UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — President Barack Obama joined all of his living predecessors Thursday to pay tribute to George W. Bush as the arguments of the past decade gave way, at least for a day, to a more generous appraisal of a leader who responded to great challenges with determination and grit.
The current and former presidents gathered to dedicate the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum here on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Joining them was a collection of current and former foreign leaders and lawmakers as well as hundreds of former Bush administration officials and thousands of his admirers.
Obama praised Bush for his resolve after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his compassion in fighting AIDS in Africa and his commitment to overhauling the immigration system.
‘‘We know President Bush the man,’’ Obama told the crowd in front of the brick-and-limestone center on a bright, sunny Texas day. ‘‘To know the man is to like the man. Because he’s comfortable in his own skin. He knows who he is. He doesn’t put on any pretenses. He takes his job seriously but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He is a good man.’’
It was an emotional moment for Bush, 66, coming four years after leaving office with historic low poll numbers. Bathed in the admiration of his former team and his presidential peers, he recalled the goals that guided his time in office and choked up as he finished his speech. Sitting down to applause, he smiled and wiped tears from his eyes.
‘‘In democracy, the purpose of public office is not to fulfill personal ambition,’’ he said. ‘‘Elected officials must serve a cause greater than themselves. The political winds blow left and right, polls rise and fall, supporters come and go. But in the end leaders are defined by the convictions that they hold.’’
In addition to Obama, former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush spoke at the program.
Also on hand was former Vice President Dick Cheney, who after a heart transplant last year appeared physically revitalized and in good spirits.
Bush’s foundation raised more than $500 million for the presidential complex and associated programs. The $250 million facility, on 23 acres at SMU, houses the library and museum, which will be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration, and a public policy institute, which will remain under Bush’s control to promote favored causes like global health and democracy.