Some people’s destinies lead them to great things, but mine led me to the Bill Clinton Presidential Library, a four-story glass building in the heart of Little Rock, Arkansas. It was a muggy Saturday in July. I had just come from Memphis on a summer road trip down south, ready for a sweet taste of the most famous man Arkansas has to offer.
After I paid the $10 entry fee, attendants herded me into a rotund theater that smelled of mothballs and scandal. A well-coiffed Bill appeared on screen. He waved. He smiled. His right canine sparkled. A woman in the front row started sniffling when he kissed Hillary’s cheek.
There I was, on my day off, far from home, face-to-face with the smiling portrait of Bill Clinton under the southern sun. I had been waiting for this moment for months. Here I am, Bill. I’m ready for you.
I was particularly excited for a few reasons:
- Museums are fun. I wanted to imagine Bill Clinton brushing his teeth, or reading bad police novels before bed, or bowling, or whatever else people did in the nineties.
- I was under the impression that it was a history museum. Hopefully, deception was not imminent. I respected and trusted historians.
- Perhaps naively, the word “library” had prepared me for a candid, balanced, and documents-based historical experience.
But the Bill Clinton Presidential Library was none of these things. It was quite possibly the
most passionately composed and flagrantly defective display of “Our Glorious Leader” rhetoric I’ve encountered on American soil. It was both memorable and entirely forgettable; fact-
heavy and exceedingly vapid.
The first thing visitors see while walking towards the main entrance is a sun-bleached statue of a T-rex. For unclear reasons, half of the museum houses a Bill Clinton–themed exhibit about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs. This weird concoction of fossils and animatronic dinosaurs, meant to celebrate “Bill Clinton’s efforts to protect fossil-rich areas where dinosaurs once roamed,” is funnily enough, one of the more genuinely informational parts of the museum. Still, politicizing dinosaurs? Bad omens all around.
The main exhibit occupied a long, cavernous hall flanked by rows of bookshelves, each one creating a mini enclave dedicated to one aspect of Clinton’s presidency. In the center of the room, there were oversized screens with graphs of the stock market’s growth under Clinton, giving the whole space the cozy, patriotic feel of an office on Wall Street. According to every piece of text in the room, Bill Clinton’s presidency solved all the most pressing issues facing our planet. Child poverty, environmental disaster, racism, AIDS, antisemitism, war, starvation, cancer, debt, gun violence, healthcare, sexism. Each sign summarized the glorious acts that Bill Clinton had passed, affirmed by yet another picture of his sparkling teeth with the president of Ghana or at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Every exhibit seemed to operate under the assumption that it was explaining something to the stupidest person alive.
But perhaps the most bizarre part of this exhibit was that it actively argued against Bill’s
detractors – without even once naming his criticisms. In a particularly vehement section, the museum made an oddly polemical rebuttal against the investigation into Clinton’s financial
records. It went something like: He was acquitted! Those idiots! What were they thinking! There was ZERO reason to investigate! It was also in this section that the name Monica Lewinsky appeared, the only place in the entire building. They treated her as a petulant technicality. Tacked on the end of a long paragraph, there she was: “Clinton was later impeached after his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.”
The rest of the museum consisted of a detailed replica of the Oval Office, where you could
have your photo taken for another $10, a banquet hall full of wealthy-looking teenagers, a collection of all the gifts Bill Clinton ever received during his presidency, and a particularly gauche gift shop full of merch plastered with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and dinosaurs. I left feeling disenchanted with Bill Clinton. Clearly, the plastic preacher has no shame.
Maybe I could excuse all this thinly-masked malarkey if I at least had a good time. But the sickest part of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library is that it’s excruciatingly, bone-chillingly boring. It made me want to go 90 on I-40 until I reached Memphis. Thousands of words of jibber-jabber wear the eyes quickly, and even dinosaurs can’t save Our Supreme Leader from the pitfalls of poorly done history.
If you’re in Little Rock and desperately need to dispose of $10, or if you’re a bit of a historical masochist, maybe stop by for a visit. Otherwise, spare yourself from the plastic teeth of Arkansas’s native son.