Library, museum tout Clinton’s achievements, address scandal

By Staff Writer
December 3, 2004


Former President Clinton opens his presidential library and museum, a celebration of his accomplishments and a defiant slap at those who impeached him and tried to remove him from office.

The museum boasts of an era of prosperity while he was president from 1993 to 2001, when the economy created 23 million jobs, the government balanced the budget and deficits turned into surpluses.

But the museum also casts a dark light on the period, as Clinton uses it to put his spin on his impeachment for lying under oath to conceal an extramarital affair.

A museum section titled “The Fight for Power,” unveiled in a preview tour, portrays the impeachment as the culmination of a decade-long vendetta by Republicans who sought to personally ruin Clinton and other Democrats, waste taxpayers’ money on fruitless investigations and undermine his 1996 re-election.

The museum offers none of the contrition that Clinton has offered many times for engaging in the affair with former aide Monica Lewinsky. Rather, it blames Republicans, says they were engaged in “politics of personal destruction” and singles out former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former independent counsel Kenneth Starr for criticism.

“We have our perspective. If Mr. Starr gets his own library, he’ll get his perspective,” former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said during a walkthrough of the museum.

Financed by private donations, the $165 million, three-story museum and adjoining library sit on the shores of the Arkansas River near downtown Little Rock, where Clinton served as governor. It’ll be dedicated in a ceremony attended by President Bush and former Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush and Clinton.

Once dedicated, the library’s 80 million pages of records and 21 million e-mail messages will be turned over to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Clinton and the Clinton Foundation worked with the archives in deciding how the museum would interpret his legacy.

It interprets the impeachment as part of an ugly power struggle.

“In the 1990s, it became common right wing practice not just to attack Democrats’ ideas, but also to question their motives, morals and patriotism,” the museum display says. “The civility that once prevailed on Capitol Hill gave way to character assassination. The politics of personal destruction was central to the Republican strategy.”

After taking over the House of Representatives in 1994, the display says, Republicans used investigations to go after Clinton and other Democrats, costing individuals “tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees” and “wasting” millions in taxpayers’ money.

“In this combustible climate, the Congressional Republicans took the politics of personal destruction to a new level, using the subpoena power to investigate Democrats … and attempt to change popular public policies by discrediting the president and members of his administration personally,” the display says.

“The fight for power culminated in two government shutdowns and an impeachment battle … attempting to deny the very legitimacy of the president’s election.”

It mentions Lewinsky briefly, and says that Clinton in September 1998 “acknowledged that he had not been forthcoming about the relationship.”

It quotes Gingrich as saying he pursued the impeachment “because we can.” It doesn’t repeat Clinton’s later admission that he engaged in the affair “because I could.”

Podesta said Clinton was intimately involved in selecting the exhibits and editing the texts that accompanied them. “The final edits were done by the president. He read every little bit of this,” Podesta said.

The story of the impeachment clearly was told from Clinton’s perspective, Podesta said. But he said Clinton was forthright, and more willing to deal with the scandal than former President Nixon was in dealing with the Watergate scandal. He said Nixon didn’t mention Watergate in his museum for several years.

“Impeachment is here,” Podesta said. “This is a gutsy and full representation of what happened.”

There is, obviously, more to the museum than impeachment.

The main hall lauds the achievements of Clinton’s terms, from economic growth to foreign-policy gains. It opens with a scoreboard noting such improvements during the Clinton years as the spread of democracy, the reduction in nuclear warheads, the increase in international trade and improvements in literacy and health.

The lobby features an armored 1993 Cadillac Fleetwood that was used as a presidential limousine. It’s part of an exhibit about Secret Service protection of the president that includes a video of agents training. “The threat is ever present,” the video says.

Another highlight is a full-scale replica of the Oval Office as it appeared the day Clinton left office. It includes a replica of his desk, family portraits, a display of medallions from military bases he visited while in office and busts of Presidents John Kennedy, Harry Truman, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Posted to the web by Shawn Rice

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Staff Writer

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