Ex-President Bush Tells Attendees He's Optimistic About Future

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CHICAGO -- Direct marketers working in uncertain times received plenty of encouragement yesterday from a man who has led the United States in a time of war.


Former President George Bush gave a 33-minute speech that was interrupted several times by applause during the Direct Marketing Association's fall show at McCormick Place. His comments were primarily motivational and included references to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States and the introduction of anthrax into the nation's mail.


"I don't do issues, and I don't know a darn thing about your legislative goals," Bush said.


However, he described himself as a strong believer in the DMA's work.


"In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the tentacles of terrorism have found their way into the mail," he said. "Sept. 11 reminded us that history is often a process of two steps forward, one step back. Despite the events of Sept. 11, I remain very, very optimistic about our future."


Calling the placement of anthrax into the mail system crude, Bush said, "We are dealing with people who fail to observe the most basic standards of human decency. We simply have to keep going."


After acknowledging that many in the direct marketing industry have faced cutbacks, Bush said many attendees must feel as if they are in "uncharted waters" and that concrete answers about the future are in short supply. Instability and unpredictability were characterized as enemies of sound business.


"The best defense we have in this day and age is good, old-fashioned common sense," he said.


Bush also said that he doesn't provide specific policy advice to his son, President George W. Bush, about his efforts in leading the war against terrorism. The elder Bush praised the current president's team of advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell.


"The war to eradicate terrorism will be a prolonged effort," he said. "When I was president, we could see who the enemy was. Today, the president faces a different situation."


Bush also injected some personal elements into the event.


While referring to his wife, Barbara, as "The Silver Fox," he delighted attendees by telling them that he's married to a "black belt shopper" and that they have "a stack of catalogs on their bed every morning at 5:15."


During a subsequent 20-minute question-and-answer period, Bush acknowledged that his family members use catalogs to do some of their Christmas shopping. He also described the mail as a fantastic way to communicate and referred to his days as president when he received huge volumes of mail in the White House.


"Can you think of anyone else who receives more direct mail than the president?" he asked. "And I mean direct!"


He also included the story of a female protester in San Francisco who came up to his limousine with a sign that read, "Stay out of my womb." After telling the audience that she was "an ugly woman," Bush provided his response to the sign: "No problem."


The Q&A session featured questions submitted on cards by attendees that were brought to the stage, where DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen selected some of the questions that he read to Bush.


The former president mentioned the Rev. Billy Graham, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former President Reagan when asked who were some of the people he has admired. He also covered the inevitable battle between government and the media about what kind of war-related information should be provided to the public. He also rejected the idea that terrorism would disappear if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were settled.


"It would defuse tensions in the Middle East, but it wouldn't end it," he said.


Regarding his view of the future, Bush said, "In the end, the rule of law is surely going to prevail over the rule of the jungle," he said.


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