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President George W. Bush breaks ground on new library

By Aaron Blake
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 3:14 PM

Former president George W. Bush and former vice president Richard B. Cheney took turns defending each other Tuesday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Bush library.

Appearing on the same stage on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Bush said he had "no doubt" that Cheney was the right pick for vice president, and Cheney said history is starting to judge Bush more kindly.

"As I stand here, there is no doubt in my mind he was the right pick then," Bush said of Cheney, who was viewed more unfavorably than Bush even at the president's low point. "He was a great vice president of the United States, and I'm proud to call him friend."

Cheney returned the favor. The former vice president, who had heart surgery this year and appeared much thinner than during his time in office, walked out with the assistance of a cane.

In delivering his remarks, Cheney praised Bush for empathizing with average Americans and for preventing another terrorist attack similar to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Judgments are a little more measured than they were," Cheney said. "When times have been tough and the critics have been loud, you've always said you had faith in history's judgment. And history is beginning to come around."

Bush's recently released book, "Decision Points," includes a passage in which Bush writes that he considered dropping Cheney from the ticket for their 2004 reelection campaign.

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice joined Cheney in praising Bush. Rice, who will chair the advisory board of the library's adjoining policy center, said the former president was often mischaracterized as an idealist.

"But I would say that President Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush were more than that," Rice said. "They were optimists and idealists, but they were realists, too, because they realized we have seen so many times - even in our lifetimes - when the impossible one day seems inevitable the next."

Rice also offered a brief defense of the Bush administration's foreign policy, saying that the Bushes believed in America's "special responsibility" to spread freedom and that tyranny must be "broken down in every corner of the world."

Not every part of the ceremony was so heavy, though. Cheney began his remarks with a joke aimed at President Obama, Bush's successor, of whom Cheney has been very critical.

Referring to the patch of dirt prepared for the groundbreaking, Cheney called it "the only shovel-ready project in America" - a glancing blow at the "shovel-ready projects" contained in the stimulus bill passed in the early days of Obama's presidency. The crowd erupted in laughter.

Bush, on the other hand, continued to speak no evil about Obama.

"The decisions of governing are on another president's desk," Bush said. "He deserves to make them without criticism from me."

Bush's speech, throughout the 10 minutes he appeared on stage, contained the same moral certitude that was characteristic of his presidency. He said he had to make decisions independent of what the public might have wanted at the time.

He said that he's comfortable being an ex-president, but that there is something he misses.

"I really don't miss much about Washington," he said. "But I do miss being your commander in chief."

The George W. Bush Presidential Center is slated to open in 2013. It will include a library, museum and a policy center, called the George W. Bush Institute.

Southern Methodist University was chosen to house the library because Bush was governor of Texas before becoming president, and it's also former first lady Laura Bush's alma mater.

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