Politics
5:30 pm
Fri April 26, 2013

Agenda Texas: The Influence of Presidential Libraries

Yesterday we talked about how the opening of the Bush Museum and Library in Dallas begins the rehabilitation of the former President’s political past. Today, let’s look at how the Bush Institute, the policy think-tank section of the Bush Center might affect the country’s political future. 

“I’m retired from politics, happily so, I might add, but not from public service," Former President George W. Bush said Thursday when talking about the institute at the dedication of the Bush Presidential Center. "We’ll use our influence to help more children start life with a quality education, to help more Americans find jobs and economic opportunity, to help more countries overcome poverty and disease, to help more people in every part of the world live in freedom."

But how the institute will do that remains up in the air. That branch of the Bush Center hasn’t really taken shape yet. Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said how it comes together will determine whether it becomes a player in the national political debate.

“Whether it is a legacy reconstruction machine that tries to put the best policy face on the results of the Bush presidency or something broader, something more thoughtful and inquisitive, remains to be seen," Jillson said.

Either way, remember this is the third presidential library in Texas. And the other two, LBJ at UT-Austin and George H. W. Bush at Texas A&M, have degree programs that are constantly churning out the next generation of politicians and policy experts.

“In Texas, we always do it bigger than anybody else and better than anybody else," political consultant and former Bush campaign advisor Mark McKinnon said. “The reality is that these presidential libraries are petri dishes for big ideas. I mean they’re not just libraries, they’re centers of research and policy development at it’s very highest level. So there’s all kinds of potential impact on future policy not only here in America but around the globe."

The state has certainly left its mark on national politics. Gail Collins' recent book, “As Texas Goes," details how a number of national policy initiatives bubbled up from the Lone Star state. And now those ideas will get additional attention with the third presidential library.

But SMU’s Cal Jillson said there are a couple of problems with that theory. First, the schools aren’t on the same page politically.

“Substantively, I think all these schools will be pulling in their own direction. So the policy ideas I don’t think will cumulate. Because the LBJ School will have one set of initiatives. And Bush 41 will have another set of speakers and programs and initiatives," Jillson said.

Second, Jillson said for the first time since the Great Depression, Texas doesn’t have an influential role in Washington.

“Our leadership role in Congress is quite modest. And it’s possible that we’ll have another Bush run for the Republican nomination in 2016, but it’ll be coming out of Florida rather than Texas this time," Jillson said. "So I think we’re going to have to wait for George P. before we get more Texas leadership at the national level.”

And that could take a few years. George P. Bush, that’s George W’s nephew, is running for Texas Land Commissioner in 2014.

Do you plan to visit the new Bush Museum and Library? Let us know why or why not. We’re at AgendaTexas@kut.org. You can also tweet us your answer: @AgendaTexas

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