LIVE: George W. Bush, misty-eyed, reaffirms faith in U.S. at library dedication

DALLAS -- Wiping away a tear, former President George W. Bush on Thursday dedicated the library, museum and policy center that bear his name.

“Oh, happy day,” Bush told the crowd of about 8,000 in the bright Texas sunshine at the campus of Southern Methodist University, home of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. He recited his administration’s successes, especially in rallying the nation after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I dedicate this library with an unshakable faith in the future of our country,” Bush said, noting that he had “the honor of a lifetime to lead a country as brave and as noble as the United States. Whatever challenges come before us, I will always believe our nation’s best days lie ahead. God bless.”


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By the end of his comments, Bush had wiped away a few tears.

Earlier, President Obama praised Bush.

“Mr. President for your service, for your courage for your sense of humor and most of all for your love of country,” Obama said to Bush, “thank you very much.”

George W. Bush in spotlight as five presidents gather for library dedication | 8:42 a.m.

DALLAS -- Five current and former U.S. presidents put aside their political differences and gathered here on Thursday for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

In celebration of the nation’s 43rd president, the living chief executives stood side by side at the start of the ceremony. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the nation, sat in a wheelchair.

Then the group moved to their seats for the invocation and pledge of allegiance. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice introduced dignitaries including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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“Welcome everyone,” former First Lady Laura Bush greeted the crowd in the bright Texas sunshine. “Welcome to all of our friends and family who joined us today.”

Laura Bush greeted President Obama and his wife, Michelle, and the former presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their spouses, and her father-in-law and mother-in-law.

For George W. Bush, now 66, the dedication of the 23-acre complex, housing the presidential library, museum and policy institute, is a coming-out party of sorts as the former chief executive has stayed in the background in recent years.

George W. Bush library opening to draw four former presidents | 7:22 a.m.

DALLAS -- Members of George W. Bush’s administration gathered at Southern Methodist University in anticipation of the dedication of the former president’s library, a ceremony which President Obama and all four living former presidents are expected to attend.

Also in attendance will be NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former heads of state including former Prime Ministers Tony Blair of Britain, Ehud Olmert of Israel and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy as well as Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who leads the advisory board of the George W. Bush Institute, is also expected to speak.

Former Bush chiefs of staff Andrew Card and Joshua Bolten arrived in the predawn hours after spending the night at a gathering of former White House staff at the Katy Trail Ice House.

Card called the celebration “a phenomenal reunion” that “generates a flood of fantastic memories.”

The president and First Lady Michelle Obama arrived in Dallas on Wednesday.

“I have a terrific relationship with a number of our successors,” Bolten said. “While we have different ideologies, we’ve been in their shoes and we wish them well.”

Card added, “We are truly empathetic for the burden they carry. Too many people look at the presidency as a partisan seat, and it’s not. It’s a burden, and we know from seeing it up close what a lonely and highly personal burden it can be, making a decision and carrying the consequences.”

Card and Bolten called Bush a “courageous leader” who stood by his decisions and said they hoped that, through the museum, the public would get a better understanding of the challenges he faced.

“I hope people come away with a recognition that this wasn’t a president who chased popularity,” Bolten said, although Bush has fared better in the polls of late.

More than 8,000 are expected to attend the dedication of the $250-million facility, the 13th presidential library operated by the National Archives. The building houses 43,000 artifacts, 70 million pages of paper records and 200 million emails, the largest digital archive of any presidential library.

Tickets will be $16 when it opens to the public May 1.

Connie and Alan Herbert, who also attended the library groundbreaking, traveled to Dallas from Chicago to attend the event.

“I am a huge George W. Bush fan,” said Connie Herbert, adding that the library “is not about him, it’s about his presidency.”

Alan Herbert, who retired from running a medical device company, said the event may increase Bush’s popularity.

“Polls show it already has increased. I think most people admire the fact that he hasn’t criticized Obama -- he’s taking the high road,” Herbert said.

The couple said they were also excited to see other dignitaries.

“It’s not often you get to see all five presidents,” he said, noting the event highlights the civility of American politics in which “there’s a higher calling -- they come together at times like this.”

Protesters were expected on the periphery of the dedication Thursday, but were not visible from the library. Many of those filing onto campus were longtime Bush fans, including Texans sporting gold “W” lapel pins.

“He served the people of Texas well,” said Rick Witherspoon of Dallas, who works in the food industry and brought his wife, Evelyn, to honor both George and former First Lady Laura Bush.

“His whole family is dedicated to public service,” Witherspoon said, “The United States is very lucky to have people of their caliber.”