(Photo: Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center)
Former first lady Laura Bush, President Barack Obama and former Presidents Clinton and Carter, spoke fondly of the legacy of the 43rd president of the United States today at the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
Laura Bush noted that her husband's library is the first presidential library of the 21st century and said the new library and museum are a reflection of "our nation and our world," during his eight years in office. "The presidency is not just about one person," she said, "it's about all of the staff, and the men and women of the military who serve every president and make the ultimate sacrifice."
The former first lady also spoke of the heartbreak and heroism of 9/11 and said she will always remember the images of President Bush standing next to the retired firefighter at Ground Zero, and their visits with the families of the fallen soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also shared stories about the former president's annual 100K mountain bike ride with wounded warriors, and his service projects in Africa.
Highlighting Bush's achievements on the African continent, former President Carter said the 43rd president was instrumental in brokering a peace agreement between North and South Sudan in 2005; and said that during his two terms, Bush had increased aid to Africa by 640 percent, from $1.4 billion to more than $9 billion.
Carter also celebrated Bush for increasing developmental assistance to the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) that expanded HIV medication distribution from 50,000 patients to more than 2 million patients. "He's made great contributions to the most needy people on earth," he said.
Former President George H.W. Bush, the 41st U.S. president, told the audience of the great honor he felt being the first and only father to see his son's presidential library. And former President Clinton, who called himself the black sheep of the Bush family, described the international humanitarian work that's being done at the Bush Institute as "inspiring." Clinton also thanked Bush for working toward immigration reform and continuing his work in global health through the Bush Center.
"I like President Bush, even when we disagree and when we're debating, because he's disarmingly direct," Clinton said. "At this library and museum, he's inviting people to see the choices he made, and invites us to make different ones, if we choose. … What I know about Bush is that he loves this country."
Obama said that what he likes most about his predecessor is that "he knows who he is, he's comfortable in his own skin … has compassion, and was able to reach across party lines."
Like Clinton, the president also credited Bush for starting the push for immigration reform during his second term in office. At that time, Congress voted against the immigration reform bill, including then Senator Obama.
Reflecting on his own legacy, Bush said the library and museum that bear his name "belong to the people, whom he was proud to serve."
Bush thanked the 300,000 people from all 50 states who made financial contributions to the Bush Center and said that history will show that he "served with great people who love our nation as much as I do." And he credited his wife, Laura, for being his source of strength during his time as president and his 20 years in politics.
In closing, Bush said he "believes freedom is a gift from God. ... The U.S. must strive to expand the reach of freedom," which "replaces poverty with prosperity and lights the path to peace."
"The success of a nation depends on the character of its citizens," Bush said. "I dedicate this library with unshakable faith in the future of our country."
President Barack Obama and the first lady attended the ceremony along with Bush's parents, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
The $250 million Bush Presidential Library and Museum – the 13th presidential library in the National Archives and Records Administration system – will open to the public on May 1.
The Bush Center is a three-story, 226,000-square-foot building and 15-acre urban park that resides on the SMU campus, and holds more than 70 million pages of paper records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails and 4 million digital photographs; and is the largest holding of digital records of any presidential library.
The Bush Library and Museum will include the bullhorn the president used to speak to first responders at Ground Zero and the baseball he pitched at Yankee Stadium for the third game of the World Series after 9/11. The George W. Bush Center is also the first and only presidential library to include an exact replica of the Oval Office that includes the furniture, artwork and photographs that Bush had in his office from 2001 to 2009.
President Obama, who arrived in Dallas Wednesday night to attend a Democratic fundraiser and the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Center, will be traveling with the first lady to Waco, Texas, to attend the memorial service for those who died in last week's fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West. The memorial service will be held at Baylor University's Ferrell Center, where the president and Texas Gov. Rick Perry will be among the speakers.
Texas is now home to three presidential libraries: the George W. Bush Library at SMU in Dallas, the George H.W. Bush Library at Texas A&M University in College Station, and Lyndon B. Johnson Library at the University of Texas at Austin.