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Obama Gets Peek at His Future as a Past President

Obama Gets Peek at His Future as a Past President

By Alexis Simendinger - April 25, 2013

If anyone needs a reminder about the arc of the modern presidency, tell them to pay attention to the salutes, solace and, yes, the sawbucks reeled in and offered up in two Texas cities during a single 24-hour period this week.

In Dallas for the dedication of his predecessor’s presidential library, President Obama raised cash for the Democratic National Committee Wednesday evening; prepared to deliver gracious remarks in honor of George W. Bush on Thursday morning; and will travel to Baylor University in Waco later Thursday to help honor the victims of a nearby fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people.

In a day, Obama will have toiled on behalf of his political party, taken a bow as the junior member of a graying and exclusive club of U.S. presidents, and reprised his role as consoler of grief-stricken families.

Gathered in Texas will be political figures, past and present, including Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, who may be thinking about running to succeed Obama in 2017. Others from Congress are opponents of his policy agenda, and aspire to see the Senate under Republican control after the 2014 midterm elections.

Bushes 41 and 43, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, gathered together again in Dallas, will no doubt sympathize with the current president, having walked in similar shoes.

According to a pool press report from Dallas Wednesday night, Obama praised his immediate predecessor in remarks to donors at the home of Naomi Aberly, a Democratic bundler, and her husband, hedge fund investor Laurence Lebowitz.

“I’m really looking forward to attending the Bush library opening tomorrow,” he said. “One of the things I will insist upon is whatever our political differences, President Bush loves this country and loves its people and shares that same concern, and was concerned about all people in America, not just those who voted Republican.” 

The George W. Bush records -- from his early push for deep tax cuts to the invasion of Iraq to his administration’s clashes with Congress over executive power -- are now the property of the United States. The National Archives and Records Administration, which manages presidential libraries under the Presidential Records Act, works to enlarge an accurate understanding of ex-presidents and their administrations through repositories of documents, letters, decision memos, diaries, photographs, and eventually terabytes of White House emails and electronic data.

Separately, the ex-presidents enshrined in museum monuments and privately funded policy centers in Texas, Arkansas and Georgia, respectively, work with gusto while they’re alive to tell their versions of history.

George W. Bush raised more than $500 million for his library and policy center, considered a stunning accomplishment; his center will be debt-free when the doors open.

Obama, a champion fundraiser himself, will ponder library blueprints in a few years, too. In an interview two months ago with a Honolulu TV anchor, he said he was undecided where his presidential library will be built.

"Honolulu is my birthplace," he told KITV. "It's the place where I grew up and I've got so many friends and fond memories and it helped to shape me. I'd like to find a way after my presidency that the connection remains, but I live in Chicago now and that's where I grew up professionally."

Obama added, "It is a tough choice, but it's not one that I've made yet."

Early indications hint that Obama will consider building his library near the University of Chicago, where he was a law professor before leaping into politics. But the University of Hawaii wants to compete, even suggesting a center that could be shared between Illinois and the Aloha State.

Hawaii’s legislature adopted a resolution three years ago urging the president to locate his presidential library where he was born. The Hawaii Presidential Center Initiative, a business and civic group that is raising money to create a professional pitch to Obama’s library advisers, wants to make the idea of a shared center both attractive and workable.

With a replica of the Oval Office and numerous electronic and interactive displays, the George W. Bush Presidential Center is set to open May 1 at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University. The George H.W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library is on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum is in Little Rock, with ties to the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas. The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum is in Atlanta, paired with the human rights-focused Carter Center, and is affiliated with Emory University.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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