Since leaving office four years ago, George W. Bush only seems to make headlines because of the fact that he’s not doing anything worthy of headlines. Aside from a few blurbs here and there about his hobbies, the ex-president has largely avoided the scalding gaze of the public eye. This week he will briefly step back into the spotlight when he dedicates the new George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.
On April 25, Bush and the former first lady will dedicate the $250 million center on the campus of the Southern Methodist University. They will host President Obama and Michelle Obama, as well as ex-presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and their wives at the dedication ceremony. The event is invitation-only, with a guestlist that includes dignitaries, leaders, celebrities, and media from around the world, wrote Anna M. Tinsley for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The three-story, 226,565-square-foot complex will include a library, museum, public policy institute, the Bush foundation, and a 15-acre park, which will honor Bush’s two terms as president. Like Bush, the building itself is “plain spoken and unpretentious,” wrote Bill McKenzie for the Dallas Morning News. Though the building contains impressive high-tech exhibits and an environmentally-friendly LEED platinum rating, the edifice is “more West Texas than Manhattan,” wrote McKenzie. Bush wanted the building to be welcoming and not overpowering to visitors.
When the center opens to the public on May 1, visitors will experience a walking history of W’s time in the Oval Office. The museum isn’t aimed at sugarcoating Bush’s tumultuous presidency, but attempts to accurately recreate the circumstances surrounding the biggest milestones—from the “hanging chad” Florida voting debacle of 2000 to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan to Hurricane Katrina to the economic collapse and financial bailouts of his final years in office. A “Decision Points Theater,” filled with interactive screens full of data, puts visitors in W’s shoes to see how they would have handled the many decisions that defined his presidency, according to the Daily Mail. This detailed photo tour will lead you through the highlights of the Bush complex.
At this point in history, speaking of the W presidency as controversial is beyond banal. For most of his eight years in the White House, the man was a human lightning rod for conflicting public opinion. The new Bush Center may or may not improve the public’s perception of the 43rd president, but it seems that, in his retirement years, time has already started that mellowing process.
A recent poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News shows that the divide between Bush’s diehard supporters and detractors is generally trending toward middle ground. Though W bottomed out with a disapproval rating exceeding 70 percent in his final years in office, his proponents have become less fervent, with 47 percent approving of his presidency, and his antagonists have chilled out, with 50 percent disapproving. This is the closest convergence of opinion that Bush has experienced since public disapproval overtook public approval in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
As Gary Langer at ABC News points out, it’s important to remember that W’s presidency wasn’t all lows, but a wild fluctuation of support and disdain. Although he left office with an approval rating matching that of disgraced president Nixon, at one point in his first term he achieved the highest national approval of any president in the post-WWII era. In October 2001, after his response to the 9/11 attacks, Bush received an approval rating of 92 percent. He never approached that peak again. With the quagmire of the Iraq war, Katrina, and a tanking economy, the 43rd president’s approval rating trended ever downward until he left office in January 2009.
Bush began his presidency hell-bent on uniting the country, stating that “I’m a uniter, not a divider” throughout his first campaign. But, as the AP recently wrote, circumstances and his performance ended up dividing the country. Since his stepping down, however, Americans appear to be warming (or cooling) in their polarized views of Bush’s presidency. Now that time has allowed Americans to view his eight years in the White House in the generous light of hindsight, we seem to be nearing some new middle ground of opinion. The new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum invites all Americans to revisit those years, ponder the facts and circumstances, and decide for themselves how history should judge the presidential Texan.