Bush breaks ground on presidential center at SMU

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by CYNTHIA VEGA and BRAD WATSON

WFAA

Posted on November 16, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 16 at 8:50 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK — Former President George W. Bush broke ground Tuesday for his library on the SMU campus, joined by former Vice President Dick Cheney and ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

More than 3,000 people, including friends, supporters and former administration officials, attended the ceremony Tuesday for the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The center, which will include a policy institute, is expected to be open by February 2013.

The modern brick and limestone building will feature 227,0000 square feet of floor space; that's bigger than the average Walmart supercenter. It will be set amid a Texas-inspired landscape, including wildflowers.

Tuesday's ceremony gave Bush a chance to reflect on his eight years in the White House and also to discuss what he hopes this presidential center will accomplish in the future.

"Today's groundbreaking marks the beginning of a journey," Bush said.

The center will be a "dynamic hub of ideas and actions, based upon timeless principles," he added.

While Bush joked about "peddling" his just-released memoir, Dick Cheney — his former vice president — said the book's brisk sales show time is looking more kindly in judging the Bush administration.

"When times have been tough and the critics have been loud, you have always said you had faith in history's judgment, and history is beginning to come around," Cheney said.

Cheney has stayed out of the spotlight since leaving office. He appeared much thinner on Tuesday and was using a cane. It's a stark contrast to his appearance during his time in Washington.

Cheney has suffered five heart attacks, and doctors had to implant a heart pump this summer.

Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under Bush, leads the Institute's board. She said global health is another issue.

"Healthy societies are more likely to be partners in peace and in prosperity," Rice said.

George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara had been expected at the ceremony, but did not appear. The senior Bush was said to have watched an Internet feed at his home.

George W. Bush said the library and archives will give researchers and citizens the chance to look in and see what it was like deciding the issues over his two terms, and perhaps over time, will have reason to like more of what they see.

"I believe that the ultimate responsibility of a leader is to not do what is easy or popular, but to do what is necessary and right," the former president said.

Protesters turned out for the event. Around 30 different peace organizations were represented by over 100 people; they called themselves the People's Response.

They said Bush is to blame for the economic crisis, for abusing presidential power while in office, and for the war in Iraq.

"My father is a Bataan Death March survivor. He didn't live through that so our former president could order torture," said Sylvia Benini. "He is 87 years old and he is horrified."

A supporter of the former president also showed up, and he positioned himself across the street from the protesters.

"Thank you for what he did in Afghanistan, as quickly as he did it," said Jim Howell. "I'm not sure about Iraq, but I am not the one making the decisions. He knows what he did and he is standing by what he did with his book and thank you Mr. Bush," he added.

The protesters were a relatively quiet crowd but security was high.

Associated Press reported to this report.

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