Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Bridge to the Future

“You can trust us to wake up every day remembering the people we saw on the bus trips, the people we saw in the town meetings, the people we touched at the rallies, the people who had never voted before, the people who hadn’t voted in 20 years, the people who’d never voted for a Democrat, the people who had given up hope, all of them together saying we want our future back. And I intend to help give it to you…Together we can do it. Together we can make this country that we love everything it was meant to be. I still believe in a place called Hope.”  -President-elect, Bill Clinton, Little Rock, AR, November 3, 1992

Ah politics. One of my least favorite subjects ever. But since I have such a strong love for history, I have to accept that the two of them overlap quite a bit. A perfect way to get a nice blend of both history and politics is a visit to a Presidential Library and Museum. Situated in the hometown of each President since Herbert Hoover, these museums offer the best glimpse into each President’s life and most importantly, time in office. This past year, we’ve visited two of these libraries – FDR’s and Bill Clinton’s. (Recap on FDR’s to come in a future post.)

You'll find the William J. Clinton Presidential Center located along the banks of the Arkansas River.  It was important for President Clinton to have this Center built in his home-state of Arkansas - specifically Little Rock - a city that played a tremendous role in the Civil Rights Movement.  It was during this time that Clinton developed his extremely passionate views on equality and civil rights that stayed with him through his entire life and career.

Before entering the actual exhibit space, a quick film is shown that takes you through Clinton’s life – from his upbringing to his time in office, to today. After the film ends (and you wipe away your tears, like I did) you have free reign to walk around the museum. The first stop is the area devoted to President Clinton’s campaign. Next, is an entire room devoted to the Cabinet and is set up exactly as it appeared during the Clinton Presidency. I made myself at home in the President’s seat.

The museum does an amazing job of chronicling each year of the Clinton Presidency, highlighting his political accomplishments for each year served. A good amount of space was devoted to each year served, right down to the volumes of binders containing his exact itinerary for each day he was in office - complete with morning jogs that we all know may have been skipped! Behind the glass of the display cases were letters sent to the President from average Americans telling him of their hardships and thanking him for doing his best to help them out. Many of these letters actually moved me to tears. Separate displays were set up for letters from notable celebrities like Paul Newman, Elton John and John F. Kennedy Jr. Not one to shy away from controversy, there was also some attention paid to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  It was not ignored or just glossed right over, which was pretty refreshing.

Upstairs, you’ll find many of the gifts that President Clinton received while he was in office – ranging from tokens exchanged with Heads of State to personal gifts from ordinary Americans (like paintings of the First Cat, Socks). There are also a bunch of biography cases devoted to the President’s upbringing in Arkansas. These included everything from kindergarten drawings done by "Billy Clinton," to school term papers, to his very first campaign flyers, to even some mementos from his courtship with Hillary. This was one of my favorite parts of the whole museum.

But perhaps the best part is saved for last – a replica of the Clinton Oval Office. President Clinton's office was designed by Arkansan Kaki Hockersmith, who used a vibrant color palette of cream, gold, crimson and sapphire blue. President Clinton brought back JFK’s Resolute Desk into the Oval Office where it remains today.

Please visit here and here for more information.

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