DALLAS -- Led by the only people who really understand what it means to sit in the Oval Office, the nation commemorated the presidential administration of George W. Bush on Thursday at the dedication of the library, museum and policy center that bears his name.
In the bright Texas sunshine, President Obama led four former presidents and an estimated 8,000 people in attendance at Southern Methodist University, home of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
“This is a Texas-sized party,” Obama told the crowd that included foreign dignitaries, U.S. governors and about 2,500 alumni of the administration of the nation’s 43rd president.
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Obama described being president as a pretty exclusive club, adding it was also like a support group for those who have held an incredibly difficult job. “It's impossible to truly understand the nature of the job until it's yours,” he said.
“Nobody 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 they can do what they believe is right,” Obama said. “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 am honored to be part of today’s celebration.
“Mr. President, for your service, for your courage for your sense of humor and most of all for your love of country, thank you very much,” Obama said to Bush.
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The celebrants included former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn; and Bush’s parents, former President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush.
Speaking to his father, who was in a wheelchair, Bush said of the 41st president and patriarch of the political family: “Forty-one, it is awesome you are here today.”
The elder Bush, who will be 89 in June and was recently hospitalized for bronchitis, appeared weak but gave thanks in his brief comments that were greeted with applause. With his son’s help, the elder Bush then stood to more applause, an ovation that was almost as long as his speech.
“Oh, happy day,” the younger Bush said at the beginning of his comments, in which he spoke of rallying the nation after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. By the end of his speech, Bush was wiping away tears.
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“I dedicate this library with an unshakable faith in the future of our country,” Bush said, noting 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.”
The dedication marked the first time since January 2009 that all five living presidents convened in one spot.
The $250-million, 23-acre complex includes the presidential library and museum and the George W. Bush Institute, a venue for public policy debates.
The Clintons -- the other political dynasty in attendance -- were well received by the mainly Republican audience. Bill Clinton won the crowd over with a joke-filled speech that noted that Bush had become a painter.
But Clinton closed on a serious note:. “Debate and difference is an important part of every free society,” Clinton said.
Carter praised Bush for expanding aid to parts of Africa.
“Mr. President let me say that I am filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude for you about the great contributions you've made to the most needy people on Earth,” Carter said.
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Fiske reported from Dallas and Muskal from Los Angeles.