Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Texas will now have three presidential libraries ...Library or Lie-Bury?

DALLAS—George W. Bush and 3,000 fans celebrated his return to the spotlight Tuesday during a ground-breaking ceremony at Southern Methodist University, where plans to build his presidential library have divided the campus.

Mr. Bush, who left office with low approval ratings and spent two years in relative seclusion, has recently worked to burnish his image, giving interviews to Oprah Winfrey and the Today Show's Matt Lauer to promote his book "Decision Points."

"Staying out of current affairs and politics does not mean staying out of policy," Mr. Bush said to the crowd gathered under a large white tent. "I strongly believe that the principles that guided our service in public office are the right principles to lead our country in the future."

Mr. Bush said a public policy institute attached to the library would promote those principles, as well as improve free markets, global health, political freedom and education.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who used a cane to climb to the dais, made a dig at the Obama administration, calling the presidential center "the only shovel-ready project in America," drawing laughs. The president's wife, Laura Bush, an SMU graduate, also attended, as did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and ex-Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Meanwhile, at a nearby corner of the campus of Georgian-style brick buildings, dozens of protesters waved such signs as, "Impeach Bush" and "Library or Lie-Bury?"

"We're here to hold up a big mirror to him to show the world that we have not forgotten the wrongs he committed," said Gerry Fonseca, a Vietnam veteran who traveled from Eureka Springs, Ark. Mr. Fonseca said Mr. Bush should be held accountable for the Iraq invasion and for approving the use of waterboarding on prisoners, which Mr. Fonseca called war crimes.

Universities and cities often angle to be the site of presidential libraries—part of a national network of repositories to hold records of past presidencies. Besides their prestige, they draw scholars and visitors to museums often built alongside.

Texas will have three presidential libraries, the most of any U.S. state. Texas A&M houses the George Bush PTexas will now residential Library and Museum, and the University of Texas at Austin is home to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum.

Still, the Bush Center, which has been in the works for almost a decade, has sparked controversy here in the past. While university officials welcomed the presidential library and the archive of materials, some professors complained that the university's independence would be threatened by the Bush Institute, fearing that it would be too partisan in its research.

Officials at his center say they will make all documents from the presidency, which include more than 200 million emails, available so that scholars and historians can reach their own conclusions.

"I'm only hoping that it does provide in as unbiased a way as possible an opportunity for our students to learn the truth about the eight years of his presidency," said Rick Halperin, head of the Embrey Human Rights Program at SMU.

Sidney Milkis, a presidential scholar at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, said strong disagreements over Mr. Bush's legacy make sense, because the impact of his most important policy decisions, such as the war in Iraq and the bail-out of the banking sector, are still unknowns.

"As time passes, we'll have a clearer idea about the consequences of those two policies and that's what's going to settle President Bush's place in history," Mr. Milkis said.

A few former residents of the Center's 23-acre site on the edge of campus complained about being forced out to make space for the complex, and people who live close to the project continue to voice concerns about traffic, parking and safety.

The center, a $137 million, three-story 226,565 square-foot building covered in Texas limestone and solar panels, is scheduled to be finished by 2013. The understated, contemporary building, which Mrs. Bush has said is meant to be a showcase but not a monument to her husband's presidency, was designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. It will include a 67-foot-high tower capped with glass to be called Freedom Hall

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