(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin attended the opening of the new Clinton Library. Here are some of her impressions of the event.
(Kunin) It poured on President Clinton’s celebration of his library opening in Little Rock, sprouting a sea of red, blue and yellow ponchos and a rainbow of umbrellas.
Clutching soggy programs embossed with the presidential seal, the audience was uplifted by the sight of four presidents who seemed washed clean of the political venom, which had gripped the country for the last weeks. “Today we’re all red white and blue,” Clinton declared, and I believed him.
Graciousness was the tone of the day as Clinton thanked both President Bush and his father, and they returned the compliments. Some may view these kind statements as typical political hypocrisy, but I viewed it as a necessary balm that we had to apply to help heal our still sore wounds.
Not that the sharp divides that separate us from one another will suddenly be bridged. They won’t. These partisan battles will continue. But we need ceremonies that bring us together and allow us to be civil to one another and recognize that for all the vitriol we have exchanged in this campaign, we’re still one country.
It was George Bush senior who made the best speech. He acknowledged the unusual journey that President Clinton took, so different from the privileged Bush dynasty. He said, “Bill Clinton was born into trying circumstances, but today it can be said he forever remained the man from Hope.”
He continued, “Of course it always has to be said that Bill Clinton was one of the most gifted political figures in modern times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.”
Just behind the podium stretched the graceful long glass paneled library housing 80 million documents and 21 million e-mails, a treasure trove for future historians.
Before and after the ceremony members of the Clinton administration discovered one another, exchanged hugs, stories, and e-mail addresses. It was one big family reunion, both sad for the loss, and happy for the memories.
It was a special time, when Hope, Arkansas was more than the name of a small town and the birthplace of a young, energetic president who asked us to have shared values. “What should those values be?” he asked. “Everybody counts. Everybody deserves a chance. Everybody has got a responsibility to fulfill.
“We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more,” he concluded, as the crowd nodded in agreement.
This is Madeleine May Kunin.
Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.