US presidents converge to salute Bush

2013-04-25 17:21
Former President George W Bush. (File, AFP)

Former President George W Bush. (File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Dallas — All the living American presidents past and present are gathering in Dallas, a rare reunion to salute one of their own at the dedication of the George W Bush Presidential Centre.

Profound ideological differences and a bitter history of blaming each other for the nation's woes will give way — if just for a day — to pomp and pleasantries on Thursday as the five members of the most exclusive club in the world appear publicly together for the first time in years. For Bush, aged 66, the ceremony also marks his unofficial return to the public eye four years after the end of his deeply polarising presidency.

On the sprawling, 9-hectare university campus north of downtown Dallas housing his presidential library, museum and policy institute, Bush will be feted by his father, George HW Bush, and the two surviving Democratic former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. President Barack Obama, fresh off a fundraiser for Democrats the night before, will also speak.

In a reminder of his duties as the current Oval Office inhabitant, Obama will travel to Waco in the afternoon for a memorial for victims of last week's deadly fertiliser plant explosion.

Key moments and themes from Bush's presidency — the harrowing, the controversial and the inspiring — won't be far removed from the minds of the presidents and guests assembled to dedicate the centre, where interactive exhibits invite scrutiny of Bush's major choices as president, such as the financial bailout, the Iraq War and the international focus on HIV and Aids.

On display is the bullhorn that Bush, near the start of his presidency, used to punctuate the chaos at ground zero three days after 9/11. Addressing a crowd of rescue workers amid the ruins of the World Trade Centre, Bush said: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

Largest digital holdings

"Memories are fading rapidly, and the profound impact of that attack is becoming dim with time," Bush told The Associated Press earlier this month. "We want to make sure people remember not only the lives lost and the courage shown, but the lesson that the human condition overseas matters to the national security of our country."

More than 70 million pages of paper records. Two hundred million e-mails. Four million digital photos. About 43 000 artefacts. Bush's library will feature the largest digital holdings of any of the 13 presidential libraries under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration, officials said. Situated in a 15-acre urban park at Southern Methodist University, the centre includes 30 000m² of indoor space.

A full-scale replica of the Oval Office as it looked during Bush's tenure sits on the campus, as does a piece of steel from the World Trade Centre. In the museum, visitors can gaze at a container of chads — the remnants of the famous Florida punch card ballots that played a pivotal role in the contested 2000 election that sent Bush to Washington.

Former first lady Laura Bush led the design committee, officials said, with a keen eye toward ensuring that her family's Texas roots were conspicuously reflected. Architects used local materials, including Texas Cordova cream limestone and trees from the central part of the state, in its construction.

From El Salvador to Ghana, Bush contemporaries and former heads of state made their way to Texas to lionise the American leader they served alongside on the world stage. Among the foreign leaders set to attend were former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The public look back on the tenure of the nation's 43rd president comes as Bush is undergoing a coming-out of sorts after years spent in relative seclusion, away from the prying eyes of cameras and reporters that characterised his two terms in the White House and his years in the Texas governor's mansion before that.

Obama defends Bush

As the library's opening approached, Bush and his wife embarked on a round-robin of interviews with all the major television networks, likely aware that history's appraisal of his legacy and years in office will soon be solidifying.

An erroneous conclusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a bungling of the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina and a national debt that grew much larger under his watch stain the memory of his presidency for many, including Obama, who won two terms in the White House after lambasting the choices of its previous resident. But on Wednesday, Obama staunchly defended Bush's commitment to America's well-being while addressing Democratic donors.

"Whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves his people and shared that same concern, and is concerned about all people in America," Obama said. "Not just some. Not just those who voted Republican."

There's at least some evidence that Americans are warming to Bush four years after he returned to his ranch in Crawford, even if they still question his judgment on Iraq and other issues. While Bush left office with an approval rating of 33%, that figure has climbed to 47% — about equal to Obama's own approval rating, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released ahead of the library opening.

Bush pushed forcefully but unsuccessfully for the type of sweeping immigration overhaul that Congress, with Obama's blessing, is now pursuing. And his aggressive approach to counterterrorism may be viewed with different eyes as the US continues to be touched by acts of terrorism.

Although museums and libraries, by their nature, look back on history, the dedication of Bush's library also offers a few hints about the future, with much of the nation's top political brass gathered in the same state.

Clinton's wife, Hillary Clinton, stoked speculation about her own political future on Wednesday in a Dallas suburb when she delivered her first paid speech since stepping down as secretary of state earlier this year. Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, another potential 2016 contender, flew to Texas to take part in the library dedication. And Bush talked up the presidential prospects of his brother, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, in an interview that aired on Wednesday on ABC.

"He doesn't need my counsel, because he knows what it is, which is, 'Run'," Bush said.

Obama, too, may have his own legacy in mind. He's just a few years out from making his own decision about where to house his presidential library and the monument to his legacy.

Read more on:    george w bush  |  hillary clinton  |  george hw bush  |  barack obama  |  bill clinton  |  us

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.