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DALLAS — George W. Bush shed a sentimental tear. Barack Obama mused about the burdens of the office. Bill Clinton dished out wisecracks. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush chimed in, too, on a rare day of harmony at the dedication of the younger Bush’s presidential library that glossed over the hard edges and partisan divides of five presidencies spanning more than three tumultuous decades.
“To know the man is to like the man,” Obama declared of his Republican predecessor, speaking Thursday before a crowd of 10,000 at an event that had the feel of a class reunion for the partisans who had powered the Bush administration from 2001 to 2009. Bush, 66, said he was guided throughout his presidency by a determination “to expand the reach of freedom.”
“It wasn’t always easy, and it certainly wasn’t always popular.”
It was a day for family and sentimentality, Bush choking up with emotion at the conclusion of his remarks.
The 43rd president singled out his 88-year-old father, another ex-president, to tell him: “41, it is awesome that you are here today.”
The elder Bush spoke for less than a minute from his wheelchair, then turned to his son and quipped, “Too long?” He has a form of Parkinson’s disease and has been hospitalized recently for bronchitis.
Just as the public tends to view presidents more kindly once they’ve left office, ex-presidents, too, tend to soften their judgments — or at least their public comments — with time.
Obama said the living presidents make up an exclusive club — but it’s more like a support group for the men who have held the position.
“No matter how much you may think you are ready to assume the office of the presidency, it’s impossible to truly understand the nature of the job until it’s yours,” Obama said. “And that’s why every president gains a greater appreciation for all of those who served before them.”
The presidential center at Southern Methodist University includes a library, museum and policy institute. It contains more than 70 million pages of paper records, 200 million emails, 4 million digital photos and 43,000 artifacts. Bush’s library will feature the largest digital holdings of any of the 13 presidential libraries under the auspices of the National Archives and Records Administration.
A full-scale replica of the Oval Office as it looked during Bush’s tenure sits on the campus, as does a piece of steel from the World Trade Center and the bullhorn that Bush used to punctuate the chaos at ground zero three days after 9/11. In the museum, visitors can gaze at a container of chads — the remnants of the famous Florida punch card ballots that played a pivotal role in the contested 2000 election that sent Bush to Washington.
Baylor and Southern Methodist University were the final universities competing for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in 2008. Six universities and one city, Arlington, initially submitted proposals to house the library.
The universities that submitted proposals were Baylor, SMU, Texas Tech University, the University of Dallas, the University of Texas System and Midland College.
During the selection process, Texas Tech and Midland College joined forces to become the West Texas Coalition.
These bids were submitted after Bush’s reelection in 2004.
Baylor’s proposal highlighted the short distance between the university and the Bushs’ ranch in Crawford.
In 2005, the White House said the final four universities in the running to be the location of the presidential library were SMU, Baylor, the University of Dallas and the West Texas Coalition.
Representatives from these groups went to Washington, D.C. to present their proposals to the steering committee. Soon after, the West Texas Coalition was eliminated as a potential location for the library.
In 2006, SMU announced that it had been selected to enter the next phase, as reported by the Daily Campus, SMU’s student-run newspaper. This involved in an exclusive year-long discussion with the selection committee. No other university entered this phase.
About a week after this announcement, the University of Dallas removed its proposal from consideration. This left only two universities competing for the library, Baylor and SMU.
On Feb. 22, 2008, SMU officially became the future site of the presidential library, as reported by the Lariat.
Construction on the library began Nov. 16, 2010.
Laura Bush led the library’s design committee, officials said, with a keen eye toward ensuring that the family’s Texas roots were conspicuously reflected. Architects used local materials, including Texas Cordova cream limestone and trees from the central part of the state, in its construction.