Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Two Texas Presidents in Two Days: Part 1

George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

College Station, Texas (mile 3,200)

June 22

We drove for miles, weaving our way through the vast and virtually treeless campus of Texas A&M to get to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. All the buildings on campus seem to be named for an alumnus and include their class year on the building nameplate. George Bush is not an alum, but he chose to place his Library here because he admires and identifies with the "Aggie spirit."

In President Bush we have finally found a President who does not have a humble beginnings story to tell—his father was Prescott Bush, a popular US Senator from Connecticut. Prescott Bush campaigned for President Eisenhower, and co-authored the Federal Highway Act signed by Eisenhower which kicked off our interstate highway system. Both Barbara and George went to elite private schools and met at a dance given jointly by their schools. George's parents gave him a brand new Studebaker as a college graduation gift. He definitely had a leg up on all the other Presidents we have checked out so far in the money and family connections departments.

This is the fifth Presidential Library of our trip, so we find ourselves comparing the men and their libraries.

President Bush's Library is like Eisenhower's, in that his Presidential years take up considerably less than half the space in his Library. Like Truman, he dedicates a great deal of space to his family, and one of the strongest messages of his museum is the importance of parents instilling strong values in their children and demonstrating strong character by example. Like Truman, he served his country with valor, and returned from the war a decorated hero. He flew over fifty combat missions and made 116 aircraft carrier landings before he was shot down over Chichi Jima. He managed to complete his bombing mission before parachuting from his disabled plane, landing in the ocean and floating around in hostile territory for three hours before a submarine rescued him. (After that experience, it is hard to understand why he still loves to jump from planes and parachute to earth to celebrate his birthday.)

We were impressed by George Bush's varied public service career moves before he made it to President. Again and again he was awarded positions for which he seemed unprepared or untrained—head of the CIA with no prior Intelligence Service or background, UN Ambassador with no tenure in the diplomatic corps. In each case, he rose to the occasion to serve admirably, and he gained invaluable experience that served him well as President during Desert Storm and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He continues to serve in a variety of ways, including joint coastal recovery efforts that he and Bill Clinton team up to lead together after national disasters.

And, on the lighter side, there were a couple other exhibits that we really enjoyed. There were several video presentations of Dana Carvey imitating President Bush on Saturday Night Live, President Bush's opening monologue from the time he hosted SNL, and some very funny interactions between the two of them. Like several other Presidential Libraries, Bush has his limousine on display. But, unlike the others, his curation of the limo tells a little bit about some of the intriguing security measures built into the car—bullet-proof glass as thick as a phone book, many layers of Kevlar in the underbody, bullet-proof tires—while piquing the imagination with the promise that there are lots of other special features which are "Classified," so we will never know the best stuff.

We thought his museum was wonderfully well done, and we liked George Bush better by the time we left.

No comments:

Post a Comment