EDITORIALS/'Freedom is a gift from God'
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 1:00 AM
The rare harmony and pomp of five American Presidents at the dedication of former President George W. Bush's library at Southern Methodist University last Thursday was enough to make any American well up.
Jimmy Carter praised George W. Bush's attention to Africa. Bill Clinton joked about his art work. President Barack Obama saluted his attempt to change immigration laws. And George H.W. Bush simply thanked the crowd for honoring his son.
At times reflective, at others amusing, the current and former presidents took to the stage in a rare joint appearance to salute a member of their exclusive club.
Bush responded with praise for the men and women of his administration, offering a tribute to freedom, ending his remarks emotionally, saying America's best days lie ahead.
In addition, members of the Eisenhower, Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan families were represented.
In tribute, following are summaries of each of the living Presidents' remarks:
Former President Jimmy Carter
Carter, whose Carter Center works to resolve conflicts in strife-torn regions of the world, commended Bush for his role in helping secure peace between North and South Sudan in 2005 and for expanding foreign aid to the nations 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,' he said.
Former President George H.W. Bush
The elder Bush, the nation's 41st president, has been hospitalized recently for bronchitis and spoke for just a brief minute while seated, thanking guests for coming out to support his oldest son. Attendees rose from their seats, cheering, when the father briefly rose from his seat.
"Too long?' he appeared to say with a grin to his son. George W. Bush laughed.
Former President Bill Clinton
From the start, Clinton was the entertainer. He said Bush's new presidential library was the "latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history.'
He said he had spent so much time working with George H.W. Bush in the aftermath of the devastating Asian tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 that people joked he was getting so close to the Bush family that "I had become the black sheep son.'
He referred to Bush's new artistic pursuits, which include self-portraits in the shower and in a bathtub, and said he even considered asking Bush to do a portrait of him, but then demurred. "Those bathroom sketches were wonderful, but at my age I think I should keep my suit on,' he said.
President Barack Obama
Obama saved special praise for Bush's role in 2006 and 2007 when he unsuccessfully sought to undertake an overhaul of immigration law, an effort Obama is now pursuing with Congress.
"Seven years ago President Bush restarted an important conversation by speaking to the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,' Obama said. If an immigration overhaul succeeds this year, Obama said, "it will be in large part thanks for the hard work of President George W. Bush.'
Obama, who has often disparaged Bush's foreign and economic policies, spoke in personal terms about his predecessor. "To know the man is to like the man, because he's comfortable in his own skin.'
President George W. Bush
Bush offered a special welcome to former Vice President Dick Cheney, saying he "served with loyalty, principle and strength. Proud to call you friend."
He noted that this is the first time in history that parents have seen their son's presidential library. "Mother,' he said. "I promise to keep my area clean.'
He said the deepest conviction that drove his presidency is the belief that the United States "must strive to expand the reach of freedom.'
"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 secured the promise of civil rights. Freedom sustains dissidents bound by chains, believers huddled in underground churches and voters who risk their lives to cast their ballots. Freedom unleashes creativity, rewards innovation and replaces poverty with prosperity. And ultimately, freedom lights the path to peace.'
"One of the benefits of freedom is that people can disagree,' he added. "It's fair to say I created plenty of opportunities to exercise that right.' He went on to say in closing:
"Franklin Roosevelt once described the dedication of a library as an act of faith. I dedicate this library with an unshakable faith in the future of our country. It was 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."