Presidential libraries: Lessons in the past for all of us
The Kansas City Star
Soon we will know who will be our nation’s leader for the next four years. The 12 presidential libraries — built with nonfederal funds and donated to the federal government through the National Archives and Records Administration — can teach all of us, six lessons in leadership.
Think big; provide inspiration.
John F. Kennedy (Boston) and Ronald Reagan (Simi Valley, Calif.)
The Kennedy Library is constructed to convince you the country will only fulfill the promises made by the president if you are part of the effort. In the Reagan Library there’s a reconstructed pub from Ballyporeen, Ireland, the Reagans visited and you board Air Force One used by seven presidents. It may be part Hollywood, part Disneyland, but visitors leave giving the 40th president credit for America’s bright future. Both Kennedy and Reagan inspired.
Tell us who inspires you.
Harry S. Truman (Independence) and George H.W. Bush (Texas A&M University, College Station, Tex.)
The correspondence between Bess and Harry shows their love and devotion. The Bush Library experience begins with a film featuring Barbara (“Bar”) and George talking about their family and its commitment to public service.
Be honest at the outset.
Richard M. Nixon (Yorba Linda, Calif) and Gerald R. Ford (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
In the Ford Museum you recall how Gerald Ford became the 38th president: Watergate break in; cover up; presidential resignation. And you are reminded that Ford became vice president and president without being elected to either. Until the Nixon Library came under jurisdiction of the national archives, it had little information on Watergate.
You will be remembered for your service.
Herbert Hoover (West Branch, Iowa) and Jimmy Carter (Atlanta, Ga.)
The 31st and 39th presidents are linked by serving just one term each and for their service to humanity outside of their presidential terms. Prior to becoming president, Hoover led U.S. efforts to stem starvation and famine throughout Europe after World War I. Ironically, he left the Oval Office ridiculed for his lack of empathy and concern. Similarly, Carter is highly regarded for his work post-presidency. His international peace efforts and Habitat for Humanity efforts elevated his reputation.
Accept your humanity.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (Hyde Park, N.Y.) and Lyndon Baines Johnson (University of Texas, Austin, Tex.)
The FDR Museum exhibits wheelchairs, braces and a specially equipped car. Roosevelt neither fully revealed his disability (infantile paralysis) nor did he deny it. It provided him with determination, and it endeared him to people struggling through the depression and world war. His story is linked with Lyndon Johnson who wanted his library to be a “tree without the bark.” Proud of his Great Society efforts, LBJ knew his war on poverty would always be tainted by the Vietnam conflict. These leaders are connected by their own frailty while identifying with the vulnerability of others.
Seize the environment for progress.
William J. Clinton (University of Arkansas, Little Rock, Ark.) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Abilene, Kan.)
Eisenhower’s library captures his engagement of civil rights and mobility. He used television to help enforce integration at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. His experience of the autobahns in World War II inspired him to create our interstate highway system. Clinton saw advances in technology as an information highway opportunity. Clinton and Eisenhower should be linked for seizing the opportunities the environment provides.
The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum will open on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 2013. With whom will he be linked?
Thomas B. Curran is the president of Rockhurst University in Kansas City and has visited all 12 presidential libraries.