Presidents Gather to Dedicate Clinton Library; Set Aside Partisan Politics, Joke during Rainy Event
Byline: Joseph Curl, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
LITTLE ROCK - Four presidents, two Democrats and two Republicans, put partisan politics aside yesterday as they gathered to dedicate the William J. Clinton Presidential Center.
With former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush and President Bush on stage in a cold rain, Mr. Clinton congratulated the 43rd president for his re-election and thanked him for attending the grand opening of the $165 million library.
"I can't thank you enough for your generous words and for coming to the opening at all. I mean, after all, you just delayed your own library opening by four years," Mr. Clinton said to laughter from 30,000 soaked supporters, most wearing ponchos and huddled under umbrellas.
Mr. Clinton, the first chief executive to be impeached since Andrew Johnson in 1868, said he always strived to be the best president he could be.
"I believe the job of a president is to understand and explain the time in which he serves, to set forth a vision of where we need to go and a strategy of how to get there, and then to pursue it with all his mind and heart," said Mr. Clinton, looking thin after cardiac surgery in September.
He thanked members of the Senate and House, which impeached him in 1998 after his affair with a White House intern prompted him to lie to the American people that he had "never had sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky." Mr. Clinton said his opponents were "not responsible for any of the mistakes I made."
The four presidents who gathered for yesterday's storm-drenched event - former President Gerald R. Ford, 91, could not travel to Little Rock - ribbed each other good-naturedly.
"A fellow in Saline County was asked by his son why he liked Governor Clinton so much," President Bush said. "He said, 'Son, he'll look you in the eye, he'll shake your hand, he'll hold your baby, he'll pat your dog - all at the same time.' "
Later, the president said Mr. Clinton's staffers "were known to say, 'If Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would sink.'"
The president's father lost his 1992 re-election bid to Mr. Clinton, who was re-elected in 1996 to become the first Democrat since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be elected twice. The elder Mr. Bush joked about Mr. Clinton's late campaign swing this year on behalf of Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry.
Mr. Clinton "was a little hard on the president during the recent campaign, but in the spirit of being kinder and gentler, I've long since forgiven him for that," the president's father said.
As for his own battles with Mr. Clinton, the elder Bush said: "on the campaign trail, it was plain to see how he fed off the energy and the hopes and the aspirations of the American people. Simply put, he was a natural and he made it look too easy. And, oh, how I hated him for that."
The soggy crowd laughed when Mr. Carter joked that the four men on the stage enjoy a life envied by others. "I saw a New Yorker cartoon last year that describes our situation in life. A young boy is looking up at his father and he says, 'Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a former president,' " Mr. Carter said.
"Well, this is a truly great time of our lives. One of the many benefits of that time that we enjoy is that neither the news media nor any member of the House or Senate can tell us how to do our job, unless you happen to be married to one of them, like Bill is," Mr. Carter said.
Throughout the nearly three-hour program - which began late, in keeping with the habitual tardiness of the guest of honor, who was said to operate on "Clinton Standard Time" - the four presidents bunched under umbrellas next to their wives.
All stood and moved about on the stage to get a better look at singer Bono as he performed the Beatles classic "Rain," changing the song's lyric, "They might as well be dead," to "We got four presidents out of bed. …