November 17, 2010

William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas

Directly across the river from where we were camping is the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. It sits right on the Arkansas River, within walking distance of downtown Little Rock, and is part of a major redevelopment project in the city. Being "The Man" to those of us in Generation X, the Clinton Library was a must see place to go while in Little Rock.

The Taylor-Lenz Family next to Clinton's Limo
Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton certainly played a major role in the happenings of the 1990's. For those of us in Generation X, he is mostly a rock star. I suspect the reasons for it have to do with where our lives were in our generation. At the time, we were in college or newly out of college, still idealistic, still optimistic, and everything seemed right with the world with Bill in charge. The economy was booming, the deficits were now surpluses, the world was mostly at peace (even Israel and Palestine seemed close), the Iron Curtain was down, the environment seemed to be getting cleaned up, and job opportunities seemed to abound.

The Timeline Boards
Were all those things all solely because of Bill Clinton? No, of course not. But, probably much like JFK for a generation before him, having a young, energetic guy at the helm and things going well around us, it just seemed like it was meant to be.

Re-creation of his Oval Office setup
Visiting this museum, a couple of things really seemed to stand out. First of all, not placing blame here, but when you contrast the way the world seemed then and the way it feels now and for most of the 2000's, the contrast could not seem any starker.

There was no Great Recession. No massive deficits. No continual wars in Middle Eastern countries. No constant fear mongering on terrorism. Everything that was bad then now seems so trivial.  Many in the older generations will disagree, but seriously, an affair was the big issue to impeach a president?
How times have changed...

View of the Presidential Park (still in progress) and Downtown Little Rock
As for the museum, it is a bit overboard. It had too many video monitors playing too close together, so that was distracting. I thought they tried to make the inside too flashy. I enjoyed the 13 minute biographical film. I really didn't care much one full floor dedicated to "stuff" given to them on foreign visits.

For kids, they did have some activities, but mostly they were for older ones. We made a "campaign" button for Hilina, which mostly advocated for her favorite color of pink. She voted in an election for her favorite ice cream (strawberry because it's pink) and then she was disappointed that she didn't get any afterwards. But, she especially loved the shaking hands exhibit.

Hilina is a politician in training
I felt there was more and different things they could have done with it. I personally thought the JFK library in Boston, Lyndon Johnson museum in Texas, and the Gerald Ford museum in Grand Rapids were better. But, it was free this day because it was the 6th anniversary of the opening, and free is a very good price!

View of the redevelopment on the river.
This bridge will become a bike path/pedestrian route on the river loop.
Our RV park is directly on the other side
Bill Clinton seemed to have an understanding of people in a way none of the more recent presidents, including the current one, does. He could talk to a "wacko environmentalist" audience one day, a poor inner city black crowd the next, and rich country club whites after that, and each seemed to think he knew them best and he was one of them. I think those ways of thinking and relating are what led to things as wide ranging as Welfare Reform, NAFTA, the Family Leave Act, The Northwest Forest Plan, the Children's Health Insurance Plan, and his mostly successful Middle East peace accords.

The Making Peace Exhibit
Of course, from my standpoint some of the most important things were his initiatives on the environment. Bill Clinton's Administration had a profound impact on protecting the natural resources of this country. Whether it was the development of the Northwest Forest Plan, setting aside 11 national monuments in some of the most imperiled ecosystems in the country, including our personal favorite Grand Staircase-Escalante, strengthening the Clean Water and Clear Air Act, or one of his last moves in creating the Roadless Rule to protect the last remaining stretches of roadless areas in our National Forest; his moves were significant, even if some oil/coal/mining companies and ranchers were pretty tee'd off about it.

Display on the Environmental Achievements
Bill Clinton is a larger than life character. Not being as concious of things before him, I can't remember if a previous president was as polarizing as he was (perhaps it has always been this way). But, I never understood the vitriol and hatred of this man. You can disagree with his policies, (and even I didn't agree with everything he did) but the strategy of personal destruction so many used against him just never made sense to me. As such, he will always remain one of my favorite presidents.

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