These days you seem to hear one of two things about George W. Bush’s new policy institute and presidential library, museum and foundation on the SMU campus. It’s either going to jam traffic so badly the area will resemble an L.A. freeway at rush hour–or nobody will come to the thing and, besides, the library will just have a couple of coloring books in it, anyway. This afternoon we got a decidedly different view from W and his wife Laura, who showed up at SMU’s McFarlin Auditorium to outline plans for the public policy part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the George W. Bush Institute.
The Bushes took turns speaking at a single lectern on a very presidential-looking stage, with a backdrop including an American flag and these words in giant letters: Freedom. Opportunity. Responsibility. Compassion. W said his new institute would focus on four areas–education, health, human freedom, and economic growth–and added that he’s hiring some top people to do some groundbreaking work in those fields. The new hires include Sandy Kress, a former local chairman of the Democratic Party, and Mark Dybul, an openly gay man who served as the former president’s global AIDS coordinator.
Laura’s portion of the presentation, meantime, stressed that a “women’s initiative” would be a big part of the institute, with a major conference for Afghan women on the schedule for next March. That focus on women’s issues seemed smart–as did most elements of the Bushes’ plan for the presidential center, a $300 million project that will even be green: LEED Platinum-certified. Thus a “new” W was revealed at SMU today: serious, inclusive, bipartisan, a lofty thinker–much different from the beaten-down prez whose party lost everything last fall. And, the 1,500 or so people in the McFarlin audience seemed to like it. They gave the Bushes four standing O’s.