Bush Library Dedication Celebrates Complicated Presidential Legacy
President Barack Obama and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter attend the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
The celebration of George W. Bush's presidential library and museum is over, but the debate over the legacy of the nation's 43rd commander in chief will go on.
All five living presidents were on hand Thursday on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas for the dedication of the 23-acre complex, which also includes a policy institute. And, for a day at least, political differences gave way to warm tributes to the former president from his predecessors and successor.
President Barack Obama praised Mr. Bush's down-to-earth persona. "To know the man is to like the man, because he's comfortable in his own skin," Mr. Obama said. "He knows who he is. He doesn't put on any pretenses. He takes his job seriously, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. He is a good man."
Former President Jimmy Carter commended Mr. Bush for providing humanitarian assistance to African nations. "Mr. President, let me say that I am filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude for you about the great contributions you have made to the most needy people on Earth," Carter said.
Mr. Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, the nation's 41st president, also attended, but in a wheelchair after a recent lengthy bout with bronchitis. "What a beautiful day in Dallas," the elder Bush declared. "It's a great pleasure to be here to honor our son, our oldest son. And this is very special for Barbara and me. And thank you all for coming."
The remarks drew a standing ovation from those in attendance, which included members of Congress, former heads of state and Bush administration officials.
The younger Bush told his father "good job" following the brief remarks, to which the elder Bush responded, jokingly, "Too long?"
Former President Bill Clinton also injected humor into the proceedings, referring to the Bush center as "the latest, grandest example of the struggle of former presidents to rewrite history."
Mr. Clinton went on to compliment the design of the facility, which includes interactive exhibits that enable visitors to examine events Mr. Bush faced as president, such as the financial crisis or Hurricane Katrina, and choose how they would have responded.
"Debate and difference is an important part of every free society. By asking us to join him in the decisions he made and inviting us to make different ones if we choose, he has honored that deepest American tradition," Mr. Clinton said.
Mr. Bush's return to the spotlight more than four years after leaving office has rekindled consideration of his two terms in office and how that time will be remembered in the years to come.
Two editorial pieces in Friday's Washington Post signal just how sharp the divide is on the George W. Bush presidency.
Conservative writer Charles Krauthammer contends that Mr. Bush's creation of the country's anti-terror system will improve his standing as time passes:
Like Bush, Harry Truman left office widely scorned, largely because of the inconclusive war he left behind. In time, however, Korea came to be seen as but one battle in a much larger Cold War that Truman was instrumental in winning. He established the institutional and policy infrastructure (CIA, NATO, the Truman Doctrine, etc.) that made possible ultimate victory almost a half-century later. I suspect history will similarly see Bush as the man who, by trial and error but also with prescience and principle, established the structures that will take us through another long twilight struggle and enable us to prevail.
Eugene Robinson offers a different take, suggesting that Mr. Bush's legacy "looks worse" when matters such as harsh interrogation techniques and the Iraq War are viewed in hindsight:
Bush didn't pay for his wars. The bills he racked up for military adventures, prescription-drug benefits, the bank bailout and other impulse purchases helped create the fiscal and financial crises he bequeathed to Obama. His profligacy also robbed the Republican Party establishment of small-government credibility, thus helping give birth to the tea party movement. Thanks a lot for that.
As I've written before, Bush did an enormous amount of good by making it possible for AIDS sufferers in Africa to receive antiretroviral drug therapy. This literally saved millions of lives and should weigh heavily on one side of the scale when we assess The Decider's presidency. But the pile on the other side just keeps getting bigger.
While some views of Mr. Bush's legacy have already hardened, it is also fair to say that certain aspects of his record are still unsettled. That point was made apparent in Mr. Obama's remarks Thursday when he praised his predecessors push to overhaul the country's immigration system.
"Seven years ago, President Bush restarted an important conversation by speaking with the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And even though comprehensive immigration reform has taken a little longer than any of us expected, I am hopeful that this year, with the help of Speaker Boehner and some of the senators and members of Congress who are here today, that we bring it home," Mr. Obama said.
"And if we do that, it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush," he added.
And that, in turn, will lead historians and others to give a fresh look at the Bush presidency.
On Thursday's NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown spoke with three notable American history scholars: Ellen Fitzpatrick of the University of New Hampshire, H. W. Brands from the University of Texas and our own regular guest, Michael Beschloss.
All three spoke about Thursday's events as well as Bush's place in history among former presidents.
Brands pointed out that historians by default are revisionists, interested in challenging past opinions about important figures. The "best thing" for a president's legacy may be for him to leave office unpopular, Brands said, because "there's no place his reputation could go but up." He added, "In the case of Bush, who left amid the financial crisis 2008 and 2009, really, there's no place his reputation could go but up."
Beschloss agreed, and compared the end of Bush's presidency to former President Lyndon Johnson's with the Vietnam War.
Looking backward to the roadmaps followed by past presidents after office can help in understanding Bush's legacy, but Fitzpatrick looked at more recent news.
"it's poignant that this dedication occurs after this terrible terrorist bombing that just took place in Boston, because his presidency, as the library and museum itself showcases, was deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11 and the terrible tragedy that really overshadowed his presidency ... His legacy is unfolding. And I think that in all likelihood over time, as the opinion polls seem to suggest, there will be greater sympathy to the burden that he bore in trying to come to grips with the worst peacetime attack in American history on the homeland."
Watch the segment here or below:Watch Video
Beschloss' terrific Twitter feed is the subject of a Washington Post Style section profile by David Beard. The historian credits Christina with getting him to tweet.
Fun fact: When researching this segment, we discovered Beschloss and Brands were two of the eight historians Mr. Obama has summoned to dinner multiple times during his presidency for advice on shaping his own legacy. And Fitzpatrick, a modern American politics historian, wlll see her most recent book, "Letters to Jackie," turned into a movie this year.
For more on presidential libraries, Colleen Shalby put together this nifty quiz.
You can watch all of the speeches from Thursday here or below.
FROM REAGAN TO NEWTOWN: A GUN LOBBYING EVOLUTION
The current president's own legacy was examined this week, by Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press, on the issue of guns. She details in the piece, part of a series on Mr. Obama's campaign pledges, the president's promises on gun control since facing a set of tragedies.
The NewsHour set out to learn how the lobbying efforts on both sides of the gun debate have evolved over the last three decades. Judy Woodruff interviewed NRA President David Keene and Sarah and Jim Brady, whose wounding at the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan prompted the creation of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"I think you hardly ever win something without a defeat first," Sarah told Judy.
Watch Judy's report, produced by Crispin Lopez and Michael Fritz with help from reporter-producers Cassie M. Chew and Tom LeGro, here or below:Watch Video
And Cassie puts the piece in context here.
The Senate on Thursday passed a measure to stop flight disruption across the country because of sequestration, sending money to the Federal Aviation Administration and eliminating furloughs for air traffic control workers. Now the House will weigh in.
Also Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., strongly denied that any conversations were happening to exempt members of Congress from the Affordable Care Act exchanges.
And the Senate opted to punt an Internet sales tax measure to after recess.
Emails obtained by BuzzFeed from the "Repeal Coalition" listserv of activists and congressional staffers dedicated to repealing the Affordable Care Act expose a fissure within the conservative movement. Aides to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, accused House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., of hypocrisy for trying to fix "Obamacare" instead of repealing it outright.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Thursday he welcomes a pair of immigration reform bills introduced by Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia. He said he wants to see if the measures "offer ideas we can incorporate into the Senate bill as it moves through the amendment process." "Just as our Senate legislation is a starting point for debate, these House measures are important starting points for the debate that will take place there," Rubio said in a statement.
A new television ad from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., "looks like an attempt to single-handedly rebrand the entire Republican Party," writes Hotline editor Reid Wilson.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is thinking about challenging incumbent Rick Scott for the Sunshine State governor's seat in 2014.
More detainees joined the hunger strike at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Yes, former South Carolina governor and current congressional candidate Mark Sanford really did debate a poster of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
And after Sanford listed his cell phone number in a full page newspaper ad over the weekend, House Majority PAC reprinted the number in a fundraising email. Sanford's campaign has now released a screengrab of his phone showing those folks who have called.
Virginia GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell won't comment on the embezzlement case against his former chef at the government's mansion or the chef's accusation that McDonnell's adult children hoarded food and booze from the mansion's kitchen.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has endorsed Sanford's campaign for the 1st Congressional District.
Meanwhile, House Majority PAC is spending in the race, putting this attack ad against Sanford. It was developed in partnership with VoteVets, which is sharing the cost.
MinnPost has launched a nifty Minnesota legislation tracker web app.
Over at the Daily Beast, James Kirchick dives deep into the newly opened "Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity."
BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner writes that the American Civil Liberties Union and some LGBT legal organizations are arguing "a key religious exemption in new legislation banning anti-LGBT job discrimination 'undermines the core goal' of the bill and should be removed."
Is America ready for a female president? "Absolutely," Sandra Day O'Connor told the Los Angeles Times' Mark Z. Barabak.
For the obsessed, here's a super-early poll of New Hampshire 2016 primary voters.
A little trivia for you: Which Democrat holds the easternmost congressional district? Maine's Mike Michaud. And the Republican? New York's Peter King, but "not for long," joked DCCC chair Steve Israel at National Journal Hotline's Political Pursuit. Congrats to Team Press Pass for winning Thursday night!
Judy Woodruff explains what it felt like to witness the Boston bombing from 5,000 miles away. That's in Judy's Notebook.
Gwen Ifill looks at Barbara Bush's comments on the NBC's "Today" show Thursday, noting, "It was the rare direct answer to the 2016 question, and in giving it, Mrs. Bush broke all the rules. " That's in Gwen's Take this week.
Here's part four of Kwame Holman's conversations with a former INS commissioner, which looks at H-1B visas.
While supporters of same-sex marriage far outnumbered protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court last month, Simone Pathe takes a closer look at why demonstrations against same-sex marriage in France have been so large and more violent.
George H.W. Bush wore a vineyard vines tie at the Presidential Center dedication today! Lookin' good, Mr. President! twitter.com/vineyardvines/...— vineyard vines (@vineyardvines) April 25, 2013
And so it begins...Hillary 2016 bumper sticker today on car driving along crucial I-4 outside of Orlando. twitter.com/jasonaltmire/s...— Jason Altmire (@jasonaltmire) April 25, 2013
Took the political team out for breakfast today to thank them for being awesome. Proud boss!... instagram.com/p/YiwGAtok9d/— Christina Bellantoni (@cbellantoni) April 25, 2013
Take your kid to work day - twitter.com/emilyprollcall...— Emily Pierce (@emilyprollcall) April 25, 2013
Roseanne Barr was on the ballot in the presidential election in 3 states. Huh. esquire.com/blogs/culture/...— Katelyn Polantz (@kpolantz) April 25, 2013
In D.C. to perform at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Practicing my opening "Goofy Sunglasses" bit: bit.ly/15RpxA2— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) April 25, 2013
Katelyn Polantz and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.
Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.
Follow the politics team on Twitter:Follow @burliji Follow @kpolantz Follow @elizsummers Follow @indiefilmfan Follow @tiffanymullon Follow @dePeystah Follow @meenaganesan