George Bush Presidential Library and Museum College Station, Texas Visited: February 22, 2005 NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site Presidential Library Visted: 6 of 12 Local Website; Bookstore Website
WHAT IS IT? The Presidential Library and Museum of our 41st president, George H.W. Bush.
BEAUTY (4/10) The Bush Library sandstone exterior has a stately air. The courtyard is highlighted by a ring of flowerbeds circled by eight American flags. The most impressive artistic dimension of the Library is a sculpture of horses hurdling over a portion of the Berlin Wall. The sculpture is inexplicably tucked around the side of the building. It should take a prominent role; it was either ignored or unseen by the many people we saw entering the Museum.
The Library entrance has a large rotunda, its marble floors covered by a giant Middle Eastern carpet. The focal point of the room is a black granite wall engraved with the names of the Museum’s donors.
The interior of the Library is skillfully laid out, leading the tourist gently from display to display. The exhibits are strangely reminiscent of a ride at Epcot Center. Not only is there a life-sized replica of the Oval Office (a common presidential display), but also a Camp David office recreation, an Air Force One interior recreation, his Kennebunkport cigarette boat, a replica of his World War II fighter plane, the Studebaker he drove to Texas with and a faux White House exterior whose windows were a dozen flat screen televisions.
We could not stop thinking about how much all these displays cost. Flat screen 16:9 televisions are everywhere and on every exhibit. Michael could not help but remember the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum and its single 21 inch TV ruined (but still in use) by a burned-in image on its monitor.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10) Michael loves electronic maps and the Bush Library may have the most impressive one he’s ever seen. A giant spheroid representation of the Arabian Peninsula highlights the movements of Saddam Hussein’s troops into Kuwait and the subsequent military movements of the Coalition troops. It was a terrific and educational representation of the swift Gulf War.
CROWDS (6/10) The Museum is so well arranged that a large mid-week crowd did not affect our visit. We hope that the elderly woman who slipped and fell on the rotunda’s slick marble floors is OK.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Bush Library and Museum is located on the campus of Texas A&M University. There is plenty of free parking. It is easy to be cynical about the Museum’s location. Bush has no physical connection with College Station, Texas. He never lived here and did not go to school here. Texas A&M lobbied hard to get the Presidential Library.
But when you get here, the cynicism dissipates. It is easy to understand why Bush has fallen in love with Aggieland. There is an overwhelming sense of camaraderie and school spirit as well as a dominant conservative ethic. College Station is a very comfortable place.
Still, it does not exactly stand out on a Road Atlas. The town is located near the center of the Dallas-San Antonio-Houston Interstate triangle, albeit a little closer to Houston. No Interstates travel to Aggieland but dozens of roads approach it from all directions.
College Station is 100 miles from Houston, 180 from Dallas, 170 from San Antonio and 100 from Austin; long drives for an Easterner but short jaunts for a Texan.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (2/5) The Bush Museum bookstore is shockingly a bookstore without books. There are more books about Bush’s son than about him. Only a few books for sale discuss 41’s presidency and those either have been written by Bush himself or are sympathetic to him. All other Presidential Libraries have stocked every notable scholarly piece written about their subject, regardless of whether the author’s impression is good or bad. The Bush bookstore removes all dissent.
The bookstore stocks a number of assorted memorabilia; George Bush autographed baseballs, White House replica China, Desert Storm “Boonie Hats”, Christmas ornaments, and ladies scarves designed especially for the Presidential Library. There are enough unique and quirky items on sale to make any Bush fan appreciative.
COSTS (2/5) Admission is $7 per adult.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) Even though the Museum is completely self-guided, a few elderly female docents greet and smile at you throughout the Site.
TOURS/CLASSES (2/10) The educational experience at the Bush Museum is incredibly removed from any type of historical discussion. History is presented as just so. We found this especially frustrating given the in depth debate of the past evident at the Hoover, Eisenhower and Truman libraries. Those Museums examined their subjects and the period of history over which they presided. We saw their decisions, their mistakes and their triumphs. We saw how different newspapers reacted to their choices and we saw the primary documents that revealed their innermost thoughts.
The Bush Museum aims to canonize its subject. During his entire life, every choice Bush made was correct; the reasons for his meteoric rise in public affairs remain unsaid. We are supposed to believe that his achievements all occurred simply because he was a good man. Nearly every newspaper article on display from his presidency is from the Washington Times, a notoriously right wing paper whose circulation for the past 10 years has hovered around 100th of all U.S. papers, about 100,000 papers a day or the same as the Worcester (MA) Telegram and Gazette. The few primary documents on display reveal little of Bush’s decision-making process.
We have enjoyed all the Presidential Libraries we have visited because they all are grounded in an intelligent dialogue on 20th-century American history. The Bush Library does not follow this tradition. It is a living shrine not just to George H.W. Bush but also his son. We hope that the other recently opened Presidential Libraries, Reagan and Clinton, do not mimic the same shallow teachings that results in an absolute Disney-esque honorific.
FUN (5/10) The Bush Library and Museum was built to venerate not educate. Everyone we saw at the Museum looked happy and pleased. If you like the man you should go, if you do not then stay away. This rating reflects our Nation's current 50/50 ideological divide. Your fun here depends upon which side of the divide you fall.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10) Nowadays, we Americans are increasingly catering our news we read to what we personally believe. Conservatives exclusively watch Fox News while liberals flock to the newspaper or online journal that represents them. Niche marketing is moving us away from any informational middle ground.
The Bush Library and Museum has brought this concept to Presidential Libraries. If you agree with the Bush 41 Presidency, your memory has been vindicated. There is nothing in the Museum to suggest he ever did anything wrong. If you had problems with the man from 1980-1992 you leave the Museum wondering if what you knew happened during your lifetime really did. If you are too young to remember Bush, the Museum does not give you an option to gather various sources of information and come to your own conclusions.
This cocoon-like view of the world and history is unhealthy and dangerous. Perhaps it is George Bush’s right to sugar coat his life - he raised the money for the Museum and can represent himself anyway he’d like – but when the Site takes on the moniker of Presidential Library it should not be merely a shrine.
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