Yesterday, President Bush sat down with the Dallas Morning News for a 75-minute exit interview in which the paper described Bush as “sounding both wistful and a bit relieved that soon, the burdens will fall to the next president.” According to the Morning News, Bush said he is “eager for a more carefree life in Dallas.”
As part of that carefree life, Bush will be focused on his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which will be accompanied by a think tank, or “Freedom Institute,” that will be independent of academic governance from SMU. Despite that lack of oversight, Bush assured the Morning News that the institute “won’t be used to promote a whitewashed perspective on his presidency”:
“This is not going to be a ‘George Bush is a Wonderful Person Center,’ or the ‘Center for Republican Party Campaign Tactics,’” Bush said. “It’s going to be a place of debate, thought, writing, lecturing.” [...]
But at the institute, “it shouldn’t be debate about me. It ought to be debate about big ideas” – immigration policy, or how to save Social Security, a challenge that has eluded presidents of both parties for years.
The institute may not celebrate Bush “the person,” but it will “celebrate” Bush “the president” and “sponsor research and programs designed to promote” his vision. One professor and expert on presidential libraries has explained why academics should be “concerned“:
[T]he model agreed to at SMU was ‘totally different” from the approaches at other universities with presidential libraries. [...] Clearly this goes against the idea of dispassionate inquiry, of looking at things on the basis of fact and merit. If it’s ideological, that’s opposed to the mission of a university.”
A number of SMU professors are also concerned. Methodist ministers launched a PR campaign highlighting the partisanship of the institute and even tried (but ultimately failed) to get SMU to reject housing the library because of it.
Nevertheless, the library is scheduled to be completed by 2013 and Bush’s library foundation has only raised $3 million of the $300 million needed for completion. Bush claimed he is “not concerned about the pace of fund-raising.” Indeed, he has declined to make donors’ names public, arguing that “once you’re an ex-president, I can’t imagine what kind of policies you would influence that would pay somebody off for a gift.”
(ThinkProgress has been keeping a close eye on developments with the Bush library, and we will continue to do so. Read our related posts here.)