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Politics should not overshadow Bush library


1:00 P.M. EST Dec. 6, 2010

Former President George W. Bush shakes hands with former Vice President Dick Cheney at the groundbreaking for the Bush Presidential Center. A UMNS photo courtesy SMU Photographer Hillsman Jackson.
Former President George W. Bush shakes hands with former Vice President Dick Cheney at the groundbreaking for the Bush Presidential Center. A UMNS photo courtesy SMU Photographer Hillsman Jackson.
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With the recent groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University, the journey of the American Presidential Library System that began with Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y., is now making its way to Dallas.

While the road to the presidency is a very partisan one, the presidential libraries all work together in a nonpartisan way. Each represents a reservoir of history for scholars, authors and educators. Each signifies hope for the future for thousands of students who visit them annually. Each brings in programs, exhibits and speakers that enhance the intellectual capital of the surrounding region.

But while they are being planned and built, presidential libraries can be controversial as critics often think contemporarily rather than historically. Present-day emotion overrules long-term reason.  

Stanford University refused to be the site of Ronald Reagan’s library. Duke University turned down Richard Nixon. Lyndon Johnson’s library opened at the University of Texas to a large group protesting the Vietnam War. Opponents of Bill Clinton attempted to start a “Counter Clinton Library” in Little Rock. And when George W. Bush announced SMU as the home of his library and institute, some United Methodists became very vocal in their opposition.

The criticism is not new, and it isn’t limited to the Bush library — though it appeared most of the opposition was concerned about the programming and ideology at the Bush Institute and not the library itself. I’m just glad SMU rose above it and said yes.

I’ve supported the Bush Library and Institute from day one and take strong issue with my fellow United Methodists who oppose having them on the SMU campus. SMU is fortunate President Bush is making this long-term investment in the future of the school. I’m proud of those in the United Methodist community who did support the project.

After coordinating the planning and construction of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, I became dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, the nation’s first to offer a Master in Public Service degree. The Clinton School is located on the Clinton library campus.

Skip Rutherford
Skip Rutherford
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When I became dean, there were those who said the Clinton School programming would be one-sided and partisan. However, if you look at the list of guest lecturers on our website, you’ll see that is not the case.

The college experience is about the open exchange of opinions and views. The Bush Library and Institute will only enhance that exchange at a fine school like SMU. How can that be anything but positive?  

Over the years, I’ve found that people who aren’t open to hearing different ideas or viewpoints are too often insecure in their own beliefs. I must say it’s a little surprising and disappointing when opposition to the Bush Library and Institute comes from some in The United Methodist Church, a denomination known for being fair minded.

Roosevelt, the founder of the Presidential Library System, famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fearing others based on political differences is unfounded and shortsighted. Presidential libraries, foundations and institutes should be embraced as assets to our campuses and communities — places to learn and exchange ideas on all sides of the spectrum.

Take these two examples:

  • The Clinton library currently has a powerful exhibit on Haiti featuring the humanitarian work being done through the Clinton-Bush (George W. Bush) Haiti relief fund. Here we have two former presidents from opposing political parties setting aside some ideological differences to help those in need.
  • Oscar Morales, a fellow at the Bush Institute, speaks eloquently about freedom in Colombia. I hope those in the Dallas area will have the opportunity to hear him. I found his story so inspirational that I have invited him to come speak at the Clinton School.

Count me among the United Methodists who believe the Bush Library and Institute will only make SMU better and stronger for generations present and for those to come. I look forward to the opening.

* Rutherford is dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and a past chairman of the administrative board at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470, or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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