DALLAS (Reuters) - President George W. Bush may be looking for a little peace and quiet when he moves out of the White House and into a suburban Dallas cul-de-sac, but the years ahead won’t be entirely leisurely.
When Bush turns over responsibility for two wars and a foundering U.S. economy to President-elect Barack Obama on January 20, he will turn to the well-trodden post-presidential path of legacy-building.
He plans to open a presidential library and a policy centre at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and write his take on the major events that shaped his presidency -- the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
“He’s eager to continue to promote the unwavering ideals and principles for which he has stood while serving as president of the United States,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in describing plans for the policy centre.
Though former President Bill Clinton took to the speaker’s circuit to generate tens of millions of dollars for his foundation and pay off a large pile of legal bills, experts expect Bush to spend the next few years mostly getting his library and papers in order and trying to polish his tarnished reputation.
And he expects to spend plenty of time at his ranch in Crawford, telling reporters his first item of business the day after he leaves office is to brew a morning cup of coffee there for his wife, Laura.
Bush, a Republican, is leaving office after eight years with job approval ratings that have slumped in the 20s or low 30s for months. Democrat Obama is basking in wide national approval ratings and high expectations.
“The hardest part of an ex-president’s life are the immediate years after the White House,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University in Houston.
Ahead for Bush, 62, is endless fund-raising for the library, haggling with architects and contractors over site plans and setting conditions for turning his presidential papers over to the National Archives, Brinkley said.
“That eats up those first years,” Brinkley said. Former President Jimmy Carter, who like Bush saw his popularity ratings sag, also spent his first few years out of office that way.
Bush says he is not ready to go gently into retirement.
“I just can’t envision myself, you know, the big straw hat and Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach,” Bush said at a farewell news conference at the White House on January 12. “Particularly since I quit drinking,” he added with a laugh, referring to his former self-admitted days as an alcoholic.
Bush and Laura told The Dallas Morning News they planned to split their time between an 8,500-square-foot (790-square-metre) home in the leafy Preston Hollow suburb in Dallas and the Crawford ranch, 120 miles (200 km) away.
Preston Hollow residents welcome the distinction that the former first couple will bring, but not the swarms of Secret Service agents who will guard them.
“For Preston Hollow it’s a good thing,” said Cyndie Gawain, a real estate agent, speaking outside a nearby coffee shop. “But I wouldn’t want to live right on his street because of security.”
Signs on many of the neighbourhood’s trim lawns say “Welcome Home George and Laura.”
In Preston Hollow, the Bushes will be mostly among their own -- white, upper-class conservatives who will treat them like returning conquerors, experts said.
Bush’s support of tax cuts, particularly for the wealthy, “were all they needed to know to declare Bush a policy genius,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.
The planned $300 million (£206 million) Bush Presidential Centre at Southern Methodist University, to be designed by Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, will be a draw for any historian researching the Bush presidency.
The library itself will be operated by the National Archives, but the library’s planned policy centre, called the Freedom Institute, has drawn some criticism as a potential mouthpiece for Bush’s conservative agenda.
Bush told The Dallas Morning News that the Freedom Institute will not be the “George Bush is a Wonderful Person Centre” but “a place of debate, thought, writing, lecturing.”
For now, “the best advice that people could give (Bush) is to lay low -- it’s Obama’s moment,” Brinkley said. “Get your house in order.”
Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Frances Kerry