Dick Cheney and other senior administration officials at a meeting in George W. Bush's Oval Office. (Reuters/Larry Downing)
George W. Bush’s presidency began on a note destined to inspire skepticism.
Bush did, after all, lose the ballot-box count at the close of his 2000 run for the nation’s top job by 543,895 votes. But with a boost from an outdated Electoral College system and a Supreme Court that decided to make an extraordinary intervention on his behalf, the son of the forty-first president of the United States became the forty-third president of the United States.
And in what historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., long ago identified as the era of the “imperial presidency,” the fact of his tenure entitles Bush to something George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison never got: an official presidential library and museum.
Bush has gone all in.
His library and museum are the biggest of the thirteen that have been established to recognize former presidents: 226,560 square feet on the grounds of the twenty-three-acre Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University near Dallas.
His is also the most expensive of these monumental endeavors, with a $250 million price tag.
But it may not be the most thorough.
News reports tell us that:
Politics is downplayed; the 2004 reelection campaign goes unmentioned. And essentially invisible are Karl Rove, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who the president became somewhat estranged from in his second term.
Bush wants to be remembered as a statesman, not a hawk.
Why would anyone who is hoping to be remembered as a statesman want to avoid being associated with Karl Rove and Dick Cheney?
To ask the question is to answer it.
A case might be made for giving Bush a pass when it comes to downplaying Rumsfeld—whose Pentagon role kept him of the fringe of domestic policy making and who surely took a backseat to Cheney when it came to foreign policy.
But Cheney and Rove were not exactly spectators in the George W. Bush White House.
As Bush’s senior advisor, deputy chief of staff and political czar, Rove proudly positioned himself in the tradition of Mark Hanna, the Gilded Age political operative who created an assessment system to channel the riches of the robber barons into a scheme for “buying” elections with what came to be known as “The Money Power.” Rove’s updating of Hanna’s approach—via his network of contribution-bundling “Bush Rangers” and “Bush Pioneers” and his more recent machinations with the American Crossroads combine—created a crony capitalist behemoth that delivered mightily for Wall Street and the energy industry but steered the party away from core conservative principles and set the stage for the economic turbulence that rocked the last years of his protégé’s presidency.