The Rehabilitation of George W. Bush
Less than ten days after George W. Bush's memoir Decision Points hit the streets, ground was officially broken for the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU).
Architect Robert Stern, SMU President Gerald Turner, Condoleezza Rice, and George and Laura Bush break ground at the Bush Presidential Center at SMU in Dallas—photo from www.georgewbushcenter.com
After several years of often acrimonious debate and demonstrations about the location, more than 3,000 Bush friends and supporters—including Vice President Dick Cheney and Cabinet Secretaries Don Evans, Condoleezza Rice, and Margaret Spellings—participated in the event.
According to newsok.com, the Manhattan Construction Company began work on the project the week before the groundbreaking took place. The Bush Center, which will "sit on 23 acres of the SMU campus," contains a "226,565-square-foot building [that] was designed to achieve platinum certification in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, the first presidential library to do so. Among other features, the design includes a 15-acre urban park of native landscaping and includes a rainwater collection system and a Texas Rose Garden in the same proportions, solar orientation, and formal organization as the White House Rose Garden."
Demonstration in front of Dallas SWAT during groundbreaking at the Bush Center, November 16, 2010—photo by G.J. McCarthy posted at the People's Response
As had been true since the proposal for the Library was first introduced, a coalition of several dozen anti-war activists, called the People's Response, expressed their belief that Bush should be arrested for war crimes for trumped up intelligence in the war in Iraq. "The eight years of the Bush era…are going to be back again," peace activist Hadi Jawad told the Dallas Morning News. "This time they're going to have the seal of approval of a venerable American institute of higher learning, SMU."
One of the overarching goals of this entire enterprise is the rehabilitation of the Bush presidency, countering a burgeoning consensus among historians that Bush was one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. A gushing Dallas Morning News editorial "George W. Bush library will add intellectual dimension," pointed out that "the fullness of the center's impact will be felt far into the future and far beyond the former president's adopted hometown," as "[t]he library will add another intellectual dimension to North Texas." The editorial predicted that the Bush Presidential Center would have just as great an impact on intellectual pursuits as the libraries of two other presidents located in Texas: the Lyndon B. Johnson library in Austin and the George Bush Library on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.
Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, said that, "More than 150,000 people have joined as founding members of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, representing every state in the nation. This groundswell of support for President and Mrs. Bush honors their service to our country and signals an ongoing commitment to the work they will continue to do through The Bush Institute for years to come."
According to SMU's Bush Center website at www.smu.edu: "Through February 6, 2011, visitors can preview some of the…historic holdings at SMU's Meadows Museum. The free exhibit, 'Breaking New Ground: Presenting the George W. Bush Presidential Center,' showcases the building design, ongoing initiatives…and key artifacts and papers of the Bush Administration."
Some of the artifacts include one of Saddam Hussein's pistols, the sweatshirt Bush wore while throwing the first pitch at game three of the 2001 World Series, and the president's handwritten notes as he prepared to speak after the September 11 attacks.
As construction proceeds, questions remain about what other exhibits will be on display, such as the "Mission Accomplished" banner. As NPR's Frank James recently reported, "The sign [which is said to be currently housed at the National Archives], the backdrop for Bush's appearance aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in May 2003, came to symbolize the bad assumptions Bush and his national security team made about Iraq before the invasion and during the occupation." According to Alan Lowe, the director of the library and museum, the banner will become part of the museum's collection.
Center staff will have to grapple with several additional questions: What's the best way to deal with the non-existent weapons of mass destruction? How much attention will be devoted to Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina? Will there be a water-boarding exhibit? Will there be a re-creation of Bush flying back to Washington in his pajamas to help "save" Terri Schiavo?
In Decision Points, Bush writes: "I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn't like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to [Hurricane] Katrina represented an all-time low." Bush was referring to Kanye West's comment that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Since the issue took up so much time and space during the first few days of Bush's book tour, inquiring minds want to know: Will there be a Kanye West exhibit?
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements. This column is dedicated to the late Rev. Andrew J. Weaver, a United Methodist minister, research psychologist who was one of the organizers of the campaign to keep the Bush Library off the SMU campus.