Laura Bush: Life in Dallas Has Been a 'Slow Adjustment'

When the Obamas dropped by a Washington, D.C., school this month and read to a class of second-grade students, the president said the reason for the visit was simple: "We wanted to get out of the White House."

Mrs. Bush can certainly empathize with that feeling of being cooped up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She called it "very isolating" and "difficult" to live inside the bubble that is the presidency.

One of the highlights of moving on to life as a private citizen, she said, is the ability to just take a walk in their new neighborhood and get outside.

She said former President Bush is getting to know the neighbors and is becoming a visible presence on their block.

"I came driving back in the car and saw him out on his bicycle, riding up and down the street to meet the neighbors," she said. "That's one of the great things about private life, and one of the difficult things about living in the White House."

The Bushes' re-entry into the real world comes at a time of great economic hardship in much of the United States, something the former first lady said she is very aware of.

"I see it in the number of 'for sale' signs in houses around in the neighborhoods in Dallas," she said. "I see it especially with a lot of young people Barbara and Jenna's age who are looking for jobs and having trouble finding jobs. I was shocked at what prices were when I really went shopping and went to the stores to buy things for our new house."

Mrs. Bush demurred on whether the steps the Obama administration is taking on the economy are the right ones, noting that she was not an economist, but she defended her husband against the charges that the economic crisis began with his administration.

"I think these are problems that are a long time coming in our economy and they're not any one person's fault, and I think the American people know that, too," she said.

Despite the beating the Republican Party has taken in the last two election cycles, Mrs. Bush thinks the midterm election in 2010 could be a good opportunity for the party to pick up seats in Congress.

Mrs. Bush, perhaps one of the shrewdest political observers in the Bush White House, said the solution for the Republican Party is to "stand for what it's always stood for ... economic sensibility and a good common sense."

She had words of caution for the Democrats in Congress: "It's easy for them to then now be blamed for everything and it's important for them to take responsibility for everything, because they are the ones in the majority."

Farewell to Washington

Mrs. Bush said it was "bittersweet" to fly out of Washington on Inauguration Day with her daughter Barbara and her in-laws, former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.

"It's sad to leave, but it was also, you know, we're looking forward to our new life and to a private life," she said. "And so, sort of every emotion was part of leaving Washington."

Earlier that day, in their final minutes at the place that was their home for eight years, the Bushes received the Obamas for coffee at the White House, a symbolic passing of the torch before they made the trip up Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol.

At that meeting, Michelle Obama gave Mrs. Bush a journal as a gift and on it was a quote from Louis L'Amour, an American author, written in calligraphy on the top: "There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning."

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