Despite the Monday-morning rain that littered surrounding freeways with wrecked cars, by 8 a.m. yesterday the Fort Worth Convention Center was packed with some 15,0000 people who'd paid less than $5 -- $19.95 for the whole office! -- to get a one-day dose of inspiration at Get Motivated! There were couples and entire families, secretaries and sales teams, Realtors and would-be entrepreneurs, and organizers appeared unprepared for the throngs, who spend hours screaming and pumping their fists while columns of fire shot up from the stage and songs like "Thriller" blared from the sound system. Before the first speaker took the stage -- and the line-up included the likes of Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, Terry Bradshaw and The Man Called Dubya, making his first Big Appearance since moving back to Dallas -- workers were setting up rows of folding chairs in the overflow spaces in the furthest reaches of the arena.
Given the program's lean to the right, the event could best be summed up as Fox News Channel meets QVC: Attendees were pitched on the concept of Winning Through Faith!, while also being sold motivational tapes and books. Powell, a longtime speaker for Peter and Tamara Lowe's national seminar business, drew cheers and applause as he talked about the leadership principles he learned in the military and as a member of successive presidential administrations.
"The people who get it done aren't the leaders, it's the followers," he told the crowd. "You as a leader must focus all your passion and all your intensity into inspiring your followers. Everyone has to have a purpose in life, and every organization has to have a larger purpose."
Implementing that purpose, he went on, means "giving your troops the training and equipment they need to get the job done." How? By providing incentives such as bonuses, promotions and raises, not to mention recognition when people do a good job. While at the State Department, he said, he'd often write employees notes to thank them or recognize their efforts and accomplishments. The slips of paper cost nothing, he said, but later he'd notice the recipients had framed the scrawled words of encouragements and displayed them on their desks.
"You've got to reach out and touch people," the former secretary of state said. "Make sure they know you value them."
As people milled around during a brief break from the non-stop, all-day speeches and sales pitches for books and more seminars, Marsha Whaley of Mansfield told Unfair Park she brought three of her teenage sons along. Like many in the crowd, Whaley was hoping to get some tips that might help her and her family stay afloat during the recession.
"Because of how the economy is, I'm worried about my children's future," she said. "I want them to have tools I never had."
Turns out Whaley has 12 children -- a number of them adopted -- and the older ones want to start a landscaping and yard repair business to help put the dozen through college. "What better speakers for them to hear than Colin Powell and George Bush?" she said with a smile.
It was fitting that Bush was introduced by Tamara Lowe, owner of the seminar business with her husband Peter. Lowe spoke to the crowd about how she motivated herself out of drug addiction and into a successful business; she mentioned more than once that America is "the greatest country in the world"; and stressed that a crucial ingredient for leadership and success is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. She even did a rap to that effect: "The real superstar is Jesus Christ," she said quickly and brightly in her red suit and matching lipstick. "He's the way, he's the brightest light and the highest high ... Here's my rhyme and the bottom line -- give your life to God while there's still time."
Minutes later, the auditorium resembled an odd popcorn popper full of red, white and blue beach balls being tossed up into the air. She then brought Bush to the stage. The crowd went wild.
"It feels good to be home," Bush said with a smile. "Thanks for that warm Texas welcome."
After a few anecdotes about the crowds who flocked to his Preston Hollow cul de sac after the announcement that he and Laura had purchased their home -- and a joke about getting caught on camera walking his dog, Barney, while holding a doo-doo bag -- the former president turned to the task at hand: motivation.
"You gotta live life to the fullest because you never know where it's going," he said. The crowd cheered his every utterance, no matter how cliched or mundane. This was by far the most enthusiastic the packed house had been all day. Still, a few walked out during his speech -- perhaps to join the handful of women who stood outside the arena holding an "Abolish Bush" sign.
Without outlining many specifics of how exactly to live life to the fullest, Bush spoke of making tough decisions and assured the auditorium that he made decisions based on his values and not "the politics of the moment." The key to leadership, he said, is to surround yourself with "good, competent people," and along those lines he complimented Powell as "a fine American" who "did a great job."
In defense of his own job as president, Bush emphasized his familiar argument that during his administration he stuck to his principles and didn't worry about "popularity" or "the politics of the moment." What people need to use as a compass in life, Bush said, are values and principles, not the opinions of others.
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"The interesting question about life is: Are our values worth fighting for?" he said. "Let me share my values with you. Every man, woman and child should be free, that's what I believe. I believe it's in our interest to help people realize the blessings of freedom for the sake of peace." He went on to laud the Constitution and praise Americans' freedom to worship whatever God they choose.
While defending his legacy and reaffirming his seemingly eternal optimism about his country's future, Bush emphasized that to succeed and remain motivated, each individual, at the end of the day, must answer to himself and his own conscience.
"It doesn't matter your political party," he said. "What matters is how you live your life and how you act. It's so simple in life to chase popularity, but popularity is not real. What is real is principles. Always follow your conscience, so when you look in the mirror you're proud of what you see."
Check out our slide show for more photos from the event.