Presidents Dedicate George Bush Library
Bush says he feels like 'the luckiest person in the world'
COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AllPolitics, Nov. 6) -- With sun streaming down, former President George Bush was joined today by members of his family, and presidents and first ladies past and present to dedicate a new library in his honor.
"Today I feel like the luckiest person in the world," Bush told an audience at Texas A&M University that included Bill and Hillary Clinton, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Gerald and Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan and Lady Bird Johnson. (480K wav sound)
Some 40 million documents are housed in the gleaming new facility, which Bush said "will serve to educate future generations of Americans to give them a broader understanding of how their government responded in the way it did to the challenges it faced at a watershed moment in history."
Praising his fellow presidents joining him today, Bush said, "Thanks to the leadership of these men, the remarkable women who have served at their side, and the stalwart friendship of our allies ... the prospects for peace and prosperity have never been better."
Clinton, Ford and Carter lavished praise on America's 41st president.
"I think it's fair that all Americans are united in tribute to President George Bush for his lifetime of service to America," Clinton said. (448K wav sound)
Carter thanked Bush for doing "an indescribably good job in providing for the people of America one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen." Ford called the new facility "much more, much more than a library. It's a classroom of democracy."
Among the displays are home movies of Bush's first baby steps in Kennebunkport, Maine, about 1925. The displays follow him from those wobbly beginnings to his baseball career at Yale, his long career of public service, his term as president and his defeat in the 1992 election.
But Bush also told library designers he wanted it to be a center for research into the workings of the government, not a personal memorial.
While proud of his accomplishments in office, Bush says he'll leave it to historians to assess his four years in office between the Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton presidencies.
The library and museum contain enough information to let visitors decide for themselves "the mistakes we made and the things we got right," the 41st president told CNN in a live interview prior to Thursday's dedication.
Bush's upbringing is partly responsible for this. According to popular legend, Bush's mother taught him humility by punishing him for beginning sentences with the word "I." (320K wav sound)
"I'm nervous that if my mother is looking down and hears people saying only nice things about her son and she sees an exhibit that is a bit of an ego trip, she'll be rolling around up there, bawling me out," Bush told The Associated Press.
In addition to the Clintons and the former presidents, about 40,000 people were invited to the dedication today, an affair expected to combine America's political elite and Bush's family.
More than 60 of Bush's relatives were also expected, ranging from his Uncle Lou and Aunt Grace Walker, in their 90s, to infant grandchildren Robert and Georgette.
The $83 million complex at Texas A&M University, 85 miles from Bush's home in Houston, was built with private funds and donations. It will be staffed by about 20 federal employees and about 300 volunteers.
From pilot to president
Inside the museum hangs an actual Avenger dive bomber like the one Bush was flying when he was shot down over the Pacific in World War II. He was later rescued by a submarine.
In a letter to his parents that's also on display, Bush described himself as "a sissy" for his handling of the incident, in which two other crew members died. "I sobbed while sitting in my raft," he wrote.
There's also a 1947 Studebaker like the one in which Bush drove his family to West Texas to start an oil company.
The museum allows some view few people can see for themselves, including replicas of the North Portico of the White House, Bush's office at the Camp David presidential retreat and his office aboard Air Force One, complete with engine noise.
Bush's role in helping preside over the end of the Cold War is represented both literally and figuratively. Inside the presidential library is a section of the Berlin Wall. Outside, a sculpture of leaping horses symbolizes "the rush to freedom," Bush told CNN.
A display on the Gulf War includes an Iraqi Scud missile hanging from the ceiling.
Nearby stands the "Gate of Kuwait," a 100-year-old door framed in gold and inscribed with the names of America's Gulf War dead. The door was a token of gratitude from the Emir of Kuwait.
Gifts from other notables are on exhibit, too, including a solid gold replica of a Saudi fortress and a carriage clock from the late Princess Diana.
Perhaps the most touching display contains keepsakes Barbara Bush carried in her wallet for 40 years: a four-leaf clover, a newspaper clipping with her engagement photo and a gold charm in memory of daughter Robin, who died at the age of 4.
Documents available for research
The library portion of the library and museum is centered on 40 million documents from Bush's career as president, vice president, ambassador to China and CIA director.
The story the documents tell, according to presidential historian Michael Bechloss, is of a president who made himself politically obsolete.
"By helping to end the Cold War he caused Americans instead to look to a president like Bill Clinton who was more emotionally involved in domestic issues and the domestic economy than a president who was skilled in foreign affairs," Bechloss says.
Bush hopes visitors come away with a simpler conclusion.
"I hope they'll say we had a clean administration," he says, "And that we respected the office of the presidency, both Barbara and I, and that we did it with honor."
Correspondents Charles Bierbauer and Charles Zewe contributed to this report.
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