Presidential Museums

Yes, they are self-serving, much like the pyramids and tombs of ancient times, but are they valuable?  They are to me. Visiting the museums connected to the Presidential Libraries of William Jefferson Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush and Lyndon Baines Johnson gave me and my friend Marjo the opportunity to see our adult lives “from the top.” That is, to reflect on how national events had affected us and how we remember taking part. Besides, these are state-of-the-art displays that re-awaken one’s memories and emotions.

How could I ever forget being on the White House lawn with Steve when Lyndon Johnson welcomed the Shah of Iran? Marching in anti-Vietnam War protests while Steve worked in the Pentagon? Attending a White House briefing on the Cold War when Bush was Vice-President? Feeling the excitement in Washington when the victorious troops returned from the first Gulf War? Visiting the National Mall with Shelby during the Clinton Inauguration festivities? Visiting the Pentagon office of our friend Jan Lodal when he was Assistant Secretary of Defense under Clinton? How could Marjo forget the Dayton Accords? How many readers have had close encounters with U.S. Presidents?

After seeing the Museums of these three Presidents, I have even more appreciation for First Ladies. Marjo and I had previously visited Lady Bird Johnson’s Wildflower Center at the University of Texas, but it was fascinating to see her offices at the LBJ Museum and the LBJ Ranch and learn about her activities from 1969 until her death in 2007. What a great lady! I have met their daughter Lynda, who lives nearby, a few times, but have yet to tell her that she and I were born the same day and so were our youngest daughters. The photos in this album include one that lists Barbara Bush’s duties in the first 100 days of her husband’s presidency. Any time you feel busy, read that!

Then there’s Hillary Clinton. There were wonderful photos of her meeting with school children, health care experts and women’s rights advocates. She probably needs a museum of her own or at least, an addition to this one. Maybe it’s because we were in a hurry, or maybe we should have experienced it on our own rather than taking a guided tour, but Clinton’s Museum failed to engage our attention the way the other two did. Architecturally it was the most interesting and its LEED-Platinum status set an example for George W. Bush’s new museum at SMU. After Little Rock we learned to view the excellent orientation films first and take our time to wander among all the exhibits at Bush’s (43rd President) and LBJ’s (36th). It was fitting that Clinton’s Museum had a fine restaurant, “42,” while the others had none. All three museums included Presidential limousines, settings of White House china, replicas of the Oval Office, and loads of gifts from White House visitors.

The Museums are carefully curated by sympathetic partisans. The Libraries are strictly maintained by the United States Archives and must include all documents (is that possible?) from that President’s term of office. The guide at the Clinton Museum intimated that the Archives had refused to accept Nixon’s Library until everything had been turned over. I had visited Truman’s Museum and Home in Independence MO in 2003 and look forward to visiting JFK’s the next time I’m in Boston.

George W Bush’s Library was dedicated while we were in Texas, but it opened to the public the day after I returned home.  After visiting the others, I especially appreciated these Doonesbury cartoons (click to enlarge, then slide forward to see the next):

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