Obama, former presidents rally around George W. Bush as library opens

Thu Apr 25, 2013 6:06pm EDT
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By Steve Holland

DALLAS (Reuters) - George W. Bush basked in warm praise from President Barack Obama and three fellow former U.S. presidents on Thursday as Bush's library was dedicated in a ceremony that emphasized his resolute response to terrorism while skirting controversies such as his decision to invade Iraq.

Obama and fellow Democrats Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, along with Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, came together on the campus of Southern Methodist University to honor one of their own. At the end of the hour-long ceremony, Bush - who has largely avoided public life since leaving Washington in January 2009 - choked back tears as he concluded his remarks.

Obama captured the feeling of the day when he indicated that Bush's political friends and foes both view the former president as genuine.

"To know the man is to like the man, because he's comfortable in his own skin," Obama said. "He takes his job seriously, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. He's a good man."

Bush, a Republican, had historically low popularity ratings for a U.S. president - about 33 percent - when he left office.

Although most Americans give him credit him for his steadfast response to the September 11, 2001, attacks, many opposed his decision to go war against Iraq on what turned out to be a false claim that Saddam Hussein's regime was stockpiling biological and chemical weapons. By the end of Bush's term, a once-vibrant economy was collapsing, fueling an image of an administration gone awry.

But time away from the spotlight has helped Bush in the eyes of many Americans. In the days leading up to the dedication of his library and museum, a Washington Post-ABC News poll indicated that Bush's approval rating was 47 percent, about equal to Obama's.

In his speech to an audience that organizers estimated at 10,000 people, Bush alluded to the difficult choices he faced as president, which is a theme that runs through several of the library's exhibits.   Continued...

Former U.S. President George W. Bush (2nd R) gives a thumbs up to the audience alongside former first lady Laura Bush (R), during a dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, April 25, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed