Former Vice President Dick Cheney, looking noticeably thinner after heart surgery over the summer, told former President George W. Bush he believes time is shedding new light on the decisions Bush made while in office.
"Two years after your tour in the White House ended, judgments are a little more measured than they were," said Cheney, who introduced his former boss during a groundbreaking for Bush's presidential center in Dallas. "When the times have been tough and critics have been loud, you've always said you've had faith in history's judgment. And history is beginning to come around."
Cheney, who suffers from congestive heart failure, used a cane to walk but went to the podium without it. Spokesman Peter Long said later that the former vice president lost weight during his long hospital stay — about a month — and is hoping to keep it off for his health. The cane was for a bad knee from playing high school football that acts up occasionally, Long said.
Cheney was one of more than 3,000 friends, supporters and former administration officials attending the groundbreaking. Outside, about 100 protesters were joined by a handful of counter-protesters.
The center, which will house both a library and a policy institute, is expected to open in February 2013. Its policy institute is already working and will focus on education reform, global health, human freedom and economic growth.
Bush also was joined by the former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as shovels were pressed into the earth to commemorate the groundbreaking for the George W. Bush Presidential Center under a giant white tent at Dallas' Southern Methodist University, the alma mater of the former first lady.
"It is hard to believe there is this much excitement about shoveling dirt," quipped Bush, who then turned serious as he talked about the center.
"Today's groundbreaking marks the beginning of a journey," he said. "We take the first step toward the construction of the presidential center, which will be a dynamic hub of ideas and actions, based upon timeless principles."
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe also attended the groundbreaking, as did Bush administration officials including former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher, former Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans.
Acknowledging a group of soldiers from Fort Hood in the crowd, Bush told them: "I really don't miss Washington, but I do miss being your commander in chief."
Jake Torres, SMU's student body president, told the crowd that Bush had occasionally visited to classes during the past two years and said "it was a great day for SMU when we were chosen."
After Bush took the podium, he told Torres: "Mr. President, a word of advice: It's not too early to start thinking about your memoirs."
Bush — largely out of the public eye since leaving office and returning to Texas — has been back in the spotlight with the release of his book, "Decision Points," last week.
His memoirs will be reflected in part of the library's permanent exhibit, a "decision theater," where visitors can hear a set of facts, then try to decide what they would have done. The permanent exhibit also focus on themes of freedom, opportunity, compassion and responsibility.
An exhibit running through Feb. 6 at the university's Meadow's Museum gives the public its first glimpse into Bush's archives, including the bullhorn he used when he visited ground zero days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In his speech Tuesday, Cheney referred to the significance of the bullhorn, which Bush used to tell those gathered at ground zero: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."
"Far in the future, visitors here will see the bullhorn and when they do, I hope they'll picture the world as it was that day and realize how it was transformed in the months and years ahead. America went from being on the defense against terrorists to going on the offense against them," Cheney said.
"Because you were determined to throw back the enemy, we did not suffer another 9/11 or something worse," he continued.
The protest outside included hundreds of white crosses staked into the ground to represent troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The protesters, who held signs including one reading "Library or Lie-bury," included Cindy Sheehan, who became a war critic after her 21-year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004 and who staged a prolonged demonstration in 2005 outside Bush's Crawford ranch.
Bush's about 227,000-square-foot brick and limestone presidential library will be the third located in Texas. The library of his father, George H.W. Bush, is located on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station. Lyndon B. Johnson's presidential library is located on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.
George W. Bush Presidential Center, http://www.georgewbushcenter.com/