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February 10, 2005
The Big Me Celebrates Alone

Bill Clinton opened his presidential library to great fanfare, with a big media splash and predictions of how it would draw large numbers of people eager to relive the supposedly heady days of light and magic of his presidency. So far, the Washington Times reports, those predictions have gone bust, with one notable exception:

Although the library originally said it had drawn more than 100,000 visitors in the first six weeks of its opening, the National Archives and Records Administration, which operates the library, told U.S. News & World Report that only 42,045 visitors actually paid the $7 to enter. The rest of the visitors were VIPs, journalists and other nonpaying guests.

Although Clinton supporters predicted that 50,000 persons would attend the star-studded Nov. 18 dedication, where actors Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt mingled with the locals, the true number was closer to 20,000, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

By comparison, Mr. Bush's presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station -- which also has a presidential apartment -- drew 67,677 paying visitors in a comparable period in 1997, between Nov. 5 and Dec. 31.

In 1991, the Ronald Reagan library at Simi Valley, Calif., drew 69,152 paying visitors between its Nov. 4 dedication and Dec. 31.

However, the Times notes, one VIP in particular has made a point of repeatedly visiting the library:

Fewer visitors than expected have dropped by the much-ballyhooed, $165 million Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., since its November gala opening, but one VIP has been trying to make up for that: President Clinton himself.

"I understand he's here regularly," says Todd Scholl, director of marketing for Little Rock's Peabody Hotel.

And what does the former president do?

"That's a good question," says Mr. Scholl.

The former president recently showed up unannounced at a private reception at the library and has become so ubiquitous that a guest at another event this week approached Skip Rutherford, president of the William J. Clinton Foundation, and asked, "Is Bill here tonight?"

Mr. Clinton has been entertaining old friends in the museum's two-bedroom penthouse apartment, overlooking the Arkansas River. The apartment is also known as the "Executive Suite," and Mr. Clinton plans to spend an average of one week each month there. He used to bunk at his mother-in-law's condo before getting the new pad that his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has not visited since November.

To be fair, Hillary has a job that keeps her in either Washington DC or New York most of the time, while Bill has a lot of time on his hands. Now that he has a new job with the UN tackling tsunami relief and rebuilding, he'll spend a little less time there.

But it says something about the ego-building and stroking that Bill Clinton requires that he feels he has to spend 25% of his nights sleeping at his presidential library. I can't recall that any recent president (if any at all) made a habit of regularly spending much time at all at their libraries. While they all raise extensive private financing to build them, most former presidents simply make their records available for posterity and return on special occasions for public appearances.

In fact, Clinton's attachment to his monument seems more than a little self-obsessive and somewhat pathetic. If the library is meant to represent his presidential career, he's giving the impression that the entire enterprise was less substantial as a means of directing policy than as personal therapy of narcissism. All politicians have that to some degree, but most don't cling to it the way Clinton has after his terms expired. Perhaps his friends should entertain the notion of an intervention to help him break his self-addiction.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 10, 2005 6:07 AM

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