One of the highlights of my recent trip to Little Rock was my field trip to the Clinton Presidential Center. I am an unabashed political junkie, and had carefully planned my business appointments around the visit, just as I had planned my meetings around a visit to the Jimmy Carter Library the last time I was in Atlanta. And, when I travel to Austin later this summer, you can be sure that I will block out time for a vist to the LBJ Library as well.
But I digress.
Consistent with the personality of its namesake, the Clinton Library’s holdings are the largest within the Presidential Library system, including approximately 76.8 million pages of paper documents, 1.85 million photographs and over 75,000 museum artifacts. Obviously only a small fraction of this material is on display at any given time, but there is still a lot to look at. I was particularly captivated by the long rows of blue binders containing Clinton’s daily schedule for each day of his 8-year presidency. The next time I start to chafe at my daily schedule becoming too meeting-intensive, that will give me a basis for comparison.
The Center features a replica of the Oval Office, which is quite impressive:
No matter your political stripe (mine is blue, if you haven’t figured that out already), it is difficult to avoid being swept up in the history and political significance of that room – all that happens there, and all that it represents.
However, I was a bit surprised to find that the Clinton Oval Office didn’t have quite the same effect on me as had the the Carter Library’s replica, shown here:
Why? Part of the reason was simply timing, I think – while I was anticipating seeing the Clinton replica, the Carter Library’s Oval Office took me by surprise – I had rounded a corner while walking through the Carter Library and there it was, and it had literally taken my breath away.
Why else was I less awestruck with Clinton’s Oval Office than with Carter’s? It has something to do with the men themselves, I suppose. In terms of what he accomplished for the nation and for the world, I think history will rank Bill Clinton highly. However, it’s difficult to look at a replica of Clinton’s Oval Office without giving at least a passing thought to the general soap opera that characterized his personal life while in office, not to mention specific events that occurred in that office. Ahem. Enough said on that.
By contrast, I believe that history will remember Jimmy Carter as a mediocre president, but as a very good man. Here’s a shot of Carter’s desk:
Note what he kept at his right hand. The Oval Office’s current resident probably keeps a Bible on his desk as well, but he and Carter read it, and use it, differently, I think.
Again, I digress – that’s material for a future post, perhaps.
Back to the Clinton Oval Office. Look closely at the coffee table in between the two sofas. In the glass display case is a moon rock, dated at 3.6 billion years old:
When discussions would get heated on a particular issue, Clinton would point to that rock and say “hold on here – that rock there on that table is 3.6 billion years old – we’re only here for an instant – let’s get some perspective on this thing.” Wise words.
I’ll close with one more image. This van was in the parking lot outside the library:
Judging by the various stickers, I’m guessing this guy felt the same way in the Clinton Library that I’ll feel if I ever make it to W’s….