Big doings in Big D — the George W. Bush Presidential Library is open for business!
What a piece of work it is: a $250 million, 226,000-square-foot edifice on 23 acres in Dallas. His brick-and-limestone structure is certainly imposing, but once inside, you quickly see that it's a $250 million can of whitewash. Of course, all ex-presidents want libraries that show their good side, and Bush himself was organizer-in-chief of this temple to ... well, to himself. What's most striking is not what's in it, but what's not.
For example, where's that "Mission Accomplished" banner that he used as a political prop in May 2003, when he strutted out so fatuously on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln wearing a flight suit to pretend like he had won the Iraq war? And how about a video loop of him finally showing up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, cluelessly praising his infamously incompetent emergency management honcho with the now notorious shout-out: "Heck of a job, Brownie."
Also, while there are 35 featured videos, a replica of W's oval office, narrated presentations by top Bush officials and even statues of the family dogs — where's Cheney? Shouldn't there be an animated exhibit of the perpetually snarling veep in his dark chamber, scheming to shred our Constitution and set up an imperial presidency (or, more accurately, an imperial vice presidency)?
Another essential element of George's tenure that goes unportrayed could be called "The Dead Garden of Compassionate Conservatism." It could feature such mementos as him cutting health care funding for veterans, closing of the college gates for 1.5 million low-income students and turning a blind eye as 8 million more Americans tumbled down the economic ladder into poverty on his watch.
Then there's a shady exhibit that deserves more exposure. It's the list of $160 million-plus donors to the center, with each name chiseled into bricks that form what should be called "The Brick Wall of Special Interest Government." Among those chiseled-in are AT&T, casino baron Sheldon Adelson, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News empire, several billionaire funders of right-wing politics, the founder of GoDaddy.com, and even the royal rulers of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
The 160 names are by no means all of the corporate and fat cat donors — many more gave, but shyly requested that their involvement be kept from the public. Present law allows such unlimited, secret donations, even while a president is in office, still wielding the power to do favors for donors. Bill Clinton used this undercover loophole, and George W. happily chose the same dark path.
Today (May 1), the doors to Bush's Pharaonic "Presidential Center" open to the public, allowing us commoners to dig deep into the shallowness of his achievements. The enormous building itself sets the tone: sharp edges, high brick walls and the welcoming feel of a fortress. Yet the ex-prez insists that it's a place for public contemplation of his legacy, "a place to lay out facts," he says.
How ironic is that? After all, the Bush-Cheney regime was infamous for its disregard of facts, as well as its hiding, twisting and manufacturing of facts to fool people. From going to war over Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to its plan to gut and privatize Social Security — facts were whatever Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Rove and Condi imperiously declared them to be.
More ironic is the centerpiece of the library's attempt to whitewash George's eight awful years: an interactive exhibit called "Decision Points Theater." And theater it is, portraying George heroically as "The Decider." Visitors to this rigged exhibit can use touch screens to see Bush in virtual action, pondering as he receives contradictory advice on whether to save the poor people of New Orleans, bail out Wall Street bankers, rush into Iraq, etc.
The whole show is meant to make you feel sympathy for him, then you're asked to "vote" on whether he did the right thing. Again, irony: We the People got no vote on these issues back when it would've mattered.
There are many, many Bush quotes in this pantheon, but the one that best characterizes him and should be engraved above the entrance to his sparkling new center is this, from August 2002: "I'm the commander. See, I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."