President George W. Bush laughs during President Clinton's speech… (Kevork Djansezian / Getty…)
DALLAS -- When five presidents assembled at Southern Methodist University on Thursday for the dedication of George W. Bush's presidential center they traded wit and smiles, earning approval from the conservative crowd.
Bill Clinton joked about getting so chummy with the Bushes, he'd become the black sheep of the family.
“A couple times a year George would call me to talk politics, and when Laura told me all the records were digitized, a chill ran down my spine,” he said to laughter.
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But along with humor, there were serious moments too.
President Carter recalled being one of the few Democrats willing to show up at Bush's inauguration in 2000, and how Bush said to call on him if there was ever anything he could do for Carter. When Carter called upon Bush to help broker peace in Sudan, the new president followed through.
“I’m filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude,” Carter said.
George W. Bush even remarked on their goodwill.
"Alexander Hamilton once worried about former presidents wandering among the people like discontented ghosts," he said. "Actually, I think we seem pretty happy."
The crowd of about 10,000 invited guests agreed, and applauded the presidents' show of camaraderie.
“They made me laugh — I have tears in my eyes,” said retired Houston Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo, adding that he had worked with all the presidents in attendance on humanitarian work in Africa, and had been mentioned by Bush during one of his State of the Union addresses. “It gives us a different impression. Sometimes we think of our former presidents in their own little rooms, not listening to each other.”
Mutombo, originally from Congo, said he appreciated George W. Bush’s efforts to fight AIDS in Africa, and also to help broker peace in Sudan.
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The crowd seemed particularly impressed by Bush's address, which was humorous and personal. “I think it will inspire people — one of his best speeches ever,” said Annette Strake of Houston, a Bush family friend. Her husband, George Strake, former Texas secretary of state, called the celebration “a rare coming together of political philosophies.”
But Stephen Boyd, 22, was bothered by President Obama’s attempt to draw up bipartisan support proposed immigration legislation, saying Obama should have “stuck with accolades.”
The SMU junior from nearby Richardson was in fourth grade during the Sept. 11 attacks, and came of age during the George W. Bush administration.
“He represents Texas to me, but as a nation, I think he represents real leadership,” said the young Republican, who wore his black cowboy hat to the ceremony. “He was a steadfast leader: once he decided something, he stuck to it. He’s very much a statesman.”
And how will history judge the 43rd president?
“That depends on who’s writing it,” Boyd said.
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