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U.S. presidents converge to salute one of their own

By Jamie Stengle & Josh Lederman

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 03:36 p.m. HST, Apr 25, 2013

DALLAS » George W. Bush shed a sentimental tear. Barack Obama mused about the burdens of the office. Bill Clinton dished out wisecracks. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush chimed in, too, on a rare day of harmony at the dedication of the younger Bush's presidential library that glossed over the hard edges and partisan divides of five presidencies spanning more than three tumultuous decades.

"To know the man is to like the man," Obama declared of his Republican predecessor, speaking today before a crowd of 10,000 at an event that had the feel of a class reunion for the partisans who had powered the Bush administration from 2001 to 2009. Dick Cheney was there in a white cowboy hat. Condoleezza Rice gave shout-outs to visiting dignitaries. Colin Powell and Karl Rove were prominent faces in the crowd.

On this day, there was no mention of Iraq or Afghanistan, the wars that dominated Bush's presidency and so divided the nation. There were only gentle references to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And praise aplenty for the resolve that Bush showed in responding to the 9/11 terror attacks.

Clinton joked that the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center was "the latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history." But he also praised Bush for including interactive exhibits at the center that invite visitors to make their own choices on major decisions that he faced.

Bush, 66, made indirect reference to the polarizing decision points of his presidency, drawing a knowing laugh as he told the crowd: "One of the benefits of freedom is that people can disagree. It's fair to say I created plenty of opportunities to exercise that right."

He said he was guided throughout his presidency by a determination "to expand the reach of freedom."

"It wasn't always easy, and it certainly wasn't always popular."

It was a day for family and sentimentality, Bush choking up with emotion at the conclusion of his remarks.

The 43rd president singled out his 88-year-old father, another ex-president, to tell him: "41, it is awesome that you are here today."

The elder Bush, wearing jaunty pink socks, spoke for less than a minute from his wheelchair, then turned to his son and quipped, "Too long?" He has a form of Parkinson's disease and has been hospitalized recently for bronchitis.

Just as the public tends to view presidents more kindly once they've left office, ex-presidents, too, tend to soften their judgments — or at least their public comments — with time.

Obama once excoriated Bush for his "failed policies" and "disastrous" handling of the economy, for expanding budget deficits, and for drawing the nation into war in Iraq.

Today, he took a detour around those matters and instead praised Bush for his strength after 9/11, compassion in fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa, bipartisanship in pursuing education reforms and restarting "an important conversation by speaking with the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."

If the country is eventually able to enact immigration changes this year, Obama added, "it will be, in large part, thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush."

Obama said the living presidents make up an exclusive club — but it's more like a support group for the men who have held the position.

"No matter how much you may think you are ready to assume the office of the presidency, it's impossible to truly understand the nature of the job until it's yours," Obama said. "And that's why every president gains a greater appreciation for all of those who served before them."

The other presidents struck a similar tone.

Clinton praised Bush for his efforts to combat AIDS in Africa, his work on global health and even for the paintings he's doing in retirement. And he said he'd gotten so close to the Bush family that there were jokes that "I had become the black sheep son."

Carter praised Bush for his role in helping secure peace between North and South Sudan in 2005 and the "great contributions you've made to the most needy people on earth."

Bush has kept a decidedly low profile since leaving office four years ago with an approval rating of just 33 percent. That figure has been gradually climbing and now is at 47 percent — about equal to Obama's own approval rating, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released ahead of the library opening.

If politics was absent from the podium on today, it was still a prominent subtext.

Those in attendance included a number of potential candidates for president in 2016 — another Clinton (Hillary) and Bush (Jeb) among them.

George W. Bush in recent days played up the idea of his younger brother, the former governor of Florida, seeking the White House, telling C-SPAN, "My first advice is: Run."

Their mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, did the opposite.

"We've had enough Bushes," she said today on NBC's "Today" show.

The presidential center at Southern Methodist University includes a library, museum and policy institute. It contains more than 70 million pages of paper records, 200 million emails, 4 million digital photos and 43,000 artifacts. 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.

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 Center and the bullhorn that Bush used to punctuate the chaos at ground zero three days after 9/11. 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.

Laura Bush led the library's design committee, officials said, with a keen eye toward ensuring that the 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.


Associated Press writer Nancy Benac contributed from Washington.

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Mediocrates wrote:
It holds one enrapturing book entitled, _My Pet Goat_ and other C student literature such as picture books and the like. Worst US President in living memory and a war criminal to boot.
on April 25,2013 | 06:34AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
The POTHUS right now will become the worst.
on April 25,2013 | 07:16AM
2Lolo wrote:
Both mere puppets for the NWO. Bush was instructed to behave incompetently and put the US into debt. Obama to destroy US economically, and to play the role of Judas Goat with incentives for the disenfranchised and scam artists (Obama phones, food stamps).
on April 25,2013 | 07:39AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Bush murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, wounded a million, a people who did NOTHING to the U.S. And over 4,500 U.S. troops, dead, for nothing.
on April 25,2013 | 07:51AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Bush turned a once secular Iraq into an Islamic country. Saddam even had Christians, and women, in his cabinet. And Iraq and Iran, once bitter enemies, are now staunch allies
on April 25,2013 | 08:32AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Bush, the worst Pres., ever. If Bush went to visit another country (Haiti doesn't count, he had Clinton by his side) ... he would be arrested. And the stupid, phony accolades about Bush today, i.e. Clinton.. "I like him". Obama... "He's a good man". And so on. But, there was one term NO ONE dared utter.....Iraq.... In his history when he was Pres.....there was no Iraq war.
on April 25,2013 | 12:27PM
2Lolo wrote:
Bush was responsible for the deaths of Iraqis, but OB is no slouch in the body count by the employment his drones. Sadly, the numbers of American citizens murdered by the same means will also likely be high when they resist giving up their guns.
on April 25,2013 | 12:49PM
ready2go wrote:
Do the taxpayers pay the bill?
on April 25,2013 | 07:06AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Since every living President have their own Secret Service protection, there must a enough SS guys to field three football teams.
on April 25,2013 | 07:26AM
loquaciousone wrote:
I bet George Bush senior got dressed in the dark. Pink socks?
on April 25,2013 | 07:28AM
niimi wrote:
Breast Cancer awareness.
on April 25,2013 | 07:37AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Ankle cancer. It doesn't get much publicity but it's a killer if left untreated. I think there is a Walk for the Cure this weekend.
on April 25,2013 | 09:14AM
loquaciousone wrote:
There was also a Memory Walk last weekend that I was supposed to participate in but I forgot.
on April 25,2013 | 09:18AM
2Lolo wrote:
Matches his pink tie. Pink is the new black, LOL
on April 25,2013 | 07:40AM
cojef wrote:
Watched the televised opening of the Presidential Library only where each invited former President made kind comments about George W. Politics aside, all presidents love America for which it stands, did what they thought was right, yes all of them made mistakes, and all failed to fullfill the desires of many, but that is the nature of the Ofiice, a thankless job. The comments posted attest to that. Would any of you accept that job if offered, and would you have succeeded? The celebration was just an opening of a library, yet the posts suggest that people cannot look beyond their nose and move forward.
on April 25,2013 | 08:01AM
omd111 wrote:
How our country can let someone with such mental incompetence as George W. Bush become President of the United States is a sad reflection of our country. He's the same as all the dummies making money on reality TV with little intelligence and talent.
on April 25,2013 | 08:26AM
thepartyfirst wrote:
And your opinion about Barrack Obama?
on April 25,2013 | 08:36AM
lee1957 wrote:
Seems like alot of folks are off their meds today. Pet goat, puppet, war criminal, murderer, mental incompetence. Good luck with your treatement programs.
on April 25,2013 | 11:29AM
2Lolo wrote:
Sez the Sheeple. WAKE UP! Look at what's really going on.
on April 26,2013 | 07:07AM
entrkn wrote:
Nice to see them all standing together.
on April 25,2013 | 12:11PM
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