Former President George W. Bush reflected on his presidency in a rare public appearance Tuesday, poking fun at his low approval ratings and saying he didn’t miss being the leader of the free world.

“People ask, ‘Do you miss the presidency?’ I really don’t,” Bush said at an economic forum hosted by his George W. Bush Institute at the New York Historical Society. “I enjoyed it; it was an unbelievably interesting experience. It was inconvenient to have to stop at some stop signs — stop lights coming over here, but I guess I miss that.”

Bush also offered some revealing comments about one of his most enduring pieces of legislation, the so-called Bush tax cuts.

Bush said that the tax cuts would have a better chance of surviving if his name hadn’t been attached to them. In recent years, Democrats have resisted renewing the cuts, which they say favor the wealthy too much.

“I wish they weren’t called the ‘Bush tax cuts,’” he said.

Bush also seemed to suggest that, as the country climbs out of a recession, the focus on the budget deficit should take a back seat to the focus on growing the economy.

“Most of the political debate — and I guess rightly so — is about our balance sheet,” Bush said. “But we believe that, in order to solve the balance sheet, first and foremost, you’ve got to grow the private sector. And therefore, the focus ought to be on private-sector growth.”

Those comments seem to fly in the face of the new tea party-influenced Republican Party, which has been pushing the debate more towards spending cuts.

But Bush said a bigger economy would eventually eclipse the exploding national debt.

“The pie grows, the debt relative to the pie shrinks, and with fiscal discipline, you can better solve your current account deficits and your entitlements,” Bush said.

The speech was notable for the light-hearted tone from the former president, who has shied from the public eye and made a point not to weigh in on President Obama’s performance.

Bush repeatedly poked fun at himself, noting the caricature of his presidency as one of an unsophisticated half-wit.

Talking about a book put out by his foundation, Bush joked that people would be surprised that he is producing yet more literature — in addition to the memoir he released after his presidency.

“It’s got to be a staggering thing for some of the cynics up here; I publish a book, and now the Bush Institute’s publishing a book,” Bush said. “They didn’t think I could read, much less write a book.”

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