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Presidential Libraries Inspire Design Of George W. Bush Center


This does not happen very often. This morning all five living presidents, past and present, are in the same place at the same time.

The occasion is the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University.


The design committee for this presidential library had a former librarian as its chairperson, former First Lady Laura Bush. She told our colleague David Greene she studied the libraries of presidents past.

LAURA BUSH: Lyndon Johnson's library is on the campus of the University of Texas, and I was a student there when President Johnson died. Then, of course, I've been to the Reagan Library several times. And then George and I were both at the dedication at the President Bush number 41's library and President Clinton's library.


Hearing you name these other presidents, I mean Democrats, Republicans and, of course, all the living presidents are going to be there for that event. I mean, given the political climate we've been in, this feels like kind of a cool moment where you forget about politics briefly, at least.

BUSH: Well, it really is. It's a, you know, one of the occasions that all of the presidents get together for. You know, it's something really terrific about our country that our presidents do really stay friends, and I do think it's a great example for our country and then for the world as well.

GREENE: Your husband's legacy is still divisive, it's up for debate. And I'm wondering in what way does the library, or should we see the library, as an effort to change that?

BUSH: Well, I don't think the library was built to change that. The point is to talk about the history of our country through the eyes of the president. And the museum, when you visit it, starts off with all the things we thought we would be working on - education reform, tax cuts on the economy, the economic issues, the T-ball at the White House - which started that summer with George's baseball collection - started the summer of 2001, the National Book Festival, which was on September 8th, 2001 that I founded, our first State Dinner, which was September 6th...


BUSH: ...for Mexico, and then you turn the corner and there's the huge beam from the World Trade Center standing the middle of, sort of, a memorial to everyone who died on September 11th.

GREENE: Well, Mrs. Bush, one of the parts of the museum lets visitors actually simulate some of the decisions that your husband faced.

BUSH: That's right. There's Decision Points Theater, where you can go in and every person has a screen in front of them. And there are four decisions that are discussed: entering Iraq, the surge in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the economic downturn at the end of the administration. If you come to one of these screens you get the information that the president had, you get the advice that came from a number of different sources, the types of briefings that the president would get. And then people can vote and decide what decision they would've made, and then George comes on the screen and talks about the decision he made and why he made it.

GREENE: Your husband has kept a pretty low profile since leaving office. But one thing that's gotten some attention recently is his new hobby, painting.


GREENE: How did that come about?

BUSH: Well, he was looking for a pastime and he got an app on his iPad where he could draw pictures. He communicated with me if I was on the road, and with Barbara and Jenna, with funny drawings.

GREENE: He's drawing the pictures to send you while you're out there on the road?

BUSH: Yeah. Like he would draw a picture of himself in bed with Barney and the cat.

GREENE: Did you see a burgeoning artist or did you think he needed some work?

BUSH: Well, we did think they were really pretty good. I mean we thought they had a lot of personality and a lot of action. And then he was looking for something to do and he chatted with John Lewis Gaddis, who is a presidential historian, and he said why don't you read Churchill's book "Painting as a Pastime," so he works at painting and paints for a few hours every day.

GREENE: Are we going to see any of the paintings in the museum?

BUSH: No. None of the paintings are in the museum now, but maybe if he gets better than we can use it.

GREENE: If he gets better at it.

BUSH: Yeah. Sometime.


GREENE: Well, the other big news, Mrs. Bush, you and your husband recently became grandparents.

BUSH: That's the really big news. We're so thrilled.

GREENE: Congratulations on being a grandma. And best of luck and enjoy all the events around the museum opening.

BUSH: OK. Great. Thanks so much.


MONTAGNE: Former First Lady Laura Bush talking with David Greene.

And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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