“…was elected to the Presidency in…a time of economic distress, social division, and a deep yearning for change and hope.” This is virtually the first thing visitors read when they enter, not the Barak Obama Library and Museum, but the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.
This Center is noticeably different from the other 12 Presidential Library Museums in several respects. For one, the gift shop is off-premises. Clinton decided to aid urban renewal by locating the gift shop downtown, just a short ride away, when his Center was being designed to architecturally resemble a bridge. A shuttle provides access. The Clinton Center is, perhaps, the greenest. It uses lots of recycled aluminum cans, bamboo, and old tires. There’s a lawn on the roof and a residence for the Clintons. I was told that Hillary doesn’t show up often but that Bill is there about once a month to check on his School of Public Service. He likes getting to know the students. But the biggest difference, in my opinion, is this PLM’s relatively consistent focus on just the good during Clinton’s 8 years as President. I also was surprised by occasional, unpleasant partisanship. On one display I read, “The Republicans were so blinded by their hate.”
Visitors to the Nixon PLM in Yorba Linda, California, have Watergate thrust in their faces in entire display areas. The Roosevelt PLM in Hyde Park, New York, explores Franklin’s relationship with Eleanor and the affairs that caused friction. But visitors to the Clinton Presidential Center have to hunt for details of Bill’s long and difficult journey to disclosure. Only the 2nd President to be officially impeached, the 42nd President was famous for character issues that are pretty much ignored. And they have to really hunt to find the name Monica Lewinsky. There is, in my opinion, also less about the First Lady in this PLM than in the others, perhaps because ex-First Lady Hillary is still so active in politics.
The permanent exhibit about the 8 Clinton presidential years was a day-by-day 100 feet long timeline in which both the bad and the good swept by in details. And there was definitely good. I have always maintained that Bill Clinton was among the luckier Presidents. Despite some terrorist activity, there were no major wars involving the U.S. in the 90s. The global economy was exploding. When Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, there were 130 websites. When he left office, there were 27,585,719. In 1992 the United States had 108,313,000 jobs. In 1999 there were 130,760,000. Clinton achieved the 1st balanced budget in a generation. Bill was adaptive and an excellent listener.
I really liked the way the Presidential papers were integrated into the time-line, the Cabinet Room’s presidential chair, the cases showing Bill’s preparation for a State of the Union address, the informal and fun personal letters he wrote and received, the Center’s bright, open design, etc. All in all, it’s a 5 Compass experience.