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The Clinton Presidential Library Opens in Little Rock, Arkansas

Kwame Holman reports on the opening of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.

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    A steady rain couldn't keep nearly 30,000 people from turning out to celebrate the unveiling of the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, today.

    Former presidents, candidates for president, Clinton administration officials, and Arkansas friends joined a star-studded cast of onlookers.

    Sitting on 27 acres, the museum is the largest and most expensive of the 12 presidential libraries. Covering 150,000 square feet and rising five stories high, the Clinton Library was built at a cost of $165 million, mostly from private donations.

    The library houses some 80 million items, including notes, memos, letters, and other papers accumulated by the president during his two terms in office. There are 75,000 museum artifacts and nearly two million photographs.

    And there's also an exhibit that references the impeachment. This afternoon, following an assortment of performers and other speakers, former President Jimmy Carter spoke.


    At the end of a very difficult political year, more difficult for some of us than others, it is valuable for the world to see two Democrats and two Republicans assembled together, all honoring the great nation that has permitted us to serve.

    We are truly grateful to you. Thank you very much.


    President Bush and his father followed, each commenting on Bill Clinton's extraordinary political skills.


    Of course, it always has to be said that Bill Clinton was one of the most gifted American political figures in modern times.

    Trust me, I learned this the hard way. And here in Arkansas, you might say he grew to become the Sam Walton of national retail politics.


    Arkansas is a state that knows political skill when you see it. A fellow in Saline County was asked by his son why he liked governor Clinton so much.

    He said, "son, he'll look you in the eye, he'll shake your hand, he'll hold your baby, he'll pet your dog– all at the same time."


    And finally, Former President Clinton himself spoke, devoting most of his remarks to thanking the people he worked with over his political career.


    I want to thank all the vast numbers of Congress and former members who are here who served with me. I couldn't have done most of the good things we did without them, and they're not responsible for any of the mistakes I made.

    I can't see through all the umbrellas and all the ponchos or whatever you call those plastic things that make you all look so beautiful. But I'm pretty sure Sen. Kerry's out there. And if he is, I want to thank him, and I'm glad he's back on the job.


    Mr. Clinton talked about the symbolic meaning of the library's design. Elevated above the Arkansas River, it is intended to remind visitors of building a bridge to the future, a theme Mr. Clinton adopted in accepting his second nomination for president.


    Yes, this library is the symbol of a bridge, a bridge to the 21st century. It's been called one of the great achievements of the new age, and a British magazine said it looked like a glorified house trailer.

    And I thought, well, that's about me, you know? I'm a little red and a little blue.

    What it is to me is the symbol of not only what I tried to do, but what I want to do with the rest of my life: Building bridges from yesterday to tomorrow, building bridges across racial and religious and ethnic and income and political divides – building bridges.


    The former president concluded with some words about the political divisions in the country today.


    I don't want to be too political here, but it bothers me when America gets as divided as it was.

    I once said to a friend of mine about three days before the election, and I heard all these terrible things, I said, "you know, am I the only person in the entire United States of America who likes both George W. Bush and John Kerry, who believes they're both good people, who believes they both love our country and they just see the world differently?"

    What should our shared values be? Everybody counts. Everybody deserves a chance. Everybody's got a responsibility to fulfill. We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.

    So I tell you, we can continue building our bridge to tomorrow. It will require some red American line-drawing and some blue American barrier-breaking, but we can do it together. Thank you and God bless you.


    As the two-hour ceremony wound down, Former President Clinton and President Bush stood together, chatting, beneath their umbrellas.

    The presidential families then went indoors for a post- dedication lunch.