Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

ATLANTA - When we visited the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Georgia, what we enjoyed most were the quotes in the special temporary exhibit, "First Ladies, Political Role and Public Image," developed by the Smithsonian Institution.

A multimedia presentation, it included old radio talks, A&E presentations on the wives’ lives and roles, some of their clothes and personal items, and posters with biographic data, photos and paintings.

Among our favorite quotations was one by Florence Harding, who organized and ran her husband’s campaign for president: "Well, Warren, I have got you the presidency. What are you going to do with it?"

Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of the worst presidents ever. She’s the one who should have had the job.

Here are some other examples:

● Betty Ford: "I do not believe that being a lady should prevent me from expressing my views. Being ladylike does not require silence."

● Rosalyn Carter: "A first lady is in a position to know the needs of the country and do something about them. It would be a shame not to take full advantage of that power."

● Dolly Madison: "To see the great and celebrated people of our country is a very great gratification to me."

● Bess Truman: "I have nothing to say to the public."

The pièces de résistance were the A&E movies playing at various places in the exhibition that showed the changing roles of women and how they helped and extended presidential power. The movies also demonstrated how they have changed their relationships with the press and what some of them have done to modify the décor of the White House.

Many of us are so familiar with the styles of the different women that no label would have been needed on many of the sample costumes, such as those of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.

The complex that is the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is impressive. The large, round buildings are designed to fit into the ambiance of the surrounding park. We would have been more impressed with the inside of the museum if we hadn’t already visited five other presidential libraries and museums.

We were somewhat disappointed comparatively in terms of the emotions it aroused in us and in the sense it gave us of being in touch with some important historical moments. For example, the presidential museums of both Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman left us drained, with the feeling that we had just relived some very important events in history.

The Carter museum is quite straightforward and traditional. In the auditorium, a 25-minute movie explains how the power of the presidency has changed through the years. A walk down a hall features life-size cutouts of recent presidents who influenced the office. A large central area has an ongoing town meeting, with people interacting from a number of large televisions.

Various alcoves contain information about the major presidential decisions made by Carter and his life history. Carter’s major accomplishments were turning the Panama Canal over to Panama, achieving peace between Israel and Egypt, confronting the nuclear threat, strengthening ties with China, negotiating the hostage crisis in Iran and emphasizing the conservation of resources.

Television sets spread throughout the museum play speeches by Carter, but they lack the emotional impact of those by Reagan. This has nothing to do with our political beliefs because we both voted for Carter and not for Reagan.

The sections leading up to Carter becoming president have large, black-and-white murals made from old photos, comments by Carter and some items from his life.

The first response many people had to Carter’s presidential campaign was "Jimmy who?" When we met several of the volunteers who were working for him, it was hard for us at first to understand their enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm carried him into the White House. He has continued to play a role in our national consciousness with his international volunteer work and the large number of books he has written since leaving the White House.

This statue on the grounds of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta shows a boy leading a blind man by carrying a stick between them. The statue is symbolic of the Carter Center’s goal to break the cycle of disease and poverty that grips many of the world’s countries.