Sunday, November 28, 2004

Clinton Presidential Center

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays!!!

I haven't been able to post as much of late. I've been spending most of my waking free time writing a paper or prepping for my final coming up. In addition, the holiday time has been very hectic for the family, so I haven't had the time to sit down and crank anything out.

We spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Arkansas with family. Since we were reasonably close, Shana and I decided to take Wednesday morning, November 24, 2004 to drive over to Little Rock and visit the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park. The Clinton Presidential library was dedicated on Thursday, Nov. 18 - and I had been reading quite a bit about it in the lead up so we were excited at the opportunity to visit. This was the first Presidential Library complex that either of us had visited.

To start with, it is much smaller than what I expected. Now, the location is beautiful, just on the bank of the Arkansas river, bordering on Little Rock's downtown. Several of the architectural reviews of the building I had read had described it as either a "metaphor for a Bridge to the 21st Century" or a "trailer park home". Personally, we felt it looked much like a railroad car - boxy and rectangular, and much smaller than expected. When you get into the building, however, you are struck by how much room there really is - either the outside is very deceptive, or the interior's design makes an excellent use of the space, there is more to see than would be expected.

After you arrive, clear security and pay your fee, the initial display on the ground floor deals with the Secret Service and the Presidential Limosuine. From there you proceed up a flight of steps to the second level. There you find a display related to the 1992 election - the Comeback Kid, Perot, etc. Looking back, it's almost hard to remember, but Clinton's election that year was an absolute stunner...kind of a shock the world type of moment. As popular as he was to become, and as much as he was to accomplish in office, it's strange to think this was a guy who came - almost - out of no where to win the nomination, then unseat a relatively popular sitting President. An election for the history books truly.

There is a video presentation of the 'Clinton Story' - telling an overview from birth to declaring his candidacy on Oct. 1, 1991 to the White House to the present. It's pretty neat, and has several goosebump-type moments (it got a little dusty in there, if you know what I mean), but much of the info was in My Life, if you've had a chance to read that.

From the video, you move over to the first display - a recreation of the Cabinet Room. This was actually one of the most interesting parts of the entire Center. In fact, on the drive home, Shana and I both agreed that the Cabinet room was the "best" or our favorite part of the Center. The room is recreated in detail, and inset into the Cabinet table were interactive touch-activated computers that enabled you to sit in the same chairs that Clinton or his officials sat in and read detailed histories of the Administration and very interesting timelines of three of the more interesting and challenging decisions that were made by the Admin - Welfare Reform, Kosovo and the Budget Crisis. A really informative and interesting set up. The Cabinet Room was added to the White House by Teddy Roosevelt and in Clinton's term included portraits of TR, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Outside the Cabinet Room, there is an enormous video wall dedicated to the 1992 Inaguration - one great quote from that speech:

There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right with America.

Bill Clinton - Jan. 21, 1993 - 1st Presidential Inaguration Speech

Next there is a small wall dedicated to the State of the Nation under Clinton - statistics related to Employment, Crime, Education, AIDS, Police, Technology and Health Care are listed and visually displayed.

The rest of the second level is a long room - the outside walls are dedicated to kiosks related to specific issues important within Clinton's two terms in office:
The Economy
Making Communities Safer (Crime)
Protecting the Earth (Environment)
First Lady
Global Community (World Leaders, etc.)
Making Peace (Mideast, Ireland, etc.)
Prosperity Abroad (America's ecomomic involvement overseas)
Preparing for New Threats (WTC1 and terrorism)
Fight for Power (Impeachment)
Science & Technology
One America (Race Relations)
Learning for a Lifetime (Education)
Putting People First (Health Care and Welfare Reform)

In the center of this narrow room is a series of eight small walls with displays on each side - one side was a rundown of world, domestic and economic event during each of Clinton's eight years in office. Included in this was the President's daily schedule for every day in office - pretty cool. The other side was dedicated to various things - the State of the Union address, with 'in-progress' drafts with notes to the final speeches; and Letters to and from the President and First lady from the likes of Fred Rogers, Mother Teresa, the Dali Lama, Paul Newman, etc. Some were funny, some really touching. It was a really nice display.

Next, up another flight of stairs to the third level. This level is open in the center - so you can look down upon the 2d level (similar to a mall), with displays only on the outside walls. Along one wall you see displays dedicated to State Events at the White House, State Gifts given to Clinton during his time in office, Making the White House home for the Clinton's, Holidays at the White House, public gifts to the Clinton's, etc. The other side contains personal memorabelia of Bill, Hillary and Chealsea from birth to present, including Chealsea's birth announcement, items from Clinton's failed bid for Congress, Democratic Nat'l Convention speeches in 1980, 1984 and 1988, among other things.

Finally, on the third level is the exact replication of the Oval Office. Unfortunately, you can't walk through, but they have windows in, and you can step into the doorway. It is interesting to see what the office looks like in 'real-life' and how connected and dedicated to history Clinton had it - almost everything in the office had some historical connection.

It was a really intersting couple of hours - definately worth the trip and the $7 entry fee. If you are interested in history, specifically Presidential history, it's an absolute bargain.

I was and am a big fan of Bill Clinton. In my mind, he is the embodiment of the American Story. A poor boy, single mom, raised in large part by family from a tiny town in one of the smallest, ruralest states in the nation - becomes the President - the Leader of the Free World, not through connections or family name or money. But through hard work, committment to a cause, and a dedication to public service. I am not ashamed to list Bill Clinton as a hero. Sure, the man has many flaws - and Shana and I discussed how revered and honored this great President really would have been if he only could have controlled himself. He embarrased himself, his family and in some ways, his supporters. And his Presidency will be forever somewhat tainted because of that - there is no question. But all that given, Bill Clinton had a dream of one day making America a better place for the next generation - and he made that dream into reality. Flaws or no flaws. That's pretty incredible, and it is something that I admire more than I can put into words.

There were certain words or phrases that stood out in our tour of the Clinton Center, either because they were used over and over, or because each display tended to whisper or shout them:
Optimism, Prayer, Change, Peace, Respect, and finally and most of all -
A More Perfect Union

That is a great legacy, if you ask me.

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