Presidents help George W. Bush dedicate library - WNCN: News, Weather

Presidents help George W. Bush dedicate library

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A quote from the 2000 Republican National Convention by George W. Bush greets visitors to the museum exhibit section of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas.  (AP Photo/Benny Snyder) A quote from the 2000 Republican National Convention by George W. Bush greets visitors to the museum exhibit section of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. (AP Photo/Benny Snyder)
DALLAS -

President Barack Obama on Thursday praised George W. Bush at the dedication of the former president's library for showing strength and resolve in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks and said if Congress passes immigration reform "it will be in large part thanks to the hard work" of his predecessor.

Obama spoke along with all four living former presidents in a rare reunion honoring one of their own at the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Bush, the country's 43rd president, gave a closing speech with tears welling in his eyes.

"My deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom," Bush said. "I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart."

The presidents — Obama, Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter — were cheered by a crowd of former White House officials and world leaders as they took the stage together to open the dedication.

The leaders put aside the profound ideological differences that have divided them for years. "To know President George W. Bush is to like him," Obama said.

He said Bush started an important conversation by speaking about the United States as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants and he hopes Congress will act this year to pass reform, which Bush wasn't able to achieve.

For Bush, 66, the ceremony marked his unofficial return to the public eye four years after the end of his deeply polarizing presidency. "Oh happy day," Bush said as he took the stage.

His father, former President George H.W. Bush, who has been hospitalized recently for bronchitis, spoke haltingly for just about 30 seconds while seated in his wheelchair, thanking guests for coming out to support his son. A standing ovation lasted nearly as long as his comments.

President Jimmy Carter praised Bush for his role in helping secure peace between North and South Sudan in 2005 and his approval of expanded aid to the nations of Africa.

"Mr. President let me say that I am filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude for you about the great contributions you've made to the most needy people on earth," Carter said.

From El Salvador to Ghana, Bush contemporaries and former heads of state made their way to Texas for the ceremony. 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.

Presidential politics hung over the event. Ahead of the ceremony, former first lady Barbara Bush made waves by brushing aside talk of her son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, running for the White House in 2016.

"We've had enough Bushes," said Mrs. Bush, the wife of George H.W. Bush and mother of George W. Bush. She spoke in an interview with NBC's "Today" show.

Yet George W. Bush talked up the presidential prospects of his brother in an interview that aired Wednesday on ABC.

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

At the library, interactive exhibits at the library 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 Center, 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."

"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 emails. Four million digital photos. About 43,000 artifacts. The library, situated in an urban park at Southern Methodist University, 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.

The public look back on his tenure comes as Bush is undergoing a coming-out of sorts after years spent in relative seclusion.

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.

There's at least some evidence that Americans are warming to Bush four years after he left office with an approval rating of 33 percent. That figure has climbed to 47 percent — 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 U.S. continues to be touched by acts of terrorism.


Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.

 

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