Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Herman: Bush on the presidential election, immigration, baseball and how SXSW used to anger him

Ken Herman
Austin American-Statesman

An aging Dallas retiree, who now dabbles in painting after a career in another field, was asked at South by Southwest whether he thought the 2020 presidential election was stolen, a nonsensical notion clung to by too many in the retiree’s political party.

“I think the election, all elections have some kind of improprieties,” he responded. “I think this election, the results of this election, though, were confirmed when Joe Biden got inaugurated as president.”

Well, that was sort of a dodge, perhaps a relapse into the retiree’s previous career. So, questioner Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune tried it again. 

“Well, Mr. President, with respect,” Smith said. “You didn't answer the question. Was the election stolen or not?”

(Smith called the retiree Mr. President because pre-retirement he was the 43rd president of the United States and is a lifelong Republican, a longstanding family tradition.)

“No,” said George W. Bush.

“OK,” Smith said after finally getting his questioned answered. “Well, that’s an important thing to say, and I appreciate the fact that you were willing to say it, sir, thank you.”

And that would end the stolen election nonsense once and for all save for the fact that many of the Trumpers who believe Biden stole the election also believe Bush wasn’t much of a president and isn’t much of a man. But thanks anyway, Mr. President.

It's important to note that Bush said this when Smith asked about the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters: "I was disgusted. ... I was sick to my stomach to see our nation's Capitol being stormed by hostile forces. And it really disturbed me to the point where I did put out a statement. And I'm still disturbed when I think about it. It undermines rule of law."

More:What happened at SXSW 2021 on Day 2? Willie Nelson, Trump talk and more

Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith interviews ex-President George W. Bush in a video shown Thursday during South by Southwest.

The SXSW appearance by Bush was an important one because, following in the best traditions of the ex-presidency, we don’t see him very often. And when we do, we don’t hear him speak much on policy or politics. So good for Smith and SXSW for snagging Bush, looking good at 74, for this year’s festival.

Most of the 30-minute interview, recorded last month and shown Thursday, centered on Bush’s new book on immigration, “Out of Many, One: Portraits of our Nation’s Immigrants.”

Bush is eager to rekindle a national conversation on the topic. And he'd like it to be a, pardon the expression, kinder and gentler conversation on a topic that’s defied rational discussion, much less any meaningful and needed legislation on modernizing what Bush called an “antiquated system.”

“At the back of the book, I explained how complicated the whole process is, which means that there needs to be an overhaul,” Bush said. “Which means that we need to get politics out of the system and get sober-minded people focusing on what's best for our economy, what's best for our country.”

Sober-minded people talking about immigration? He’s right, of course, but if he sees a sober-minded discussion on this divisive issue any time soon, one has to wonder if he’s drinking again.

Inevitably, the discussion between Smith (a baseball fan who declined in the interview to disclose his Yankee sympathies) and Bush, (a former baseball team owner who said his beloved Rangers seem headed for an always-dreaded “rebuilding year") turned to the national pastime that some think is past its time.

“With everything that divides us in this country, immigration, and all the rest.” Smith asked, “can we agree that putting a runner on second base at the start of extra innings is a terrible idea?”

“Yes,” Bush replied correctly, adding that for the statistical purity of comparing players of different eras “the rules need to be pretty consistent.”

More:5 things we learned from Queen Latifah and LL Cool J at SXSW

“I remember when I used to be angered at South by Southwest when it made so much noise outside the Governor’s Mansion. But those were the old days, you know.” former President George W. Bush said in his SXSW Online interview shown Thursday.

Kind of quaint, isn’t it, hearing a retiree talk about the importance of defending American traditions like how baseball is played and how elections are decided.

Bush’s closing words also were about a tradition, albeit one not as old as baseball or as important as the sanctity of election outcomes. He spoke of an Austin tradition now done remotely while on pandemic-induced hiatus.

“Thank you very much for having me,” Bush said in closing. “I remember when I used to be angered at South by Southwest when it made so much noise outside the Governor’s Mansion. But those were the old days, you know.”

“Those were the days, Mr. President, that’s exactly right,” Smith said.

And here’s hoping those will be the days again next year. It's become a great tradition in Austin. And, in general, any Austin tradition is enhanced if it annoys a Republican governor.