3rd Thursday [8]: The Clinton Campaign

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For three months this summer I found myself in Little Rock, Arkansas, for a work assignment. I felt like there is not a lot to do in Arkansas unless you love outdoor activities (it’s “The Natural State”), or Razorback football. But I found enough to occupy what little free time I had. One of the first things I did was check out the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.

As a supplement to my just-started presidential biography endeavor, I also hope to see as many presidential libraries/museums as I can in my lifetime. Right now the total is a meager three, including this one. However, it has turned out to be three museums in three years (those of Harry S. Truman in 2013 and Abraham Lincoln in 2014), a pace I am not likely to keep.

The Clinton Library is an easy drive from anywhere in town, on the east end of Little Rock at the outer edge of the downtown area. It sits in a large park, on the bank of the Arkansas River. The building itself juts out over the river’s path, intentionally resembling a portion of a bridge in a city famous for bridges. This is the tangible representation of Clinton’s “Bridge to the 21st Century” (although, if completed, it would only be a bridge to North Little Rock).
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One of my first impressions is that it felt like a giant campaign ad for Hillary Clinton, which is not at all fair to the former President, who finds himself in a very unique position today. The museum faithfully presents the years of his time in office, presenting the wins, the challenges, and the losses, while obviously focusing on the positive. The Monica Lewinsky scandal is addressed but not dwelled upon, and the impeachment presented ultimately as a victory for the President.
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20150614_163930[1]A timeline runs down the center of the museum, the focal centerpiece as you enter the main exhibit. Alcoves on either side look deeper into specific aspects of Clinton’s term, including the advancement of computer technology in the 20150614_163806[1]1990s, the rise of global terrorism, and divisiveness of a Republican-controlled congress. One side mainly addresses domestic issues, the other side, the world.
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A walk upstairs takes you through the bridge-like end of the building, offering a great view of the river, which swelled from recent heavy rains when I first visited (I went three times) and it was so close that it almost needed to buy a ticket.20150601_095328[1]
The upper level of the main exhibit presents the personal life of Bill and his family. I always enjoy seeing and reading about the personal lives of the presidents while they are in the White House, because it reveals just how much they are like the rest of us. They are just like you and I, at their base, enjoying the same things we do, but with the eyes of the world upon them most of the time. The Clinton museum displays reminded me of the exhibit at the White House Vistor Center in Washington, DC, which I also recommend. There are formal event displays, such as a table setting and glass art Christmas Tree, there are a multitude of gifts presented to the President, and there are also pictures and video of more private aspects of life in the people’s house. Opposite these displays, across the room, is a collection of correspondence between Bill and some of the people who influenced him as he grew up, and other documents and photographs from his life before Washington.
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Athletics display. Jacket from 1996 Atlanta Olympics

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I must admit I found this bodyless Clinton playing a saxophone to be kind of creepy…

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…until I saw these bodyless presidents, painted on eggs for the White House Easter Egg Hunt. The other sides have their First Lady’s faces.

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In other exhibits, a small theater at the start provides an introduction to President Clinton. Outside the theater, its walls are covered in a photographic mural chronicling the first Clinton presidential campaign. On the building’s entrance level, Clinton’s limousine is parked in the lobby. 20150601_100219[1] An Oval Office reproduction is on the third floor, and after I left Little Rock, they opened it up for the public to traverse. Personally, I was pleased with getting to view it at all angles from the perimeter, and can only imagine that visitors walking through the center of it would only serve to ruin other people’s photos. Maybe I am just jealous that I didn’t get to do it.
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There is also a re-creation of the Cabinet Room, where you can sit in the20150614_141002[1] President’s chair, or those of any of the cabinet members. On my second visit, I was met in that room by a high school field trip group, and a museum guide presented a nice information and history lesson to the kids, as well as to me. I learned that the chairs are laid out in the order that the cabinet positions were created, with the Vice President’s chair directly across from the Presidents, and the others following back-and-forth across the table in a crisscross manner. The guide told the kids that today there is one additional chair that did not exist for the Clinton staff, and he asked if anyone knew what it was. I knew, but let them have their learning. Do you know? This link will tell you – the password is: NEWCHAIR. The cabinet room also has several computers built into the table top, for an interactive experience and additional education.
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The library portion of the building was different from the other presidential centers I have been to, in that a significant part of its collection was built into the museum itself, and a research room on the third floor is surrounded by the exhibits. At the Truman Library, the research areas are in a different wing of the complex, and the Lincoln Library is in a second, separate building across the street from the museum.

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The columns of blue boxes contain nearly 5,000 documents from the administration, but make up just eight percent of the entire collection.
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For partisan visitors to the Clinton Library and Museum, there is plenty for you to appreciate the office of the president, in general, and the successes and battles of the Clinton administration, in particular. For Clinton fans, be prepared to fall in love with him all over again.
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20150727_140708[1]There is an excellent restaurant in the basement, Forty Two, but it is only open to the public for three hours at lunch time. There are additional small exhibit areas that have unrelated exhibits (when I was there, Dinosaurs Around the World), and a banquet hall for events. The lobby gift shop seems inadequate, until you learn that the full museum gift shop is located up the street, downtown, a short walk away from the site (but a longer walk on a hot, southern summer day).
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People will jokingly ask, “Is he here today?” Even my own brother asked me if I said hi to Hillary. One or more of the Clintons do visit from time to time, and promote the activities of The Clinton Foundation within the center. But no, none of them were there any of the times I visited. Maybe next time.
Downtown Little Rock skyline, from the third floor of the museum.

Downtown Little Rock skyline, from the third floor of the museum.

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One thought on “3rd Thursday [8]: The Clinton Campaign

  1. A giant ad for Hillary Clinton? That may well be? Yet there are more than a few YouTube videos of the Clinton family that could be spurious? Yet surprisingly, they go unchallenged in a court of law? One is about the real father of Chelsea and the another is about the Clinton’s being part of a money laundering and drug running scheme using the State of Arkansas?

    Mr. Bill Clinton is reputed to have bragged, several times, if it is to believed? […Edited by blog…]. Which really does a disservice to the real people of America. It also disheartens any who see the inevitable Hillary vs. Jeb runoff at the polls next year. For it becomes the devil, or the deep blue sea sort of scenario? For the rest of the world. If not for the American people. People who are being fooled by those who are supposed to serve them. Yet instead, serve themselves and their masters the international bankers.

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