Bush appeared in a live interview on the "Today" show, part of a book promotion tour, and also said that his conscience was clear when it came to recognizing ahead the financial problems at the end of his administration.
In his book, "Decision Points," Bush wrote that it was a low point in his presidency when West declared at a fundraiser to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." In an interview taped Tuesday with NBC's Matt Lauer, West said he would tell Bush that he was speaking in a moment of frustration.
"I didn't have the grounds to call him a racist," West said.
"I believe that in a situation of high emotion like that we as human beings don't always choose the right words."
Shown a tape of West's remarks, Bush said he appreciated them and forgave him.
"I'm not a hater," he said. "I don't hate Kanye West. I was talking about an environment in which people were willing to say things that hurt. Nobody wants to be called a racist if in your heart you believe in equality of races."
The former president said he accepted some blame for the financial meltdown that occurred at the end of his administration, but he criticized Congress for refusing to regulate the government-controlled mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"My conscience is clear when it came time to recognizing an impending problem," he said. One of the most difficult things about the crisis was having to explain why the government had to bail out big financial institutions, he said.
Bush said he supported extending tax rate cuts passed during his administration, but joked that "they might have a better chance of being extended if they were called the Lauer tax cuts."
He refused to be drawn into a discussion about whether he believed an Islamic center should be built near the site of the 2001 terrorist attack in Manhattan.
"I think most Americans welcome freedom of religion and honor religions," he said. "I truly do. The problem with the arena today is a few loud voices can dominate the discussion and I don't intend to be one of the voices in the discussion."
While he's enjoying his public reemergence to sell his book, the former president said that when it's done, "I'm heading back underground."