DALLAS (BP) — An affair that drew all five living American presidents to Dallas on Thursday (April 25) opened and closed in prayers referencing the prophet Micah’s call “to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God” and success that “yet ultimately rests in Your providential care.”
And as an estimated 10,000 people waited for George W. Bush to speak during the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the Southern Methodist University campus, a choir sang the words “as He died to make men holy let us die to make men free” in a rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Such spiritual language accented the dedication of the library named for a president who counted himself among the Christian evangelicals who so strongly supported him.
Dignitaries including world leaders, senators and congressmen and a large media contingent attended the invitation-only outdoor event on a still, sunny day with temperatures in the 60s.
The 43rd president was honored by the former presidents, including his father, and by President Obama, who echoed President Bill Clinton in stating that despite political differences “to know the man is to like the man because he is comfortable in his own skin.”
Obama recalled that one of the first things he did the day he took office was read a handwritten note from Bush that he had left for Obama in an Oval Office desk. Obama said the note demonstrated Bush’s “compassion and his generosity. For he knew that I would come to learn what he had learned: Being president above all is a humbling job.”
Obama also spoke of the weight of the presidency, lauding Bush for his resolve and leadership after 9/11 and recalling Bush’s speaking through a bullhorn to hurting New Yorkers, “promising justice to those who sought to destroy our way of life.”
The president used the occasion to press for immigration reform as he praised Bush’s efforts on the issue while in office. Obama told the crowd that “if we [pass a reform bill] it will be in large part thanks to the hard work of President George W. Bush.”
Obama mentioned a note President Kennedy’s secretary found that JFK had written after negotiating with Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev. It stated, “I know there is a God and I see a storm coming. If he has a place for me I believe I am ready.”
“No one can be completely ready for this office,” Obama said, “but America needs leaders who are willing to face the storm head–on, even as they pray to God for strength and wisdom so they can do what they believe is right. That’s what leaders with whom I share this stage have all done. That’s what President George W. Bush chose to do.”
Former president Jimmy Carter praised Bush’s commitment to development and peace in Africa. Carter told the crowd how that early in Bush’s presidency, Bush had promised to give Carter input in achieving peace in the bloody, war-torn Sudan.
“President Bush kept his promise,” Carter recalled, noting how Bush called him back to the White House three weeks later to discuss a strategy.
In 2005, thanks to Bush’s efforts, the 21-year civil war ended with a peace treaty, Carter said. He also praised Bush for increasing development aid to Africa to combat AIDS and other problems.
Bill Clinton, whom Bush succeeded, praised Bush’s inclusion of the former presidents as advisers when major decisions were faced. During Bush’s second term, Clinton said the two talked politics on numerous occasions.
Clinton said the two men “do a lot of speeches together” and Clinton said he finds it enjoyable to debate his successor, largely because Bush is likeable. Being able to debate differences “is an important part of a free society,” Clinton said.
The elder Bush, sitting in a wheelchair, spoke only briefly but to loud applause, noting the “beautiful day in Dallas” to honor his oldest son. “Glad to be here. God bless America and thank you very much.”
In addressing the crowd, the younger Bush thanked his peers and especially President Obama for attending. “Unlike the other presidents here, he actually has a job,” Bush quipped.
Reflecting on his political career, Bush said the job of a public servant is “not to fulfill personal ambition” despite poll numbers or trends. “But in the end, leaders are defined by the convictions they hold. My deepest conviction, the guiding principle of the administration, is that the United States of America must strive to expand the reach of freedom,” he said to applause.
“I believe that freedom is a gift from God and the hope of every human heart. Freedom inspired our founders and preserved our union through civil war and the secured promise of civil rights,” Bush said. “Freedom sustains dissidents bound by chains, believers huddled in underground churches and voters who risk their lives to cast ballots. Freedom unleashes creativity, replaces poverty with prosperity. And ultimately, freedom lights the path to peace.”
Such freedom “brings responsibility” and thrives “when neighbors help neighbors and when the strong protect the weak,” Bush said.
Bush said visitors to the library “will find that we stayed true to our convictions.”
Bush said he has an “unshakable faith in our country.” Whatever the challenge, he said with a cracking voice as tears formed in his eyes, “I will always believe our nation’s best days lie ahead. God bless.”
Jerry Pierce is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, online at www.TexanOnline.net .