Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Presidential Libraries

SANTA FE – We now have 12 presidential libraries, each one grander and costlier than its predecessor. That means the Clinton Presidential Center, in Little Rock, tops them all, at $165 million, 300,000 square feet, and 80 million presidential items.
You paid for much of that, just as you paid for the previous libraries. But it’s not all money down the drain. These are 12 impressive museums, six for Democrats and six for Republicans, so no one should get partisan hackles up over that.
Jeanette and I have been to most of them and intend to get to the rest. Historians get a little edgy about all the self-promotion, excessive adoration and unmitigated praise, considering we are a democracy founded on the disavowal of kings.
But for those of us in the general public, they are quite an experience. I’m sure we all enter them well aware that we will receive that president’s slant on the events of his term and are prepared to filter that information just as we would treat presidential campaign ads.
If the Clinton Center sounds as though it would be too much for you, a Counter Clinton Center is planned for just down the street, courtesy of the folks that were after him throughout his two terms. Since they didn’t receive any federal funding for their museum, its opening has been delayed.
Some think it was more than coincidence that the Clinton Center opened just two weeks after a Democratic presidential candidate had lost an election and the party was looking for someone to rescue it. Hillary was featured prominently during the opening ceremonies and in the exhibits.
The opening of the center had been scheduled for November 2004 since early in the planning phase, but that doesn’t mean the Clintons didn’t have this in mind. It might also be noted that the Bush Presidential Library and Museum prominently features his son, George W. Wouldn’t it be something if the 2008 presidential race featured Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush? The clash of two dynasties.
Meanwhile Hillary has to win re-election to her Senate seat in 2006 and Republicans are looking hard for the strongest challenger possible. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani and current New York Gov. George Pataki are prominently mentioned as is former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Any of those pairings could be a prelude to a 2008 presidential match up.
Officially, these showcases are known as presidential libraries. The purpose is to safeguard presidential papers, which long were thought to be private property, and which for most presidents are scattered far and wide.
Franklin Roosevelt didn’t want that to happen to his papers, so he arranged for them to go to the government. Harry Truman followed suit and urged his friend Herbert Hoover to do the same. Thus, the official libraries begin with Hoover.
But now it is the museums that have grown to great importance. The last few presidents have added the word museum to their library. And Clinton has done them one better by calling his a center.
The next time you are traveling in the vicinity of a presidential library, think seriously about stopping. We have found each one to have a very special feel about it and lasting memories. I have never been able to find a list of all of them and their locations, so here is what I have compiled. Our favorite so far: the Reagan Library.
* Herbert Hoover – West Branch, Iowa
* Franklin Roosevelt – Hyde Park, New York
* Harry Truman – Independence, Missouri
* Dwight Eisenhower – Abilene, Kansas
* John Kennedy – Dorchester, Massachusetts
* Lyndon Johnson – Austin, Texas
* Richard Nixon – Yorba Linda, California
* Gerald Ford – Ann Arbor, Michigan
* Jimmy Carter – Atlanta Georgia
* Ronald Reagan – Simi Valley, California
* George Bush – College Station, Texas
* Bill Clinton – Little Rock, Arkansas


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