President Bush leans over to talk with a girl after participating in a lesson for young children on the importance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day during a tour of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, Jan. 21, 2008. Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
by Frank James
President Bush briefly visited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, a hulking, black, Mies van der Rohe structure in downtown Washington D.C. today only a block or so away from the Tribune offices. (I was wondering why a police cruser blocked a nearby street on my way to work.)
There, Bush delivered a few appropriate remarks about the civil-rights icon and the meaning of the holiday and mingled with children and volunteers like mentors.
The event allowed the president to dust off the compassionate conservative language, his version of the Golden Rule, he keeps handy for occasions like today's.
You kind of get the feeling that the White House decided to go minimalist with the president's King Day message, like they were just going down the checklist. "King Day remarks at the King library, check."
Which made the equally unadorned architecture of the King library the perfect setting for Bush's appearance.
9:42 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for having us. Listen, Laura and I are thrilled to be with you. Proud to be with the Mayor and Councilman Jack Evans. We appreciate very much the Serve D.C. that is working to inspire volunteerism, and I want to thank this beautiful library for hosting us.
I just got a couple of comments I want to say. First of all, Martin Luther King Day means two things to me. One is the opportunity to renew our deep desire for America to be a land of promise for everybody, a land of justice, and a land of opportunity. It's also an opportunity to serve our fellow citizens. They say Martin Luther King Day is not a day off, it should be a day on. And so today Laura and I witnessed acts of compassion as citizens were here in the library volunteering their time, and that's what's happening all across America today.
But a day on should be not just one day. It really ought to be every day. And our fellow citizens have got to understand that by loving a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself, by reaching out to someone who hurts, by just simply living a life of kindness and compassion, you can make America a better place and fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King.
Martin Luther King is a towering figure in the history of our country. And it is fitting that we honor his service and his courage and his vision. And today we're witnessing people doing just that by volunteering their time.
So we're honored to be with you. We're proud to be with you on this important national holiday. Mr. Mayor, thank you for coming. Jack, glad you're here. Appreciate you all taking time out of your day to visit with us.
END 9:44 A.M. EST
The Associated Press reports that Bush had the effect the president, any president, often has on people who meet one of the world's most august presences, he left them speechless.
By BEN FELLER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush on Monday hailed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a towering figure and called on the nation's people to honor the slain civil rights leader by helping those in need.
"Our fellow citizens have got to understand that by loving a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself, by reaching out to someone who hurts, by just simply living a life of kindness and compassion, you can make America a better place and fulfill the dream of Martin Luther King," Bush said at a library named for the slain civil rights leader.
With first lady Laura Bush at his side, Bush spoke briefly on the federal holiday honoring the birthday of King, who would have been 79 on Jan. 15.
An advocate of peaceful resistance and equality for people of all races, King was assassinated in April 1968.
Bush said that King's holiday offers a chance to "renew our deep desire for America to be a land of promise for everybody, a land of justice, and a land of opportunity." He said it should be a "day on" of volunteering — not a day off — and encouraged people to do community service year-round.
The setting for Bush was the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington. The building features a colorful mural that depicts scenes from King's life and celebrates his role in the march toward social justice.
"Martin Luther King is a towering figure in the history of our country," Bush said. "And it is fitting that we honor his service and his courage and his vision."
Bush spoke after participating in a story-time session with a handful of children who grew shy in his presence. The president posted a few pictures on a bulletin board as the young students learned how King fought to change unfair laws.
When the kids were asked how they could make the world a better place, none of them spoke up. So Bush did for them.
"Love your neighbor," he said emphatically. "Volunteer," chimed in the first lady.
Bush has marked the King holiday in different ways during his presidency. Among other events, he has viewed the Emancipation Proclamation at a special showing at the National Archives, placed a wreath at King's grave, spoken at a predominantly black Baptist church and helped spruce up a high school.
The kids should know it happens to adults too. There's just something about seeing a U.S> president right in front of you that can cause brain and tongue freeze.