The Office of Presidential Libraries oversee a system of 14 libraries around the country. I am trying to visit all of them. When I found out that the Global Leadership Summit meeting was near Los Angeles, I made arrangements to go a day early (my birthday) and visit the museum. It was a great experience. It brought me to tears many times. I was reminded of his grace, dignity, and humor. I remembered where I was on Baylor's campus when I found out he had been shot. I was encouraged at the many bipartisan initiatives that benefited our country. I reminded myself of the frailty of leadership as I resaw the Iran-Contra materials. We are all mixtures of good and bad.
Each of the 14 museums tells a unique story. They tell about a person and a time. They are selective, often showing the person in the best light possible. For instance, the Nixon Museum has little to say about Watergate, but about 1/3 of the Ford museum tells the story, because it is how Ford came to be president. His pardoning of Nixon and the aftermath of that choice colors the Ford legacy and informs the exhibits. The Carter museum tells about the Iran Hostage Crisis. The Reagan Library gets to tell of them coming home.
When I tell people that I am visiting the museums I get three different responses. One, bewilderment. Many people have no idea what I am talking about. They have never been to one of the presidential libraries, they did not even know they existed. Two, head shaking curiosity. Some people have heard of such places, but they could not imagine why a person would go to one of them. They look at me as if I am from some deserted desert Island. Three, a knowing comradery. Perhaps they have been to one of the museums and therefore they know generally about them or they have been to several of them.
I sat down next to a pastor from Long Island New York. I had a book on Reagan I had bought at the bookstore. He noticed and asked about it. I told him I had bought it that week. His eyes sparkled. He told me he had been to the Reagan Library three times. We then talked about the other libraries he had visited. His list included only Republicans. When I told him my goal was to visit all of them the conversation turned a little more chilly. I was sad that people can barely have conversations about our leaders that do not turn partisian and judgmental.
I have visited the libraries of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, and John F. Kennedy. This summer I'm planning visits to the libraries of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman, and Herbert Hoover. Which will leave me just FDR's to have visited the offical 14.
After each visit I have been deeply inspired at the courage, dignity and service of these that have been president. I have been impacted by the words they spoke and wrote and their acts of leadership. Each visit has caused me to pray more specifically for our country, that we live up the high ideals espoused by our Constitution and embodied in its finest leaders. Most of the libraries have a discussion of the personal faith of the presidents. It makes me want to pray even more for our leaders. If you have never visited one, do yourself a favor and go. We have three in Texas and they are only a few hours away. It will make you a better American and it will help you pray better for our country.