Neil Bush-Episode – 1

Linda: [00:00:00] I have to ask first how’s your dad. 

Neil: [00:00:02] Dad is 94 years old. Hanging in there I would say he’s been basically hanging in there. I’ve learned something as my parents age. My mom passed when in April. That is as people get old. There are filters go away and their true nature shines in my mom as you may recall from your series can be pretty feisty and funny and can be a little irreverent and she says the funniest things and it’s kind of sometimes not the most politically correct things in the world. But she just was true Barbara Bush no.. total transparency. My dad is probably the most loving kind hearted Know he’s got the he’s got the best human spirit of any human I know. He’s always asking about how the other guy’s doing you know? How are you feeling today? You know he would deflect and talk me into try to talk about me or things going on. So he’s a frail old 94 year old man with the biggest most loving caring heart of any human you’ll ever know. 

Linda: [00:01:08] Well I can only imagine how how difficult these last few months have been for him since your mom passed away. And I know the last time we spoke a few weeks ago you said that one of your favorite things to do was to read to him. Talk to me about. 

Neil: [00:01:22] Well I read over the past four or more years ever since Dad started getting sick and then mom started getting sick and they’d go in and out of Methodist Hospital and I made kind of a habit of going over to read to them both in the hospital. And then when they were let out at home rehabilitatif I’m estimating that we probably read at least 15 books over the last four years out loud. And we have most of… Most of them are historical novels a lot about the Revolutionary War days and the forming of the nation. We read every Bush family book that’s been written. My mom’s favorite books and my favorite books actually were from Candace Malard who’s written history three different historical novels beautifully written. But we all loved just reading these books out loud. It brought the history to life. The last book that I read and actually my sister Doro came down and my sister Margaret participated in the last few days of Mom’s life but we read much of the Barbara Bush memoir which mom published in 1994. And you can imagine the life they lived. My dad was as you know a war hero, a Yale man, they met and married early in life and first love kind of thing and then had kids, business life in West Texas. And there’s some pretty interesting stories about this whole life of public service that mom participated in. So for her to hear the story read back to her in her words was a real blessing to both of us. 

Linda: [00:03:02] What was her reaction? 

Neil: [00:03:03] You Know she was very interested she was.. It brought back memories. And you know so my mom was alert unlike my dad. He’s kind of in and out. His short term memory is not that great. The funniest thing from way back mom remembers everything from every face I did until she passed away, so she would add on to the story as a mom you know this is a yes. And then she’d add ons and whatever little piece of the puzzle that story might have been. She was I think I think her reaction was one of gratitude that you know that she had you know that she could that this intervention could be kind of a pleasant thing for her to look forward. She was suffering from COPD. So she couldn’t move without suffering from a lack of breath. I can’t even imagine you know the discomfort of that condition. 

Linda: [00:03:59] Right.

Neil: [00:04:00] And she was complaining she never complained about…She had six childbirths so she’s used to suffering through pain but she never really complained about stuff. Yeah. You know you could tell she was suffering… So as a son and and as other family members participated, to be able to to play a role in her care in that in that personal way it was really something I’m really deeply grateful for. 

Linda: [00:04:27] You know the reason that I wanted to talk to you and really the reason that I started this podcast and to talk to all of the guests is as we were chatting right before we started, you know we’re in a really difficult moment in our nation’s history. This show is not meant to be about politics but we are living in a very contentious political time. And my goal here is really to find and share stories that remind us all of our common humanity so that we can see in each other a little bit of ourselves. Even if the person who is speaking and sharing that story is someone who we typically might not agree with. I’m going to ask you if you would share a story with us, either professional or personal story where you felt as though you were misunderstood or you were not you didn’t belong you felt shunned, you felt like you were labeled as the other for whatever reason. 

Neil: [00:05:30] I know. I’m only a slight bit hesitant to talk about what I’m going to tell you only because it’s kind of self-serving and I’m going to sound very defensive. But back in the back in the late 80s when my dad was already elected President, the savings and loan industry was was crumbling. You know there were laws that were made at the time that allowed Savings & Loan industry executives to make high risk loans and real estate and the federal government you know look through each of these projects. I served on the board of an institution in Denver Colorado. We had approval for every single loan that was made at the time. Then the real estate markets in various regions in the United States went down as the oil business went down, etc. etc. So Texas suffered. Colorado suffered every savings and loan in the state of Colorado failed during that time. I was on the board of one of those that failed. So there was a because I was the son of a president..and this Is where it sounds pretty defensive because I’m trapped. I feel like I was scapegoated as a tool to get to my father and diminish his chances for re-election. But because I was the son of a former president myself and our fellow board members of Silverado Savings & Loan were brought before Congress which was a real spectacle. Then there was an administrative hearing that focused on the issues that they brought up related to my service on the board. And it was there was a kangaroo court type scenario. It was hard because everyone believed that I was guilty of a crime. There were posters put up and in WashingtonD.C. that you know kind of looked like.. Kind of like the lock her up chants. She is like lock him up with my picture you know on posters that were put up on the signs and you can see as you drove by. I saw them, who my mom and dad who lived in Washington at the time saw them and it was hard for my wife in particular because you know we had like three little kids in a stable happy life and that life got turned upside down because of this. Business was already because the oil business was going down I was in the oil business at the time. Was hard. So we ended up having to move from Colorado just to get away from the hostility. So that was just… 

Linda: [00:07:58] How did you deal with that? What what did you learn from that experience? 

Neil: [00:08:04] It. It’s a hard thing to put in words but I never let it bother me. That sounds crazy because obviously probably right now I sound like it did bother me but it it it really didn’t bother me. I live my daily life I exercise I love my kids I was trying to be the best husband I could be the best provider I could be the best citizen I could be in Denver, but it was just such an overwhelming tsunami of animus towards me that just picking up and leaving was probably was the easy thing to do. Emotionally it must have been draining but I don’t recall ever being depressed. I never turned to alcohol or you know I didn’t beat anybody. 

Linda: [00:08:43] Did you lose friends over it? 

Neil: [00:08:46] Great question. If they were truly friends. No. I don’t know if there were people that that might have considered themselves friends of mine that never spoke to me again because they thought I was guilty of something terrible. It’s a good question. I was confronted on the streets in New York once and in Denver Colorado four or five times by people who accosted me and got in my face and said you know you’re you’re a crook or you should be in jail or you know give the money back, as though I had ripped them off of billions of dollars of taxpayer funds. I was actually sued by the way for five hundred million dollars and that was I was a young father with three kids and a little business that was trying to trying to do well the downtime in the oil business and I didn’t have any I didn’t have a million dollars not to mention 500 million dollars. I told my kids when they grew up and get older that they should be I mean what other who other what other dad has ever been sued for five hundred million dollars makes you feel kind of important. 

Linda: [00:09:50] But in the that you don’t want to really feel important. 

Neil: [00:09:54] Truly, No. but No but it was the whole thing was understandable. I don’t know that I lost friends. But I didn’t, I didn’t change my life. I was pretty fortunate to be raised by parents that gave me a pretty solid grounding in my life. You know confidence and humility and just qualities that wouldn’t allow me this to be sunken or kind of got to get off track as a result of something like this. It was kind of out of my control. 

Linda: [00:10:31] This is an interesting professional story an example of what you know we’re talking about here on a on a personal side. I know that you as a child had dyslexia. 

Neil: [00:10:45] Yes.

Linda: [00:10:46] Correct?

Neil: [00:10:46] Yes.

Linda: [00:10:47] So tell us a little bit about that what that felt like as a young person.. 

Neil: [00:10:53] That’s another great example of maybe feeling like the other because I’m in classrooms as a young boy where all the other students most of the other students I assume could read at grade level appropriate appropriately for the grade level we were in. My mother came to a third grade reading session where the book was being passed around and all the kids were reading one by one. It got to me and I couldn’t read the words on the page or couldn’t read them coherently. So the kid to my left intervened and helped me, the kid to the right, the teacher helped me .. mom realized that you know this that her son couldn’t read. So she did everything she could over weekends to give it to remediate me and it did make me feel like the other in that when kids were out playing in the playground or playing pickup you know baseball or whatever, I was in a reading class trying to be remediated to help, and at the time no one really didn’t want to do the word dyslexia as it related to learning disabilities. So yeah that was that was tough. I worked harder than probably every other kid in the classroom just to keep up. And so so I felt different in that way. I didn’t know. I don’t think people. I don’t recall ever being shamed. You know I don’t recall being put down by my friends at school. I don’t recall being cast aside. I do remember my parents worrying very much about it and trying to intervene to help me every way they could especially mom. And Just to put a little happy note at the end of that chapter and sad chapter you know as I grew up I found things that interested me so I or reading Sports Illustrated and sporting news and as you develop professional interest or academic interests in college and through business school and in life, you know those interests are intrinsically motivating. And I found that my reading competency maybe didn’t improve to where normal people could read, but I became a competent reader and I got good grades and at the end of my college after a couple of years of trying to figure out how to live a good life at Tulane University I ended up doing really well for the last couple years and getting a masters in business in five years there, you know out of the combined program so, I just have I’ve developed a strong core belief that if you have an intrinsic motivation to do anything, you can do it well or do it competently enough to be successful. 

Linda: [00:13:29] And you can overcome whatever the obstacle might be. 

Neil: [00:13:33] My brother George is a kind of a good role model for them. In some ways that this is kind of off the topic, but he became an artist without having any artistic skills because he put his mind to it and now he paints and he’s using his painting in a very philanthropic and incredible way and brings in joy and comfort and peace. He’s really gotten pretty.. If he can become a great artist then we can do anything.. 

Linda: [00:13:59] Anything’s possible, right? 

Neil: [00:14:01] If he could become president then we can do anything.. 

Linda: [00:14:06] I don’t think he’s going to appreciate hearing that. 

Neil: [00:14:09] I think he would. My Brother when he was 16 went to Andover Phillips Academy in Andover Massachusetts. So he was away..He’d come home and my brother Marvin who was six and I was eight at the time. We’d do anything to get him to play with us. And so one night he said Okay I’ll play with you and pulled out a B.B. gun. And we had a long hallway on Briar Drive in Houston Texas in our house. And he said OK I’m going to count to ten. So I went first and I started running as fast as I could and he shot me in my ass! So when people say What’s it like to have a father that was President and a brother that was President, I said Look my dad was a fulfillment of an expectation. He’s my hero and he’s got this amazingly…he leans in with love, he’s wise and he’s competent. No but my brother shot me in the ass. I can’t imagine him being President! 

Linda: [00:15:03] And yet… 

Neil: [00:15:03] And yet and yet only in America only in America. Donald Trump and George W. Bush. 

Linda: [00:15:07] And that’s that’s a great segue because America is kind of a … we’re Having some serious issues right now. Tell me what you’re doing right now professionally and I know some of what you’re doing today is taking you overseas to China and other parts of the world. I’m curious about what kinds of conversations you’re having in a business setting and personal overseas as it relates to what’s going on in our country right now. 

Neil: [00:15:40] Well inevitably people express concern about how divided our country has become. I’m deeply concerned by it. I don’t like the tone, I don’t like the demagoguery, I don’t like the pure political nature of some of the words that are spoken in some of the content of the dialogue. I’m very discouraged with this divide and conquer and bully type mentality in politics. It’s not just our current president. There are others that practice it, as well. It’s not just Republicans; it’s Democrats, as well. Having said that, I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams having been a part of two presidencies in my family that there could be a president who could be so disrespectful of the Office of the presidency in the way he treats other people.The United States is kind of the symbol to the world of benevolence and respectfulness and humility in doing good for others. This president is kind of taken that whole image and shattered it and kind of made it all about us. America First and it’s all about him as a person and I did this and I did that. As you know my dad as I’ve already shared with you he’s very frail you know occasionally we commiserate over the fact that this office is now being shattered or being being kind of spoiled by this rotten behavior. And who cares whether you’re a Republican or Democrat whether you believe in you know tax cuts or not or you know big deficits or big military spend, whatever the issue is it’s not about issues to me, you know because I think we could have had a more effective president be president that we’re not talking politics we’re talking about basic human qualities of you know respectfulness. Of others and you know and projecting love and kindness. There’s nothing wrong with leading with love, you know and yet there seems to be no love in the dialogue and it’s discouraging that more people don’t call it out. They don’t speak the truth about leaning in with love. Don’t you find that really disappointing? 

Linda: [00:18:00] That’s the whole reason I’m doing this show. So for the last couple of years you know since the 2016 election when the divide really got even wider I was thinking to myself you know what can I as a as an individual do. 

Neil: [00:18:19] I love what you’re doing. I think it’s great, seriously. 

Linda: [00:18:20] Thank you. Well it really has affected me in a very deep level like it has so so many millions of Americans. And I just feel like we all have to do whatever it is we can do on an individual level and I think at the end of the day what it really comes down to is having conversations like this. It’s reminding people that we’re all human we all have frailties. None of us is perfect but we all deserve respect. We we have to give respect in order to receive it. We just have to get back to a real basic level because everything is happening up here at the political level. But I think that it’s going to it’s going to be at the grass roots level with people sitting around you know coffee tables and having conversations like this when we finally get back to knowing and understanding each other. 

Neil: [00:19:13] So so I wake up every day with two core beliefs. One is that every human is born with the same potential for being civilized and realizing fullest potential. And sadly too many people are born in in on the wrong side of the tracks or with the wrong set of resources the wrong set of mentors on in the wrong in the wrong conditions so they don’t realize that full potential. I believe everyone has a potential to realize their God given ability that’s often not achieved, not because of their own fault but because of circumstances that can be changed. You know with the environment they’re in. Two, I believe government isnt positioned to solve our problems and this political discourse that’s creating disharmony and division among people and races and economic brackets and all these things that the government can’t solve that problem. But they’re there that people you know all rolling up their sleeves and taking responsibility in their own communities. We’re taking responsibly for their own neighbor. And this gets to my dad’s proclamation back 30 years ago about points of light..that there are thousands of organizations around the United States and every community for every problem in America. The problem being solved by some groups somewhere oftentimes powered by volunteers. And we need to take our democracy. My view is we need to take our democracy back. We can’t wait for Washington or Austin or state capitals to fix our problems. People have the potential to solve the problem in their communities, to lift that little kid that is suffering because he doesn’t have books in his home, by providing books or helping them with mentoring and tutoring or helping the elderly you know that doesn’t have the advantages. We can take that responsibility in our own hands and the beauty of that, Linda, get right to the heart of your and my core concern is that serving others unites us as a people. It brings out our basic humanity which which is naturally designed to attract us to one another to find you know.. 

Linda: [00:21:25] And no better example of that than Harvey. Harvey, Maria. Florence. All Of them but I mean we we lived Harvey in this community and people didn’t ask what you know what’s your political affiliation before they brought the boat up to the door to help get you out of harm’s way. So it’s why can’t we be like tha when we’re not in a disaster situation. That’s what we we have to get back to. 

Neil: [00:21:56] So on a national basis when Dad talked talked about points of light, there were 32 million Americans volunteering at some time during a given year. Today there are 64 million Americans volunteering. They volunteer at more hours and with higher impact than they did 30 years ago. So there is a trend in a movement. More corporations are recruiting young professionals to a culture within the company of being able to serve the community where they work so that that’s the thing that attracts and retains more young people in these in the corporate environment. So there’s a there’s a there are some hopeful and positive trends if you look at the big national trend in young people like my son Pierce who runs the biggest Big Brothers Big Sisters organization in the United States and is a mentor to this great little kid Jalen who was a little kid now is a sophomore in high school..You know so many people are making a huge difference in that. There are some great examples of it among the youth which is a very hopeful thing for me. 

Linda: [00:23:00] Absolutely. OK let’s switch gears now to one other thing that I know you’re spending a lot of time overseas in China. So share with our audience what you’re doing in China. 

Neil: [00:23:14] Well first of all I start my first visit to China was in 1975. China was in the dark days of the Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao was the authoritarian communist leader. There were no freedoms people couldn’t choose where to live. They had two colors of Mao suits that they wore – gray and blue and it’s like very dark dark brown coal so the air was polluted. Everything about China was kind of miserable in 1975. So to see China through its through its open door policy adopt market incentives and motivation or whatever to to to to grow their economy to now where it’s the second largest economy in the world. You could never have dreamt that being possible 43 years ago. And so to see them do that… There have been hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty in China over the past 40 years. There’ve been people enjoying more freedoms than you could have ever dreamt possible 40 years ago. It’s been the biggest freedom movement on the face of the planet in and in all of all of time because there is such a huge country. So the numbers are large. And freedom loving people around the world should be celebrating this rise, and yet there is a there is a thesis which is what concerns me call the Thucydides Trap where over the past 500 years somebody did a study and when there is a an established power that faces a rising power, and China is perceived to be a rising power, 12 out of the 16 times that’s been documented over the past 500 years of it ended in war. So there is so there is this concern that their rise is going to force us as the as the established power to confront them in a conflict. 

Linda: [00:25:06] Do you think that’s a real possibility? 

Neil: [00:25:09] I think people that are ill informed who view China’s rise as a threat could possibly pull the trigger or do something stupid or engage in a conflict. The rhetoric we’re hearing today out of Washington among Congressmen and Senators, the President the Vice President, is kind of leaning in that direction as though China’s rise is is actually an opportunity for the world. We share..this gets back to your theme..We share a common humanity. Chinese people send hundreds of thousands of students to America every year. They’re educated here. They’re indoctrinated in our ways. They aspire to live like Americans they want fresh air they want freedom they want opportunities to raise their kids in a good environment. They don’t need to be a democracy like we do. Not every country has the conditions for a vibrant democracy. In fact I wonder whether our democracy really works to see machine guns being used in schools and synagogues and all over the place. It’s crazy that we don’t have a more vibrant democracy that rejects these kinds of terrible conditions that we live in where we have so much poverty and teenage pregnancy rates and o violent crimes. We know our democracy is failing in so many ways. In most countries most countries aren’t set to have a vibrant voting like democracy. And China’s system has allowed it to to lift people out of poverty, create an environment where freedom they aspire to be like us so we should embrace this movement. Yet in America we allow politicians who are ill informed and maybe others that are influencers tell us the Chinese rise represents a threat. We’re creating an enemy out of a natural ally. It’s it’s it’s it’s shameful and it’s terrible for the future. we have human needs. There’s another thing I think about every day I wake up..There are huge needs for humanity to sustain life on Earth. We have an Earth that needs to be protected. We have a growing population we have seven point two billion people today it’s going to grow to nine point eight billion by 2050. How are we going to feed those people? How are we going to provide health care for those people? How Is it you know of the environmental conditions going to be sustained so that life on Earth can be can be comfortable and we can enjoy God’s pure beautiful design of it. So it’s going to take every nation, and every human in every nation to work in our common interests and our common humanity to solve these problems. 

Linda: [00:27:41] And yet we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. We, America. 

Neil: [00:27:45] We Americans seem to be disengaging from the world over dropping out of climate control and doing all these things that are just the antithesis of what we should be doing we should be leading and we should be welcoming others. My dad… I think one of the proudest things I would say about dad’s presidential leadership or his leadership throughout his life is he always recruited others to help. In the Gulf War he didn’t do it alone. We weren’t the world’s police. He convinced the Congress, he convinced the UN, he convinces the world that we needed a coalition to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. He attacked a helpless little nation. He righted a wrong. He did the same thing in working for the Americans With Disabilities Act. He did the same thing by raising taxes and cut expenses. You have to work with people to solve human conditions or challenges and we need to get back to that. 

Linda: [00:28:38] So as it relates to to what you’re doing in China.. What what are you doing to help move us toward what you just articulated? 

Neil: [00:28:47] So my dad started a conference in 2003 called the Bush China U.S. Relations Conference and he brought together stakeholders. He held, while he was physically able, he held five different conferences over like 15 years. He he he’s no longer capable of doing that so he handed the reins over to me. So in 2015 we had a conference on the topic of infectious disease where we brought stakeholders from the US and China together to talk about in the case of an outbreak of Sars or Ebola, how can our governments, how can our non-profits, how can our corporations work together to respond to it so that human suffering is reduced and we will control the spread of a pandemic kind of thing. And it was really successful people from both sides thought it was productive. So I’m continuing this conference. I’m going to give you a little sneak preview of something that’s going to be announced later. 

Linda: [00:29:48] OK. So are we breaking news? 

Neil: [00:29:50] We’re breaking news. 

Neil: [00:29:52] I left it so I had formed the Bush ChinaU.S. relations foundation with Dad’s blessing a year and a half ago. The University of Texas where there’s no real GeorgeH.W. Bush or GeorgeW. Bush or Bush family legacy institutional interest has agreed in the LBJ School, which is interesting, in public policy to change the name of their China Public Policy Center to the GeorgeH.W. Bush Center forU.S. China Relations. It’s run by a fabulous China expert named David Firestein. He’s got a good team there. So it’s gonna be a university level presidential legacy-type platform for doing kind of putting this conference on that we’re talking about for two thousand 18 which will be this the seven such conference.

Linda: [00:30:46] 2019.

Neil: [00:30:50] Yes, 2019. And We’re going to have other programs at programmatic activities some kind of back channel type things. But other more visible type things. But we’re going to try to be, through David’s leadership, and through the Center’s leadership a place where dialogue can be held, where this where the central element of it is mportant is there is gonna be civility in the dialogue so that we’ll have the George Herbert Walker Bush type of respectfulness of one anothe. You can have where I have to be able to air sharply different opinions or similar opinions whatever the opinion spectrum might be. But we’re going to do it with respect and civility. I’m really excited about having this UT platform now for a Bush family legacy, especially one that’s so critically important at this particular time to avoid war and to build an alliance. We need to have a voice that’s reasonable that brings people together to find our common interests. 

Linda: [00:31:54] Exactly, exactly. So when is the conference in 2019? 

Neil: [00:31:57] It’s probably going to be. We don’t have the date yet, it’s going to be in August. It’s going to be we’re going to time it for the big coming out party for the Center. So I’m giving you like a big preview. 

Linda: [00:32:07] Ok, so will it be at the center or?? 

Neil: [00:32:09] The Center is actually the offices. There’s no real Center yet. The Center is the LBJ School basically. So it’ll be in Austin. And youy’ll be the first to know. 

Linda: [00:32:20] Thank you very much. I love having the scoop. That’s fantastic. So as we wrap this up, I want to ask you what do you think when you think about..and you were so candid in talking about the savings and loan situation and what you went through there and, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about you and the reason that I’m asking and I’m going to ask this of all of our guests is just that.. 

Neil: [00:32:52] I’ll tell you what it is. 

Linda: [00:32:53] OK. Go.. 

Neil: [00:32:54] You can tell me why. 

Linda: [00:32:55] I’m asking because I just think that that you know people decide or they make they have a perception of what somebody is. And it’s not always the truth. And often that perception is born of ignorance. They just don’t know 

Neil: [00:33:10] So in my case I get this all the time. So when I engage in dialogue with people who don’t know me they come with preconceived expectations for what I must be like. And because I come from a Republican conservative family they might think I’m not.. I’m anti-gay or those you know so they they label you before even meeting me word that I’m spoiled or that I’m elitist or something and people oftentimes express I think openly express surprise at how how you know normal or you know they’re just surprised that I’m not stuck up you know I’m to go big huge ego that I’m driving… And I think people think I fly in a private plane and have limos. 

Linda: [00:33:57] You don’t?!?! 

Neil: [00:33:57] No, do you? 

Linda: [00:33:57] You drove yourself here this morning. 

Neil: [00:34:06] But I think there is an expectation that people think that we are somehow privileged and I’ll tell you, mom would never allow that. 

Linda: [00:34:17] You’re you know you wear your emotions on your sleeve. I mean I’ve interviewed you many times. I do. And I don’t think I’m going to say I don’t think we’ve ever gotten through an interview where you haven’t teared up talking about something because you clearly. 

Neil: [00:34:30] I did pretty well today up until this moment. 

Linda: [00:34:34] You did. You did. But You know you’re you’re very passionate and especially when you’re talking about your family and mom in particular. I really appreciate you being so candid and open and honest and if there’s if there’s one thing that you could leave people with today that would give them hope for our future as a nation in terms of bringing us back together, what would that be? 

Neil: [00:35:00] I think I think what brings us together is much more powerful than what divides us. I think the human nature of of finding common ground, looking for the best in others, of serving others is a more powerful force than the negative forces that that are out there. There’s evidence of growing numbers of people who are serving so you can you can document it. And I’m just I really do hold out high hopes for our country, for the world for humanity that people generally or are you know have good hearts. 

Linda: [00:35:35] Well I think by sharing your story and sharing the other stories and having all of our voices out there, we’ll get there. 

Neil: [00:35:43] Thank you for this great mission of yours. 

Linda: [00:35:47] Thank you so much, Neil, appreciate it.