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Bush's Legacy Enshrined for $500 Million?

With an expected half-billion dollar from a handful of megadonors, George W. Bush's 'truest believers' plan the mother of all presidential libraries and conservative think tanks.

After six years of incompetence and cronyism, a failed war against terrorism, the quagmire that is Iraq, wars against science, the environment, corporate regulation and the public's right-to-know, a chummy working relationship with the country's most reactionary conservative evangelical Christians, a politicized faith-based initiative, giveaways to the energy industry, tax relief for the wealthy, a culture of corruption culminating in the forced resignations and imprisonment of some of the administrations key soldiers, and an attack on fundamental democratic rights and values, the Bush Administration is hatching plans to celebrate itself with a $500 million library (the costliest presidential library ever) to be built sometime after the end of Bush's second term.

Among the donors to Bush 41's library in Texas were a sheik from the United Arab Emirates, the state of Kuwait, the Bandar bin Sultan family, the Sultanate of Oman, King Hassan II of Morocco, the amir of Qatar, the former Korean prime minister, and China.

In what is being called "their final campaign," Bush's "truest believers" are aiming to raise a half-billion dollars for the mother of all presidential libraries. The library and an attached think tank -- which will pay for conservative research -- is being earmarked for the Dallas, Texas campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU), where First Lady Laura Bush is an alumna and trustee.

Inside Higher Ed recently pointed out that SMU, which had been competing for the library with Baylor University and the University of Dallas, appears to have cleared the final hurdle to getting the project when the university "won a court fight over its right to demolish a condo complex the university had purchased, in part to have land for the Bush project."

That was before university faculty, administration, and staff questioned the ideological underpinnings of the project.

Bringing back the Pioneers

In late-November, the New York Daily News reported that "Bush sources with direct knowledge of library plans" said that "Bush fund-raisers hope to get half of the half billion from what they call 'megadonations' of $10 million to $20 million a pop." According to the Daily News, "Bush loyalists have already identified wealthy heiresses, Arab nations and captains of industry as potential 'mega' donors and are pressing for a formal site announcement - now expected early in the new year...The rest of the cash will come from donors willing to pony up $25,000 to $5 million."

While the donors to Bush 43's library will remain anonymous, in February 2006, the Associated Press reported that among the donors to Bush 41's presidential library located at Texas A&M University in College Station, were a sheik from the United Arab Emirates, who contributed at least $1 million, the state of Kuwait, the Bandar bin Sultan family, the Sultanate of Oman, King Hassan II of Morocco, the amir of Qatar, and the former Korean prime minister. China also gave tens of thousands of dollars to the library. In addition, funds were received from the late Kenneth Lay, the former head of Enron, and Dick Cheney, the current Vice President.

"Presidential libraries," the Daily News pointed out, "are run by the National Archives and Records Administration, but building costs must come from private donations. Bells and whistles, like an institute or an academic program like Bush's father's public service school at Texas A&M, are also extras."

The really big extra embedded into this project appears to be what Bush insiders are calling the Institute for Democracy. Modeled after the Hoover Institution, a long-time conservative think tank located on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Bush's institute would hire conservative scholars and "give them money to write papers and books favorable to the President's policies," one Bush insider told the Daily News. This would effectively be the post-administration version of a policy they established during his reign -- paying columnists to advocate for administration policy.

According to the newspaper, "The half-billion target is double what Bush raised for his 2004 reelection and dwarfs the funding of other presidential libraries. But Bush partisans are determined to have a massive pile of endowment cash to spread the gospel of a presidency that for now gets poor marks from many scholars and a majority of Americans."

While it may seem counter-intuitive, it isn't all that surprising that while Bush's popularity continues to plummet, and his administration's policies gain no traction with the American people, his handlers would already be hatching the mother of all redemption plans. Perhaps Bush's close advisors are hoping that he won't have to spend his entire post-presidency trying to rebuild his standing amongst the American people and history a la Richard Nixon.

However, as with many of the Bush Administration's grand ventures, this one appears to be running into opposition. The SMU faculty, administrators and staff -- a group that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld might call "dead-enders" -- are putting up a fight.

According to Inside Higher Ed, "Faculty critics say that although many of them disagree with President Bush's policies, they would not object to a library-oriented archive and museum -- and they say that in discussions with professors, the university has discussed a vision for such a Bush center. But creating an academic center with a specific goal of boosting the Bush image and agenda strikes many professors as antithetical to a university's academic values."

In a letter dated December 16 and addressed to R. Gerald Turner, president of the Board of Trustees, members of SMU's Perkins School of Theology urged the board to "reconsider and to rescind SMU's pursuit of the presidential library."

We count ourselves among those who would regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as ethically egregious: degradation of habeas corpus, outright denial of global warming, flagrant disregard for international treaties, alienation of long-term U.S. allies, environmental predation, shameful disrespect for gay persons and their rights, a preemptive war based on false and misleading premises, and a host of other erosions of respect for the global human community and for this good Earth on which our flourishing depends.

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