LITTLE, ROCK, Ark. — Well, I will now be able to check off No. 5 on my list of presidential libraries I have seen … and this one is quite special.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park is a gem. It shines brightly near the Arkansas River just adjacent to downtown Little Rock.
It reminds me foremost of an era when political leaders of different parties could squabble, take the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis and then work together for the common good.
That’s how it was during the two terms of the Bill Clinton presidency.
It has been said over the years that President Clinton is the master of “compartmentalization,” meaning he could put personal animus aside in one corner of his brain and work outside those emotions to craft constructive legislation with his ardent political foes. Clinton’s compartmentalizing was put to the extreme test during his second term as POTUS.
The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives impeached Clinton for lying to a grand jury about an affair he was having with a White House intern. The library does not ignore that event. It mentions it on two panels displayed chronologically. It doesn’t mention the reason for the president’s commission of perjury, only that he lied to a federal grand jury. It also mentions that the House impeachment vote was virtually taken along partisan lines.
The president apologizes for his “conduct,” a display tells us.
Enough about that.
The library also tells of the myriad accomplishments that Clinton achieved: the peace treaty between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel; the ouster of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic; the balanced federal budget; his tireless work on behalf of racial minorities; a comprehensive crime prevention bill.
We have seen elements of this kind of cooperation between the GOP and the current Democratic POTUS. Here and there, though, is not sufficient to move the country forward constructively. President Clinton and the GOP congressional majority with whom he worked — while they were, um, testy at times — laid the groundwork for the way government ought to work.
The Clinton library tells us that story. I am glad to have seen it.