Go West – Arkansas

Kristi and I pulled out of the hotel parking lot knowing that we would spend our next night in Lebanon. Packing the trunk on the last morning of a long road trip is a bittersweet experience. You know that you will not have to load the car again or look for another hotel room. However, you also know that a great time is ending and a return to daily life is imminent. It is always good to make it back home, but it is sad to see an adventure come to an end.

Before we hit the homestretch of the journey, there was one more site for us to see. Kristi was excited about it and mentioned stopping there a few times. I, on the other hand, was stopping for the historic experience and because she wanted to. As we entered Little Rock, it was easy to see our destination – the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum.

The Clinton Library

This was the third presidential library of our trip, and it was quite different from the ones we had visited earlier. I wrote about my belief that a library reflects the personality of the man it honors. If my theory has credence, then the Clinton Library represents a man with an oversized ego. The four-story metal and glass structure dominates the riverfront area of Little Rock. The interior contains many open air spaces and meeting areas. Therefore, the building could have been smaller and less costly. I am probably being too critical, but I got one message from the Clinton Library. I was president, and you were not. Get over it.

The library was filled with interesting artifacts from the presidential limousine to gifts from foreign dignitaries. One interesting aspect was the replica of cabinet meeting room. There was also a floor dedicated to the important events of the Clinton presidency. As Kristi scanned the interactive panels looking for events that interested her, I searched for the aspect of his presidency that I believe defined it. I finally found the panel covering scandal and impeachment, and I believe it said as much about President Clinton as the size of the library. It also said something about our current state of political discourse.

The information about the scandals of the Clinton White House was somewhat hidden in a corner and conveyed the notion that there was “a vast right-wing conspiracy.” Two presidents have been impeached, and I believe that neither trial should have happened. Both events were based on political differences rather than criminal activity. However, conspirators did not force President Clinton to become involved with an intern and wag his finger at the American people as he lied about it. Most people do not want to know about the president’s personal life, but they also do not want to be treated as fools. I believe that moment overshadows the good attributes highlighted at the library.

Today, political discourse has become acidic and personal. Talking heads from both ends of the spectrum tear apart the opposition rather than build up the issues they support. There can be no compromises because the extremists will not allow it. I believe this atmosphere of political destruction can be traced to the Clinton Era. When President Clinton wagged his finger and First Lady Hillary Clinton blamed the “vast right-wing conspiracy”, Republicans decided enough was enough. Did they introduce Bill to Monica? Likewise, when the Republican Congress brought impeachment charges, Democrats wanted revenge. Obviously, other elections and politicians followed, but the seeds of hatred between the two parties were planted in the late 1990s.

A replica of the Oval Office is the last room to see in the library, and an overly nice security guard agreed to take our picture in front of it.

The Last Photograph of the Trip

The souvenir shop sits in an old building several hundred yards away from the library. It was placed there to attract tourists to an area of shops and restaurants. After perusing the items in the store, we ate lunch in the farmer’s market of Little Rock. It was a great place with food vendors inside and farmers selling their produce outside. The market sits next to the river where statues by local artists line the walkway.

When Kristi and I left Little Rock, the end was truly near. Interstate 40 led us eastward, and we counted the miles as we got closer to home. Crossing the Mississippi River and seeing Memphis on the farther bank made both of realize that we were leaving the West. We had a few hours to go, but for me the trip ended when we crossed the Tennessee state line.


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