Jay Miller on presidential libraries

-A A +A


ith the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, we now have 13 presidential libraries, each one grander and costlier than its predecessor.

The Clinton Presidential Center, in Little Rock, topped all previous libraries at $165 million, 300,000 square feet and 80 million presidential items. Watch for the George W. Bush Center to top that.

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 13 impressive museums, six for Democrats and now seven for Republicans, so no one should get their partisan hackles up over that.

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, the libraries 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.

A Counter Clinton “Lie-brary” was planned for just down the street from the Clinton Center, courtesy of the folks that were after him throughout his two terms. It was grandly announced but never materialized. 

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 Clinton Center had been scheduled for November 2004 since early in the planning phase, but that doesn’t mean the Clintons didn’t have a Hillary presidential candidacy in mind.

It might also be noted that the Bush Presidential Library and Museum prominently features his son, George W, who was seriously considering a presidential run at the time.

Wouldn’t it be something if the 2016 presidential race featured Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush? The clash of two dynasties. They were both at the dedication of the George W. Bush Center last Thursday.

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 did 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 is the Ronald 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 – Grand Rapids, Michigan

• Jimmy Carter – Atlanta Georgia

• Ronald Reagan – Simi Valley, California

• George Bush – College Station, Texas

• Bill Clinton – Little Rock, Arkansas

• George W. Bush - Dallas, Texas