Leadership Reflects on Bush Library Opening
By Amanda Morad | May 10, 2013
The George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Paul Bonicelli.
"His legacy over the long haul is a very powerful one, and I think that 25-30 years from now, people will talk about George W. Bush the way they talk about Harry Truman today, as a leader who came in during a very difficult time," said Dr. Eric Patterson, dean of Regent University's Robertson School of Government. "Perhaps not a lot was expected of him, and then he turned out to be literally Atlas carrying the world, from fighting terrorism to fighting AIDS and malaria."
Patterson echoes the sentiment that Democrat and Republican alike seemed to share on April 25, when the George W. Bush Presidential Center opened on the campus of Southern Methodist University in University Park, Texas. The George W. Bush Presidential Center is a complex that includes a presidential library and museum, the George W. Bush Policy Institute, and the offices of the George W. Bush Foundation.
Patterson and Regent's executive vice president, Dr. Paul Bonicelli '87 (Government), both attended the auspicious occasion.
"The United States has supported democracy and capitalism around the world since the Marshall Plan, but when Bush came into office, he took it up another notch," Bonicelli explained. "He made it fundamental: There's defense, there's diplomacy and there's development. Development was understood as promoting democracy—free markets and free peoples. That's why the Bush Center is primarily dedicated to those things."
Bonicelli is well acquainted with the former president's foreign policy. As a member of the Bush administration, Bonicelli served at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from 2005 to 2008. He was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate to serve as assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, overseeing all foreign assistance programs in the region. Earlier at USAID, Bonicelli served as deputy assistant administrator with oversight of USAID's global democracy and governance programs in 80 countries as well as intergovernmental organizations.
"It was a huge honor to be invited to the library opening because it reminded me of how special that time was, how much I loved it, and the friends I made," he reflected. "There were a lot of dinners and parties, so it was just like a homecoming; like a family reunion in some ways, seeing people you hadn't seen in a long time and knowing that we shared this common bond. We truly loved the president, love him still, admire and respect the president...everyone was united in how they really loved and admired the man."
The event featured addresses from each living former president: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton as well as remarks from President Obama before George W. Bush greeted attendees with misty eyes.
"I've never seen a better political pageant," Bonicelli said. "It was flawless, and I remember when [former] president Bush was speaking, there toward the end when he choked up—which we all knew he would—I just looked at a friend I had worked with and said, 'we are so blessed to have worked for this man.' And he agreed and said, 'I'm afraid we may never have another like him.'
"There is no question that he is a genuinely good man, and I believe that flows from the fact that he is a genuine believer," he explained. "He truly knows Jesus Christ and that permeates everything about him. Even his critics are coming around and saying, whatever you think of George Bush's presidency, he is a good man."
While Bonicelli looked on and reflected on his time in the Bush administration, Patterson, a major in the Texas Air National Guard, stood in his officer uniform conducting the Air National Guard Band of the Gulf Coast before and during the ceremony. Patterson serves as the commander and principal conductor of the band.
"It was a great honor to perform for the president," Patterson said. "Most military band members might get to play for the president once in their lifetime if they're not working in one of the premier military bands based in Washington, D.C., so it's really unprecedented to be able to play for five presidents all at once. And it was a blessing and a tremendous honor for us."
Patterson was impressed by the outpouring of foreign support at the event. "Tony Blair (UK), Silvio Berlusconi (Italy), and José María Aznar (Spain) were all there," he said. More than a dozen world leaders, many strong allies in the war on terror, attended the event.
But perhaps the most impressive parts of the event were the remarks of President Obama and his predecessors. "All four of these other presidents had something to say about the positive legacy of George W. Bush," Patterson recalled. "At this event, everyone demonstrated that they represent something bigger than themselves, and that is the good of the American people and national service. That Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and President Obama all have something to say about the positive legacy of someone else in their club of presidents I think was a great testimony to Americans across the country."
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