With the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library in Dallas yesterday, the commentary has renewed about the failures of the Bush presidency. Historians ponder whether history will be kinder to Bush than his contemporaries, some of whom have called him possibly the worst president in U.S. history.
“The perspective of history will treat Bush better than Bush is being treated now,” former GOP Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who served as House speaker for much of Bush’s tenure, told NPR.
But Kevin Sullivan, who served as White House communications director during Bush’s second term, said his former boss doesn’t seem to care.
“I don’t think he really cares much at all, to be honest with you,” Sullivan said. “I think he cares very little about where his approval rating stands today, compared to 2005 or 2008.”
In his speech at the dedication of the $250 million library on the campus of Southern Methodist University, President Obama avoided mentioning the Iraq War—a war that many thought helped put him in office when he used it as a hammer against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary.
Joining the four former presidents — Bush, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton — on the stage, Obama used words like “generosity,” “strength” and “compassion” to describe Bush.
“No one can be completely ready for this office. But America needs leaders who are willing to face the storm head on, even as they pray for God’s strength and wisdom so that they can do what they believe is right,” Obama said. “And that’s what the leaders with whom I share this stage have all done. That’s what President George W. Bush chose to do. That’s why I’m honored to be part of today’s celebration.”
Bush himself was moved to tears during his short speech, when he expressed his confidence in the future of America.
Emily Sheketoff, who directs the Washington office of the American Library Association, said Bush will have make more documents available if he is going to change the assessment of historians.
“The only way history is going to change its judgment of him is if the information is available,” she said to NPR. “If he wants to rehabilitate his reputation, he’s going to need to be a lot more open and expansive on why he did certain things.”
Clinton joked at the ceremony that the Bush library “was the latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history.”
Comedy Central talk show host Jon Stewart could barely contain his glee at having Bush back on stage to ridicule once again. Stewart called the Bush library “the Hard Rock Café of catastrophic policy decisions.”