George ‘Dubya’ Bush writes his version of history with launch of presidential library

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The former president makes a comeback – but is America ready to reconsider his legacy?

Washington

Not long ago he divided Americans as few others have, but since leaving office he has all but vanished from view. On Thursday, however, George W Bush takes his first steps on what might even be the road to rehabilitation, with a mini-blitz of television interviews and the dedication of his presidential library in Texas.

The ceremony to launch the $250m library, built on the grounds of Southern Methodist University in Dallas – his wife Laura’s alma mater – will be a rare reunion of arguably the world’s most exclusive club of living US presidents and former presidents, linked by a common experience that transcends party affiliation.

All five members will be present: Barack Obama, Bush father and son, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. So too will Tony Blair, whose unswerving support of the US during the Iraq war saw detractors dub him “Bush’s Poodle”.

Above all, however, the occasion marks the younger Bush’s re-emergence from the shadows. Most presidents maintain a low profile immediately after leaving office, if only to avoid muddying the waters for their successor. But the avoidance of the limelight by “43” has been near-total.

True, he did publish a virtually obligatory presidential memoir in 2010, entitled Decision Points. He now gives some 60 or 70 speeches a year, aides say. But these lucrative appearances, usually to sympathetic conservative or business audiences, have been off the record. He was considered so politically toxic by his party that he did not appear in person at the last two Republican nominating conventions.

Instead he has lived quietly in Dallas and at his Texas ranch, appearing in public only at the game of baseball’s Texas Rangers, of whom he was once managing partner, and – it recently emerged – dedicating himself to the contemplative hobby of painting. For a man known for impatience and fidgetiness, it is an improbable pastime.

All this, however, is about to change, as the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum opens its doors, the 13th of the official such libraries under the aegis of the federal government, covering administrations dating back to Herbert Hoover. In fact Mr Bush’s is not just a museum and a library of his papers for scholars to consult, but a public policy centre too, in the shape of the George W Bush Institute, whose aims include promoting economic growth, education reform and freedom around the world.

The kick-off includes major network TV interviews by Mr Bush, some jointly with his wife, and a session with Parade, the biggest circulation magazine in the US with a claimed readership of 60 million. In it, Mr Bush was asked about a possible candidacy by his brother Jeb, and whether the country was ready for another Bush in the White House.

“That’s for Jeb to figure out,” he answered with trademark directness. “I would hope that people would judge [him]... on his merits and his track record... I hope he will run.”

Presidents tend to be looked on more kindly by history than during their time in office, and “43” is already no exception. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll puts his approval rating at 47 per cent, well up on the 33 per cent when he left Washington.

What’s in the library…

The dinners The library contains records of state events, including menus and papers from leaders’ visits to the White House and the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Of the Blairs’ first trip in April 2002, Laura writes: “That spring, Cherie Blair got her wish, a visit to our ranch in Crawford. After dinner, Tony Blair borrowed a guitar and strummed and sang along with the San Antonio band Daddy Rabbit. During the day, we braved the pouring rain to drive across the rugged grounds in George’s pick-up.”

The disaster One of the biggest individual items on display in the 14,000 sq ft museum is a section of the rusted, twisted structure of the World Trade Centre, pictured right. The museum also contains the megaphone the President used to address rescuers when he visited Ground Zero on 14 September, with which he pledged that voices calling for justice from across America would be heard.

The disputed election One of the more controversial exhibits is a hanging chad, one of the partially spoilt ballot papers from the 2000 presidential election, pictured top right. The vote in Florida was so tight that disputed ballot papers, particularly those where the voter had not quite perforated the paper correctly, suddenly became hugely significant. The US Supreme Court handed Bush the keys to the White House after stopping a recount of votes, thereby securing his victory in the electoral college.

The decisions Criticised for his decision-making in office, a recent poll suggests America is now looking more favourably on the Bush legacy. An interactive exhibit allows visitors to put themselves in the President’s shoes, using the advice he was given to decide whether to invade Iraq, deploy federal forces to New Orleans after Katrina, and bail out Wall Street or let the banks fail.

… and what isn’t

The book There is plenty of poignant memorabilia from September 11, 2001, but no copy of The Pet Goat, the book being read to a class of children at the Emma E Booker school in Sarasota County, Florida, when Mr Bush was told of the attacks on the Twin Towers.

The paintings Mr Bush has become an avid painter since he left office and has a fondness for depicting dogs. Despite praise from his art teacher, none of his work will be on show in Dallas.

The cigars Laura Bush admits that her husband, like Barack Obama during his first term, was a smoker at the White House, preferring cigars to Mr Obama’s cigarettes. Again like Mr Obama, Mr Bush has reportedly given up.

The WMD evidence The Iraq section of the museum states that “no stockpiles of WMD were found”, along with the rejoinder: “Post-invasion inspections confirmed that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to resume production.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
News
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teachers needed in Ely

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teacher needed in the Ely ar...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: KS2 Teacher needed in Peterborough a...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£70 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Learning Support Assistants n...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain