking than being president. He said when Bush misspeaks, it sounds "incompetent if you are president. But here it can be inspiring. It makes him seem like a regular guy, no better than me."