By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
It’s been nine months since President George W. Bush left office, but Dana Perino, his former press secretary, still feels the need to do her job.
Speaking on Thursday before a group of a couple hundred people gathered at the Lincoln Club of Colorado Dinner at the Denver Athletic Club, Perino, a Colorado native who once worked for former Congressman Scott McInnis, said the George W. Bush she knew on a personal level was not the same man the media and American people saw.
“My key takeaways from my time with President Bush, I think would help explain to you how I view him,” Perino said. “And they are the power of integrity, dignity and forgiveness.”
Perino told the story of a trip Bush made to Israel in an effort to help broker a land-for-peace deal between the Palestinians and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. During that trip, Perino said, Bush had dinner with Olmert and his cabinet members.
Bush knew that members of Olmert’s cabinet disagreed over the land-for-peace proposition, and the tension in the room could be felt.
In the sort of interaction Perino said was characteristic of Bush, the 43rd president calmed the tension by asking the gathered Israeli cabinet members about their personal backgrounds. Within minutes, they were talking to each other and discovering how their families were connected in ways they had been unaware of before that night.
Bush then asked them to remember how much they have in common before focusing on their differences, Perino said.
“And you know what?” Perino said. “That was never reported in the newspapers or in the media. None of those kinds of stories about President Bush were told. But that is just one example of many that (speak to) the kind of man he is.”
Perino said she was surprised by Bush’s reaction to the publication of “What Happened,” the memoirs of White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, who served as White House press secretary from July 2003 to May 2006. McClellan was highly critical of Bush in the book, saying the president was less interested in doing the best thing for the country than he was in bolstering his chance of re-election and keeping the Republican Party strong. He also insinuated — but stopped short of saying — that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney lied to the American people about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in order to gain support for the war in Iraq.
Perino said McClellan’s harsh criticism of Bush upset and angered her. But when she was called into the Oval Office the day before it was published, it was Bush who asked her to forgive McClellan. “He said to me, ‘I hear you are upset about the book’,” Perino said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I am.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘Well, I want you to forgive him… I don’t want you to live in a bitter way, like he is. Our country is counting on us to do the people’s business, and this is not the people’s business.’”
Perino also spoke about current political issues, offering her personal reaction to the notion that the Republican Party is leaderless in 2009.
“Some of you might be wondering what is up with the Republican Party. Are we leaderless? Is there not enough room for everybody?” Perino said. “I don’t believe that… Every time a party loses the White House, this happens. And it’s actually a good thing to have happen to the party. It’s making us stronger.”
Perino said the party would benefit by returning to its conservative roots to offer intellectual depth, well-reasoned arguments and a keen focus on such issues as lowering taxes and strengthening national defense.
Since leaving the White House, Perino has traveled the country giving speeches and working with various organizations. Even after nine months, she’s still unsure of her future path.
“I’m still trying to figure out my post-White House life,” she said.