Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter saluted the legacy of President George W. Bush Thursday, at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas.
All five living presidents were in attendance at the event, and largely shelved partisan politics to praise President Bush’s character and work to promote global health. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), was repeatedly singled out for emphatic praise.
President Bush “increased his assistance to Africa until the time he went into office to more than $90 billion. That’s an increase of 640 percent,” Carter noted during his speech. “That is something that is dear to my heart and I know means a lot to millions of people in Africa. I am filled with admiration for you and deep gratitude for you.”
Clinton concurred, saying that no Democratic president could have passed PEPFAR through Congress, and Obama praised “the compassion that [Bush] showed by leading the global fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria, helping to save millions of lives.”
President Obama injected some domestic politics into his speech, praising the 43rd president for forming a bipartisan coalition in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to reform America’s immigration system.
“Now seven years ago, President Bush restarted an important conversation by speaking with the American people about our history as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” Obama said. “And even though comprehensive immigration reform has taken a little longer than any of us expected, I am hopeful that this year, with the help of Speaker Boehner and some of the senators and members of Congress who are here today, that we bring it home for our families, and our economy, and our security, and for this incredible country that we love.”
“And if we do that,” he added, “it will be in large part thanks to all the hard work of President George W. Bush.”
With the exception of immigration reform, Obama mostly declined to offer judgement on Bush’s governing record. Instead, he praised Bush’s character, calling him “a good man.”
“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.
Clinton also praised Bush’s character, in a humor-laced speech that often resembled a roast more than a dedication. Clinton began by musing that the library is the “latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history,” and went on to crack jokes about Bush’s paintings, his “disarmingly direct” nature, and the fact that Bush may have recorded some of their conversations about politics during his time in office.
“Dear God, I hope there’s no record of those conversations in this vast and beautiful building,” Clinton said to laughter.