NEW YORK -- In what felt like a flashback to the Republican party circa 2003, former U.S. President George W. Bush argued against raising taxes on "job creators" during a rare public appearance on Tuesday morning. Dozens of top GOP brass, including governors, conservative economists and other former Republican policy makers, gathered to discuss tax policies for "4 percent growth" amidst Revolutionary War relics and 9/11 photographs at the New York Historical Society.
The former president spoke for about 15 minutes to open a day-long conference organized by the Bush Institute to promote conservative tax policies. In his remarks Bush made no mention of the financial crisis that shook Wall Street during the final years of his presidency or the resulting recession, the nation's worst since the Great Depression.
Instead, looking suntanned and relaxed, Bush breezed through many trademark Republican talking points, including private sector growth, "universal freedom" and values. "If you raise taxes for the rich, you raise them on job creators," the former president said.
Republicans are lobbying for the permanent adoption of the Bush-era tax cuts, claiming that they are responsible for driving growth in the private sector. However, critics have said that changes made in tax policy in 2001 and 2003 under President Bush have unfairly pushed more burden onto middle-class families and away from the richest Americans.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama is scheduled to roll out his proposal for higher taxes on the rich, aka the "Buffett Rule," which would require the wealthiest Americans to pay at least 30 percent of their income in federal taxes.
Before the event started, the audience of party faithful greeted each other like long-lost fraternity brothers. An aging Henry Kissinger called out to a friend that they would have lunch soon. Karl Rove was greeted warmly by many guests and former Republican presidential nominee Steve Forbes also gave opening remarks, during which he fondly compared Bush to Presidents Lincoln and Truman.
Bush has made few public appearances since leaving office in January 2009.
"When you get out of office, it is a daunting feeling," he said. "I decided to stay out of the limelight." Bush said he has been spending time planning the Bush Institute, which will include his presidential archive and library, as well as going mountain biking and playing golf with veterans. He said he does not miss the Oval Office, but he does miss his role as the military's top decision maker.
"I do miss being commander in chief," he said, "a lot."