Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Presidential Libraries

Yesterday, I read an article online about the Hawaii state legislature making a request to President Obama to pick America's 50th state to house his presidential papers and memorabilia when the time comes to build his Presidential Library and Museum. Many comments after the article were in agreement. Proof that people don't think logically about stuff. Its a lovely gesture and thought, but let's get real.

Hawaii has ZERO chance of becoming the official home of the Barack Hussein Obama Presidential Library and Museum for several reasons. The biggest being that its an island far from the mainland of the United States. Most Americans have not been to Hawaii and many cannot afford to travel there. With the historical significance of Obama being our first African American president, his presidential library is going to be a HUGE tourist draw, especially for African American school children in decades to come. Families, schools, and tourists are all going to want to travel by the cheapest means (car, buses), thus, Chicago is the most logical choice for his presidential library and museum. Not only does he consider it his home since he graduated from college, the city is easy to get to (major transportation hub in the north-center of the United States) and its the third largest city in the country, with a thriving African American cultural history. Chicago may have lost the 2016 Summer Olympic bid, but its a sure thing to house the presidential library.

A couple hours away, in the capital of Springfield, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (pictured above) finally opened in 2005. Despite criticisms for its expense and some irreverent "theme park" tricks, I have to say that it is far and away THE BEST presidential library and museum I have ever been to. The two films I saw there were three dimensional and the "Ghosts of the Library" one will leave you scratching your head as a popular ad from the 1980s comes to mind: "Was it live or was it Memorex?"

Since President Lincoln is President Obama's favourite president, no one needs to speculate on the importance for our current president to house his library and museum in the same state as the president who emancipated the slaves and is considered the greatest president our country has so far produced. History buffs who love to tour historical sites will probably make special vacations out of visiting both the Lincoln and Obama presidential libraries and museums. I certainly will.

The first presidential library and museum that I visited was the Jimmy Carter one in Atlanta, Georgia. Its a nice one, even though I was too young to remember much about his presidency. The last time I visited, I got to see his Nobel Peace Prize in a special display case, as well as the special champaign bottle that was used to Christen the U.S. Naval submarine that bears his name. I've visited George Washington's Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, but I don't think either president has a presidential library. In 1996, I saw the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri. I loved the historical displays in that one (much more interesting than Carter's, because it showed things further back in history, long before I was alive). In 2004, I visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. I happened to be visiting my friend from Basic Training, who lived in the nearby Quad Cities. All I knew about Hoover was that he was blamed for the Great Depression. His library taught me that he was a great humanitarian before he became president. He had the unfortunate luck of being president when the stock market crashed in 1929. However, if one thing is true about Republican presidents, they take a hands off approach from using government for the public good. In their philosophy, corporations should be left to fix society through the marketplace, while the government turns a blind eye with deregulation.

Before I visited the Lincoln Library and Museum, though, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum was my favourite of the ones I had seen up to that point. The building is a very modern glass and steel structure overlooking Boston Harbour. Not only is the museum dedicated to all things JFK, but his brother Robert was also appropriately honoured. At some point, I may become a member of a Presidential Library (membership in one allows discounts at all of them) and I'll probably choose the JFK one to have my membership.

I still look forward to making a special Memphis/Little Rock vacation, where I can finally visit the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and Museum (as well as see Elvis' Graceland). Back during the scandal of 1998, I told friends that the front of the museum should feature just Monica's face, with the entrance doors making up her mouth. I'm interested to see how much space is devoted to that particular episode in his history. I had heard that there is no mention of Watergate at the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, which if true makes that intellectually dishonest. The next time I do a Los Angeles vacation, I plan to visit both the Reagan and Nixon Presidential Libraries. Not because I like either of those presidents, but because I'm a huge fan of presidential history.

Someday, when I have my central Texas vacation, I plan to see San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, and the George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library and Museum. By the time I get to Texas, though, even Shrub's library should be completed and ready for vandals. I don't know if I'm ready to visit his museum, though. The temption to destroy or vandalize it in some way is still too strong in me. I'm of the opinion that GWB should only be remembered for three things: 9/11, Iraq, and Katrina. I'm still clueless on what he managed to accomplish in the worst eight years our country has endured in our (post-Boomer) lifetime. Maybe they can make it fun, with a roller coaster ride symbolizing his economy, a flume ride to symbolize New Orleans, and a free fall ride to remind visitors of the people who jumped from the burning World Trade Center rather than be burned or crushed to death. But, to be honest, Bush does not deserve a presidential library and museum.

Pictured above is beautiful downtown Honolulu, one of the cleanest cities in America that I've ever been to. The Hawaiians might want President Obama to pick their state for his library and museum, but as I said above...ain't gonna happen. Besides the reason I already gave, there's also rising sea levels, tsunamis, volcanos, earthquakes and hurricanes to consider. Important archives should be in secure locations. The tropical island paradise of Hawaii is not a great location to house historical documents. Sure, historians would love to go to Hawaii to research the Obama presidency for their book projects, but think of what future generations would lose if a tsunami wiped out everything?

Hawaii should absolutely have a museum devoted to President Obama, though. Several presidents have other museums besides the "official one." Tourists to the islands would no doubt include it among the places to see (Waikiki - check; Arizona Memorial - check; Diamond Head - check; Punchbowl - check; Luau - check; Pineapple Plantation - check; North Shore - check; Polynesian Cultural Center - check; Obama Museum - check). Hawaii has every right to be proud of their native born son. Most importantly, though, no Obama Museum in Honolulu would be complete without the original long-form birth certificate, proving once and for all that the 44th president was born there in 1961. It would have to be under heavy security, though. Can't trust those crazy birthers and their obsession with faked birth certificates from Kenya.

The city of Chicago (seen above) is Obama's hometown and where his Library and Museum will be located someday. Its a great city (I actually prefer it over New York City and Los Angeles). They might not be Olympic hosts anytime soon, but they'll always have Obama (and Oprah).

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