Bush Library in Dallas Opens with Rare Presidents Club Reunion

The five living presidents gather for first time in four years

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Brooks Kraft / Corbis for TIME

From left: President Barack Obama stands with former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Presidential libraries are the workshops where legacies can be polished and memories can be modified, and so the living members of The Presidents Club take them very seriously. Which is why five presidents will meet for only the second time today at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

The last time they gathered was in January, 2009, just weeks before Barack Obama took office, when President Bush summoned the other four to the White House to, as President Carter told us,“educate president-elect Obama in a nice way without preaching to him.” It was a proper, polite conversation, over a lunch of sandwiches, but hardly a bonding one. Bush told Obama that the fraternity wanted him to succeed.

The Club regathers today under altered circumstances. Two men, Clinton and Bush the younger, turn 67 this year; two others, Carter and Bush the elder, turn 89. Bush senior’s bout with an unshakable cough gave the fraternity a scare last winter; he is now feeling much better and resuming a more active, but still limited, schedule. For Bush the father and son, today is sure to be uncommonly emotional and bears close watching.

The Obama and Clinton relationship remains a touchy one. Both men worked closely on last year’s election but remain unspoken rivals for history’s favor. No one yet knows which man, after eight years, will have achieved the most progressive change in a long, center-right era. The race seems a close one at the moment, and both men are fully aware of it.

And while Carter remains a sometimes difficult partner, each of the former presidents deployed him overseas at one time or another, sending messages or gathering intelligence, which Carter always took pains to relay back to Washington upon his return. Carter is now the longest-living former president in American history: he has been out of office for more than 32 years, surpassing Herbert Hoover’s 31-plus year mark last September.

Truman and Ike

These reunions have not always been warm. President Eisenhower was so hostile to Harry Truman—the two old friends had feuded fiercely over Senator Joe McCarthy during the 1952 campaign—that Eisenhower tried to dissuade Herbert Hoover from attending the dedication of the Truman library in 1957. But Hoover ignored IKE and went anyway, since, as he told Truman, “one of the important jobs of our exclusive trade union is preserving libraries.” Eisenhower certainly did not show up; he sent Truman a “congratulatory” letter, to be read by the General Services administrator, that was so chilly “you could almost see the icicles on it on a hot July day,” said one Truman aide.

The feud finally thawed after Eisenhower left office, and had to start figuring out plans for his own library in Abilene. He realized he could learn something from the success of Truman’s in Independence, and so quietly arranged to pay a visit.

The two presidents met and talked in Truman’s private office at the back of the library, before beginning their tour. Should he sign the guestbook? Eisenhower asked. “Definitely,” Truman teased. “Then if anything is missing, we’ll know who to blame.”

Eight years later, Richard Nixon paid a visit to Truman’s library to present him with the piano that had been in the White House when he was there. The encounter was warm, clubby; you would not have known they had hurled insults at each other for decades, as they shook hands and smiled. Nixon sat at the piano and pounded out “The Missouri Waltz.” Truman actually hated the tune, but by then he was too deaf to mind.

LBJ and Nixon

At that time Lyndon Johnson was pouring his considerable energy into building his library in Texas, which he was determined would be the most popular of them all. He would go over to the house where he was born, which had been turned into something of a shrine, and check the license plates in the parking lot to see how many different states were represented. He kept track of the number of postcards sold; he wanted his home to host more visitors than any other birthplace. The library staff learned to inflate the visitor count. Later, after the library was built near the massive University of Texas stadium in Austin, Johnson arranged for the announcer of the Longhorn football games to remind the tens of thousands of fans as they filed out at halftime that there were plenty of bathrooms just around the corner at the LBJ library.

The planning of libraries even drove a crucial plot twist in presidential history. Don Kendall, chairman of PepsiCo, was planning Nixon’s presidential library, and consulted with Johnson about the whole challenge of memory management. Nixon had been foolish, Johnson told Kendall, to rip out the taping system; he would need it when the time came to write his memoirs. So after ripping up Johnson’s recording system, Nixon had a new one secretly installed in February of 1971; five microphones were planted in his Oval Office desk, two on either side of the fireplace; two in the Cabinet Room, then four more in his Old Executive Office Building hideaway. How could so private a man risk what became the ultimate public exposure? “Because he was convinced left-leaning historians would try to deny him his place in history,” Nixon speechwriter William Safire argued, “because he wanted to write memoirs better than Churchill’s; and because he was sure he would have the same total control of his tapes that Kennedy and Johnson had of theirs.” It wouldn’t turn out that way, of course.

The Two Baby Boomers: Clinton and Bush

Bush the elder gave Clinton helpful advice about how to plan his library in Little Rock; and Clinton passed along his own lessons to Bush the younger, when the 43rd president started the project that is opening today in Dallas. When both Bushes attended the opening of Clinton’s library in November 2004, Clinton and the elder Bush fell way behind the touring party – so far behind that Bush the younger got impatient. “Tell 41 and 42,” Bush said, “that 43 is hungry.” An aide was dispatched to track the older two men down.

Clinton and the younger Bush have at times taken their relationship a little further than all others before them: the two men did a round of occasional speaking gigs together, appearing on stage in two wingchairs in 2010 and 2011, just talking about what it means to be president. These little-publicized, often private, events drew big audiences and large speaking fees, some of which were plowed back into their two libraries. And while both men enjoyed their occasional duets, they have more recently refrained from repeating them. Some arrangements may appear too cozy even for members of the world’s most exclusive fraternity.

Nancy Gibbs, TIME Deputy Managing Editor and Michael Duffy, TIME Washington Bureau Chief are the authors of The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity.

SPECIAL: The Presidents Club

PHOTOS: Inside the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum

PHOTOS: Front Row Seat: Eric Draper on George W. Bush

195 comments
Zincstop.
Zincstop.

This bush mess should be tried for crimes against humanity. He has the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on his hands and his two wars have bankrupted america.

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

@ anti-government

Only a fool of a president will remain quiet when America is attacked. Bush swiftly reacted to 9/11 terrorist attacks by bringing Kabul and Baghdad under American control. Every war will have causalities. As for instance, to take a small city .Okinawa, American forces sustained 49,151 casualties (12,520 killed), while the Japanese incurred 117,472 (110,071 killed). In addition, 142,058 civilians became casualties. Compared to this causalities in Iraq were smaller. What is more, unlike Korean and Vietnamese wars, Bush won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

anti-government
anti-government

Why are we spending money to celebrate the legacy of a war criminal who has sullied the reputation of America all over the world?

Words Of War
Words Of War

I don't think 'Live From the Battlefield' will be on the shelf - I'd be shocked and awed if it was!

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

@mantisdragon91 

Your reference to "Sunnis and Shias struggle for hegemony," reveals your ignorance Iraqi politics. It was not Bush's mistake. Obama was very hasty is pulling out American troops from Iraq. The British were wise enough to partition India before leaving the county and thereby averted permanent chaos in the subcontinent. The British created Pakistan for Muslims. Obama made the political blunder of not partitioning Iraq between Shias and Sunnis before leaving the country. But Bush was really wise in creating Kurdistan inside Iraq when he was still in the White House, and today the Kurds have a homeland of their own. Bush can be called the 'Father of Arab Spring,' for the fall of tyrant Saddam led to the fall of other dictators. 

aboutbebout
aboutbebout

Interesting to see all the presidents together -- past and possibly future with Hillary Clinton.  It was good to see GW Bush and his failures seemed to dim.  The country was left with tremendous deficits, but Obama will leave the country with gay marrriage.  The financial problems are easier to stomach.

TIRED
TIRED

Hey kids, I seem to remember (back in the summer of 2001) that GWB gave a speech where he blamed California for the Enron scandal that cost people their money (and ever their lives [due to blackouts at hospitals and accidents on the freeways]), but I never hear or see anthing about that speech anymore...I wonder why?

Ian Scott
Ian Scott

That one comic book is going to be a very lonely book indeed.

Jesús Eduardo
Jesús Eduardo

Maybe we should fill it with the "... for Dummies" book series. it'd be a perfect match to the individual such library was named after.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

George Bush holds all sorts of records that I'm sure are on display at the library.  Most days spent on vacation.  Most American deaths to terrorist attacks.  Most wars started as President (he also holds the record for most unfounded wars started as well).  Most violations of civil liberties and Constitutional rights.  The list goes on and on; truly some shining achievements.

Tero
Tero

So when is Dallas opening the Slobodan Milosevic library? Or the Herman Goering library? Or maybe the Charles Taylor library? 

Seeing as how they seem to like creating libraries dedicated to war criminals...

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS......YES INDEED !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

valentine, world historian

Albert Gonzalez
Albert Gonzalez

George W. Bush, a library that is always on the brink of financial collapse! A true homage to President

Jesse Carver
Jesse Carver

Obama hasn't caused as much destruction in his two terms yet, as Bush had. I'm referring to Hurricane Katrina and the middle east.

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

If 9/11 had not happened, Bush would have concentrated on civil rights and health reforms. As Roosevelt responded to Pearl Harbor attack, Bush responded to 9/11 by bringing Afghanistan and Iraq under American control. The fall of autocrat Saddam led to Arab Spring and dictators one after another fell in the Middle East. After World War II Americans lost Korean and Viet Nam wars. In Viet Nam, American soldiers had to flee for their lives. But American flag was fluttering majestically in Kabul and Baghdad even when Obama took office as president. Future historians will hail Bush as a great president in America history.

JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

Is it worthwhile for President Jimmy Carter to be there in that Dallas gathering and celebrate the person, who was involved in several crimes including declaring illegal war, war crimes, crimes against humanity ? Rather he should have protested and opined to send him to the Hague.

Farrukh Majeed
Farrukh Majeed

Mothers if war crimes, they all should be EXECUTED.

Teuta Abazi
Teuta Abazi

At Simon & Sch. you said: "The truth would come from literature." I found it at Arthur Schopenhauer- From Art will come the truth. Including literature. Fortunately I am born on February 22, the date that he was born. Are you going to have in your library the real literary books? Following either, or it will make sense. There is a lot to discover.

Martha Goff
Martha Goff

Gatherings like these always make me anxious...too appealing a target for troublemakers.

deeleo2
deeleo2

President Bush's Presidency was one of courage and kindness. His accomplishments were many. Although the media trashed him. It didn't matter to him because he was a man of conviction.  He freed 25 million people from a terrible of tyrant.  The economy prospered with 5.5 % average unemployment. He helped to almost eliminate Aids under his PEFAR initiatives, Africa.   His education reforms under No Child Left Behind,  showed that he could and did work with democrats for the betterment of America's future.  Modest and humble. History will judge his Presidency as one of the most compassionate.

anti-government
anti-government

Everything Bush did in Iraq was a mistake, wasting trillions of dollars, killing thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The criminal actions of the Bush/Cheney administration did not in any way contribute to the revolutions in the Arab world, which may not be such a good thing anyway. Egypt is now ruled by Muslim extremists (instead of corrupt, get-along politicos). Syria is embroiled in what may be an endless civil war (unless we invade them for allegedly using poison gas).

Bush never understood that America is not the center of the world and that we lack the money, the power, and ultimatley the will, to rule the world. Bush was a total failure as a President, in his ultra-right wing domestic policies and his hegemonic, lying foreign policies. The man deserves to be tried as a war criminal!

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@AbrahamYeshuratnam @mantisdragon91 Really so Iraq was not Bush's mistake? Do tell? Did we have a plan for what we would do after the invasion or did we just dissolve the Iraqi army sending hundreds of thousands of armed, angry, unemployed men into the streets, many of which proceeded to take up arms against our troops?  And seeing as we invaded Iraq years before Obama took office why didn't Bush partition Iraq as you suggest, why is the blame for that rest on Obama?

anti-government
anti-government

You are a bigot and a fool if you think gay marriage is a worse legacy than the bankrupting our country and waging aggressive wars.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@aboutbebout Yep Gay marriage is so much worse than a once in a lifetime fiscal collapse, the greatest attack in history on US soil and an unneeded war that will end up costing as Trillions. On what planet?

anti-government
anti-government

You're not paying attention are you? Bush wasn't anything like FDR. He was more like Hitler.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@AbrahamYeshuratnam If 9/11 hadn't happened Bush would have concentrated on finding an excuse to invade Iraq. In fact it was his preoccupation with Iraq that caused him to ignore the repeated CIA warnings about the impending attacks on the US Homeland in early August of 2001. The fall of Saddam led to a strengthening and emboldening of Iran and instability through out the Middle East as Sunnis and Shias struggle for hegemony. Future historians will see Bush as a possibly well meaning buffoon who oversaw the greatest collapse of the economy in our lifetime, ignored the greatest attack on the US Mainland in history, and got us into an illegal war in Iraq with a severe war crimes committed at Abu Graib. I can say more but my point has been made.

anti-government
anti-government

You may be dumber than Bush if you really think he was a man of courage and kindness. The man pretended to be a "compassionate conservative" to gut the safety net for poor people to benefit his uber-rich friends and contributors. He was a war criminal who started an aggressive ar against Iraq that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@deeleo2 He freed 25 Million people many of which are now worse off than they were under Saddam. He oversaw the greatest financial crash in our lifetime and ignored warning that may have helped prevent the worst attack in history on the US mainland. History will judge his Presidency as one of the most dangerous to the long term stability of both this country and the world at large.

JesseCarver
JesseCarver

@deeleo2 You're forgetting Hurricane Katrina. Which, as my college course has investigated vigorously for last 4+ months, was a human tragedy on a seismic level. You impersonation of former President Bush would really change, I guarantee you, if you looked into the aftermath of the hurricane. It's sad. 

swagger
swagger

@deeleo2 did you copy paste that from the email you received asking you to donate to the library fund?

tommyudo
tommyudo

@deeleo2 


To bad for you, but the library already hired a PR Director. We're not buying the BS white wash, unlike some members of the lapdog MSM.

anti-government
anti-government

Bush didn't free anyone except by killing them. Saddam wasn't and worse than Bush and Cheney!

curt3rd
curt3rd

How were they better off under Saddam? Are Kurds still being gassed?  Do they not govern themselves? Is the government still torturing  and imprisoning inocent people?  They went through their civil war period but that was between the sunnis and shiites which would have happen no matter who freed them.

Sparrow55
Sparrow55

@tommyudo @deeleo2 W displayed his courage by standing fast and continuing to read "My Pet Goat" while the country was under attack.  That's Medal of Honor material there. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd But its not that simple. There is always the issue of possible complications and even life threatening issues. Perhaps if the GOP wouldn't spend so much time trying to force abstinence only education in schools and actually teach birth control to kids we would need as many abortions as we do.

curt3rd
curt3rd

In some states the cut off period is 24 weeks which science say a baby is living much earlier then that.  How selfish is it that a woman cant be inconvienced for 9 months to spare a life?  She doesnt have to keep the baby.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd I am fine with having women have the right to chose. Having come from a family of scientists, I don't buy the argument that a six week old collection of cells is a baby.

curt3rd
curt3rd

You got me there but Im pretty sure Obama jump on board with gay marriage right before the election for nothing more then votes.  Also, you are saying that you are fine with murdering babies just as are the Democrats.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Not all Republicans are against Gay Marriage, but remind me what the party platform has to say about it?

curt3rd
curt3rd

Not all Republicans are against gay marriage.   They should be able to get married.  The equal pay act that got shot down in the Demcratic controlled Senate would have just opened up the doors for more lawsuit not equal pay but I dont think that is comparible to the way Muslim women are treated.  Actually, that is pretty insulting to them.  I am against abortion because it is murder.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd So the GOP isn't fighting against marriage equality, equal pay for women, abortion and other things that would be near and dear to the heart of any Muslim extremist? Perhaps you need to Google Taliban or Republican and then get back to me.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Yeah, if the media repeats it enough, libs will believe it.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Actually GOP Congressmen and Muslim radicals are the ones that sound a lot a like. They both want to stifle women's rights, hate gays, want to force religion down peoples throats and are scared of science.

curt3rd
curt3rd

We might have open the door but we didnt force them to kill each other.  In fact American soldiers died trying to stop it.  Oh wait, I see what going on here.  Every bad thing in the world is Evil Americas fautl.  Liberals and Muslim radicals sound a lot alike sometimes

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Doesn't matter. We were the root cause. So yet again how many of them would rather have Saddam then what has transpired in the last ten years as an after effect of our invasion?

curt3rd
curt3rd

Most of the killings in the last decade was them killing each other. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Of course not. But how many of them do you think would rather deal with Saddam than go through what we subjected them to in the last decade?

curt3rd
curt3rd

Answer this.  Do you think Iraqis want Saddam back? 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Fine I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. We did not force her to marry another man. We still broke into her house, killed her husband and trashed everything in sight. How do you think the police would view that type of action in real life?

curt3rd
curt3rd

That analogy is stupid because they got to elect their own government

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Whether they want Saddam back or not is irrelevant. Let me give you an analogy of what we did in Iraq that even you should understand. Suppose the woman next door to you was married to an abusive man. What we did in Iraq would be the same as you breaking into her house, killing her husband, destroying her furnishings and then forcing her to marry another man who may well turn out to be abusive as well.

curt3rd
curt3rd

You are an idiot if you think the Iraqis would want Saddam back.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd That would be their choice not ours. We took that choice away from them by invading and killing many more Iraqis than Saddam ever did.

curt3rd
curt3rd

They have a chance at building a better, free, democratic country.  Something they never had before, or maybe thay would be better off under the rule of a crazy dictator and when he woulld have died it would be his crazy sons.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd But you do? Face it a large percentage of Iraq saw us as nothing more than invaders. Your comparison of what we did in Iraq to what the French did during the US Revolution is offensive and idiotic. The French got involved after our revolt was well under way. We invaded and installed our own puppet government.

curt3rd
curt3rd

The Blackwater incident was a response to innocent people being killed and the public not understanding it.  Im sure you are not saying you speak for all the Iraqi people

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Muslim Radicals? Is that what you call the crowds off people including kids cheering as the bodies of the 4 Blackwater contractors were hung and burned. Face it a large part of the population saw us as foreign invaders, nothing more and nothing less.

curt3rd
curt3rd

They were mostly killing each other caught up in a Civil War.  It was Muslim Radicals trying to kill American soldiers which is what they were doing before we invaded. 

And yes their were colonist which supported the crown shooting at the French. Read a history book.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd And yet last time I checked we weren't shooting at the French. The fact that so many Iraqis took up arms against us after our "Liberation" should tell you exactly what they thought of us being there.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Some of them were trying for revolution long before we invaded.  You remember a country called France  helping us out?  All wars have power vacuums, you just have to manage it the best you can.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd And maybe if we hadn't illegally invaded the country with no idea of what to do after we took it they wouldn't have to deal with that at all. Last time I checked we chose to have the Revolution and the Civil War, they didn't choose to have us invade them.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Well maybe the U.S. should never had the trials and tribulations that it went through to achieve what we have today. Remember a thing called the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  Their is nothing free about freedom.

 We didnt promise them a perfect country but we did give them a chance for democracy and a better life. 

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curt3rd Oh I don't know. They had a functioning electrical grid which many Iraqis still don't. They weren't getting blown up on a daily basis and they actually had a means of income. Bottom line is simple for the Kurds in the North life is much better, for the rest of Iraq not so much.