We have tried to visit the Presidential Libraries and birthplaces during our travels. In the past several years we have seen most of them. Visiting each one is a great experience and a tremendous lesson in history. A lesson I have learned is that each president, regardless of political party, was trying to do what was right for the country. Their actions are commonly influenced by factors that are unexpected and have little to do the political agenda of the party. Their decisions are sort of like what I recently learned about the three day battle of Gettysburg. I always thought great military strategies were employed in this battle, but that really wasn’t the case. Most of the actions by the generals were reactions to a particular action or position of the enemy. The same goes for the presidents. Wars, terrorist acts and world wide economic factors often influence presidential decisions more than a promise or position during an election campaign. Personal problems or a bad decision will overshadow the good a president may have accomplished. The Monica Lewinsky affair completely consumed President Clinton and greatly detracted from his presidency.
Our most recent visit was to the Clinton Library in Little Rock. This library is located adjacent to the Arkansas River next to an old rusting iron bridge that is no longer in use. The linear configuration of the library, from a distance, looks like a new bridge being constructed to replace the old structure. This is exactly the theme Bill Clinton wishes to convey. The theme of the library is, “Building a Bridge to the 21st Century.” This statement came from a debate with Bob Dole. Dole said he wished to be a bridge to the past. Clinton countered with, “he wished to be a bridge to the 21st century.”
The library contains impressive replicas of the cabinet room and the oval office. A large wing on the library contains a “Timeline.” The timeline is broken down into each year of the Clinton years in the White House. There is also a special exhibit on the Civil Rights struggle and what each president did during his administration. The Emancipation Proclamation had recently been on loan to the library for this special exhibit.
The grounds are very impressive and overlook the Arkansas River. My main criticism is that the gift shop is located off the site of the library, but we still .managed to spend some dollars there. I was also a little disappointed that Monica’s dress was not on exhibit. If the dress was on display the crowds would be unmanageable.
A trip to the Clinton Library is worth the time. It’s another great lesson in American history. I have to read quite a few books on the porch to get the information I managed to absorb in a couple of hours from the visit. The books also have a hard time conveying the theme of the bridge to the 21st century. There is simply nothing like seeing it. All the libraries and presidential sites we have visited sure make history more meaningful.