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Crowd lauds Bush at SMU groundbreaking Robin Russell, Nov 26, 2010
UMR PHOTOS BY MALLORY MCCALL
Former President George W. Bush
By Robin Russell Managing Editor
DALLAS—A hometown crowd gave rousing support to former President George W. Bush at the groundbreaking for his future library at SMU, where he hopes the public will better understand key decisions he made while in the White House.
“Through the triumphs and the sorrows, the good days and the bad, the decisions we made together were guided by certain principles,” he said during the elaborate ceremony held Nov. 16 under a large white tent.
“I believe that the ultimate responsibility of a leader is to not do what is easy or popular, but to do what is necessary and right.”
Among the more than 3,000 invitation-only guests were political supporters, donors and former White House aides who lauded Mr. Bush’s legacy, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Mr. Cheney, who used a cane, said “robust sales” of Mr. Bush’s newly released memoir, Decision Points, showed that the former president is already being viewed in a more positive light.
“When times have been tough and the critics have been loud, you’ve always said you had faith in history’s judgment, and history is beginning to come around,” Mr. Cheney said.
Mr. Bush’s pastor, the Rev. Mark Craig of Highland Park United Methodist Church, offered the invocation.
The Bush Center, set to open in 2013, will have three parts: a library of documents and artifacts of the Bush Administration; an interactive museum with permanent and traveling exhibits; and an independent policy-making institute. The Bush Foundation is privately funding the institute, and the National Archives will operate the library and museum.
Some critics, however, still doubt the complex will offer an unbiased view of Bush Administration policies. About 80 area peace activists wearing masks and carrying names of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan marched near the SMU campus during the groundbreaking. Some carried signs that read “Arrest Cheney first” and “Library or lie-bury?”
Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary from 2001 to 2003, said criticism like that “rolls off [Mr. Bush’s] back.”
“He’s comfortable in his own skin, and confident in the decisions he made,” Mr. Fleischer said in an interview before the groundbreaking.
The president, Mr. Fleischer added, would likely want to be remembered for “keeping America safe” and “for having spread freedom and giving tens of millions of people around the world a chance to make it in life.”
He cited Mr. Bush’s speech to rescue workers at Ground Zero as a high point of the presidency, saying it gave a much-needed boost of confidence to a nation troubled by the 9/11 attacks.
Ongoing debate over Bush Administration policies and the presence of the Bush center on campus “underscores” what the university is all about, said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. He added he was glad that both supporters and critics would be able to engage in serious dialogue at the new Presidential Center.
Though Mr. Bush refused to criticize President Obama, he added, “Staying out of current affairs and politics does not mean staying out of policy.”
“I strongly believe that the principles that guided our service in public office are the right principles to lead our country into the future. These principles do not belong to any president or any political party.”
James K. Glassman, the Bush Institute’s executive director, said in an interview that while he understood the concerns of protesters, he insisted the policy-oriented institute will be “absolutely nonpartisan.” The institute’s first hire, James Guthrie, a Vanderbilt University professor of education, has “assuaged a lot of the concerns,” he said.
“This is not a partisan operation,” Mr. Glassman said. “We are not out to elect anybody. We are out to find the best policy solutions. My feeling is: Watch us. See what we do. If you think we’re being partisan or slanted or not intellectually serious, we’d like to hear from you."
“We are not concerned with President Bush’s legacy as far as his presidency was concerned. However, we are interested in doing important work. . . . There’s definitely a lot of continuation of the principles that guided President Bush.”
Condoleezza Rice, chair of the institute’s advisory board, told the audience that the Bush Institute will focus on human freedom issues and “the transformative power of education.” The advisory board also includes Republican strategist Karl Rove, Dallas oilman Ray Hunt and the president’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“The president and Mrs. Bush believed that America had a special responsibility to use its power, its generosity and its compassion to advance freedom for those at home and for those abroad,” Dr. Rice said.
In the audience were a group of soldiers from Fort Hood Army Base, who were given a standing ovation. “I really do not miss much about Washington, but I do miss being your commander-in-chief,” Mr. Bush told them.
Jake Torres, president of the SMU student body, spoke on behalf of the 11,000 students on campus, saying students will benefit from the presence of the Bush complex. “The Bush Center is enhancing our SMU education and experience in ways we will never forget,” he said.
Fundraising goals for the 225,000-square-foot presidential center have already been met, said Bush Foundation president Mark Langdale. More than 160,000 donors have contributed to the library, and the foundation raised more than $150 million last year. The total cost of the center is estimated at $137 million.
Made of Texas limestone and red brick, the center will be constructed on a 23-acre lot on the east side of the SMU campus and is expected to draw some 250,000 visitors each year.
Its design will incorporate “green” elements Mrs. Bush used at the couple’s Crawford ranch, Mr. Langdale said, and will feature native landscaping, including Texas mesquite trees—which are “tough as nails and can put up with just about anything.”
David Ferriero, archivist of the United States, said the 13th presidential library will be the first with a major digital collection. The Bush library will contain nearly 80 terabytes of information and 200 million e-mails.
Interactive technology in the museum will help visitors understand “the decision-making process the president followed when the many challenges of his administration were before him,” Mr. Ferriero said.
The policy institute will focus on human freedom, education reform, global health and economic growth, Mr. Bush said. “We have recruited a team of world-class scholars and fellows,” he told the audience.
Though construction will take two years, the Bush Foundation has already hosted conferences at SMU on institute-related topics such as natural gas as an energy source, and announced in September an initiative to recruit and train school principals from corporations, the military and other non-traditional sources.
Former first lady Laura Bush, whose alma mater is SMU, has already headed a panel for the institute on empowering women and girls in Afghanistan.
“Educating women yields rewards for generations to come,” Mrs. Bush said during the groundbreaking. “If we want women to be the bedrock of stable democratic societies, we must educate them to read.”
Dr. Turner acknowledged that the road to the groundbreaking has been “sometimes challenging.” When the Bush Foundation narrowed its site search to SMU in late 2006, a vocal group of professors and alumni began protesting through campuswide and online petitions to pressure the board to drop the library bid.
“As United Methodists, we believe that the linking of his presidency with a university bearing the Methodist name is utterly inappropriate,” the petition stated.
Others, like Kansas Bishop Scott Jones, a member of the SMU board and a former faculty member, defended the Bush library as “an important step forward for the university.”
In 2008, SMU officials met obstacles over who had authority to allow campus land to be leased to the Bush Foundation. The South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church owns the land, and the jurisdiction’s mission council approved the lease in March 2008.
Delegates to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference backed that decision in July 2008 but asked the university for some accountability regarding the library’s policy institute. A resolution instructed SMU to report back in 2012 on the institute’s relationship to and impact on the United Methodist-affiliated school, and to show compliance in protecting the integrity of both the university and the jurisdiction.