Enough! No more presidential shrines

Like a virulent virus, the scope and cost of shrines to ex-presidents keeps growing.

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in 1957, cost $1.7 million.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in 1979, cost $20.8 million.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, dedicated in 1991, cost $60 million.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in 2004, cost $165 million.

Next up — the already controversial Barack Obama Presidential Center on a 20-acres site in Chicago. First expected to break ground in late 2018, and now projected to break ground in 2021, it was originally projected to cost $500 million. Now it will likely cost more.

Current design of the Obama Presidential Center Museum

The private Obama Foundation, not the government, will own and operate the center. The principal feature is expected to be a 235-foot-tall fortresslike museum tower with a likely granite facade, which will stand like one of the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” standing in the desert in Shelley’s poem, Ozymandias. It’s reminiscent of the still-preserved medieval monolithic rock-hewn churches in the 13th century “New Jerusalem” in the heart of modern-day Ethiopia.

A rock-hewn church in Lalibela, a small town cradled in the mountains of northern Ethiopia. Commissioned by King Gebre Mesqel Lalibela in the 13th century

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies  “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Adding insult to injury, Obama’s creation isn’t even going to have a presidential library. Artifacts and records from Obama’s two terms in the White House are being digitalized and organized by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and will be stored in existing NARA facilities. The only library planned for the site is a new branch of the Chicago Public Library in the museum tower.

This is all getting completely out of hand.

Though Congress approved the acceptance of the first presidential library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park in New York, in 1939, Congress didn’t formally authorize the Presidential Library System until 1955 with the passage of the Presidential Libraries Act. Then everything went gangbusters and the push for even more presidential shrines continues.

The $900 billion pandemic bill just sent to the president, for example, authorizes 93 acres of federal lands to be used for the construction of a Teddy Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota more than 100 years after his death. The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation recently announced it had $100 million in commitments, successfully unlocking a $50 million endowment from the state of North Dakota, even though major digitized collections of Roosevelt’s papers already exist at the Library of Congress and Harvard University .[1] 

Maybe, just maybe, presidential libraries were once justified when they actually contained physical papers available to researchers, but over time the idea morphed into the construction of costly tourist-traps. As Politico has put it, “Presidential libraries are perfect examples of just how far presidents will go to control their own legacies. Since the first one was created in 1941, what were intended to be serious research centers have grown into flashy, partisan temples touting huckster history.”

And now, with the records of the Obama administration being digitized, there’s even less reason to build a complex that will be little more than a testament to egotism in architecture.

When will it end? Are we destined to see yet another shrine, a freakish billion-dollar Trump monolith and theme park, arising near Palm Beach?

The Trump Presidential Monument and Theme Park?

[1] The papers of Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), public official, author, decorated veteran of the Spanish-American War, governor of New York, and president of the United States (1901-1909), have already been digitized. The collection consists of approximately 276,000 documents (roughly 461,000 images), most of which were digitized from 485 reels of previously reproduced microfilm. Held in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, these papers constitute the largest collection of original Roosevelt documents in the world. There is also The Theodore Roosevelt Collection, housed in Harvard’s Houghton and Widener libraries. The collection started as a research library opened in New York City by the Roosevelt Memorial Association in 1923. It was presented by that organization (known since 1953 as the Theodore Roosevelt Association) to Harvard University, Roosevelt’s alma mater, in 1943.

Stop the madness: enough with the extravagant presidential centers

Enough with the lavish presidential centers.

Barack Obama revealed the latest iteration of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on Jan. 9.

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Newest design of Obama Presidential Center, Jan. 9, 2018’\\\\[[[”\’

“Michelle and I want this center to be more than just a building,” Obama said in a video statement released on Jan. 9. “We want to create an economic engine for the South Side of Chicago, a cultural attraction that showcases the South Side to the rest of the world.”

Why?

Why can’t it just be a damn presidential library?

As presented on Obama.org, the 225,000 sq. ft. the Obama Presidential Center will consist of: the Forum, a two-story public meeting space; a 235 ft. tall 165,000 sq. ft. museum tower; a library building; a plaza; an athletic center with multi-sport indoor facilities; a new outdoor running track; and a 400-450 space underground parking garage. At an event to unveil the plans, Obama said he’s also like to add a snow sledding hill, as well as play lots and paddle boats for a lagoon in new park space.

Not only will the library be one of the smaller elements of the site, it won’t actually contain any paper records. Instead, all Obama’s unclassified records will be digitized, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Obama’s actual papers will go to separate facilities maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration at locations to be determined, John Valceanu, NARA’s director of communication and marketing in Washington told the Chicago Tribune.

Opposition to the center is already surfacing. Faculty at the University of Chicago, where Obama was a lecturer at the Law School, released a letter on Jan. 8 asserting they had “concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods” and that the private Center would be taking over a major part of a historic Chicago park.

“Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation,” the letter said. “Construction of a permanent architectural monument violates Olmsted’s vision of a democratic urban park.”

The letter also bemoaned expected public expenses associated with the Center.
“ It is the taxpayers of Chicago who are going to be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, according to estimates by the Chicago Department of Transportation,” the letter said.

As of Jan. 10, 173 faculty had signed the letter.

Martin Nesbitt, chair of the Obama Foundation, estimated the total cost of the project will be $350 million. Groundbreaking is planned for late 2018 and and the grand opening in 2021.

The Obama Foundation, established in Jan. 2014, has been hard at work trying to raise money from the public to build and help maintain the Center.

During 2015-16, the Foundation raised $14,371,979 and had net assets of $10,888,797 at the end of 2016, according to the standard Form 990 non-profits are required to file annually with the IRS.

The Foundation raised its fundraising game substantially during those two years, spending just $12,000 on professional fundraising fees in 2015 and $578,579 in 2016. The Foundation’s 2017 Form 990 report is not yet available, but if the Foundation’s goal is $350 million [l;it likely has quite a way to go.

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies. “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Writing in Salon, Clark said presidential centers tend to be “proud, defensive, and a little self-absorbed” and eventually become theme parks with declining numbers of visitors.

With that in mind, it is discouraging to see the number of extravagant presidential centers continue to grow. Do we really need another presidential center funded by influence seekers and built by a /legacy-hungry ex-president?

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more grandiose than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million in 1979; $99.8 million if you include the $79 million 68,000 sq. ft. Edward M. Kennedy Institute, complete with a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber, added in March 2015

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs cost $60 million.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR cost $165 million.

At the rate things are going, The Donald J. Trump Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Presidential Library and Emporium will be a billion dollar extravaganza.

Baku_Towers_render-500x398

The Donald J. Trump Center on the Hudson?

Enough of this insanity.

It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding and more lavish presidential centers celebrating former presidents’ egos.

Not ANOTHER Grandiose Presidential Center and Foundation!

The Clinton Foundation isn’t going to be the last money-grubbing institution established by a former president. Another foundation money race is already on.

Hours before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Barak Obama posted a two-minute video on Obama.org calling on Americans to contribute to the Obama Foundation which will oversee the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago.

obamas-chicago-library

The Obama Foundation will “focus on developing the next generation of citizens — and what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century,” according to obama.org.

The Obama Foundation will try to raise money from the public to build and help maintain the Barack Obama Presidential Center. The Foundation has already raised $7.3 million at the end of 2015. The fundraising total for 2016 hasn’t been disclosed. The Center is expected to cost $1 billion.

“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies. “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Writing in Salon, Clark said presidential centers tend to be “proud, defensive, and a little self-absorbed” that eventually become theme parks with declining numbers of visitors.

With that in mind, it is discouraging to see the number of extravagant presidential centers continue to grow. Do we really need another library and recklessly large foundation funded by influence seekers and built by a legacy-hungry ex-president?

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more grandiose than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $72.1 million.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, the largest of all the presidential libraries, cost $60 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to a little more than $130 million now.

Obama’s $1 billion project would be twice what George W. Bush raised for his library and its programs.

It would also be more than the $165 million spent on William J. Clinton’s Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Obama’s massive fundraising effort may well lead to all the same conflicts and questions associated with the Clinton Foundation.

It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding presidential libraries and foundations.

Stop the madness: Obama’s extravagant Presidential Center

Now we have a number. $1 billion. That’s what The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago is expected to cost.

“Eight years is only the beginning,” the Obama Foundation, which is driving creation of the Center, says on its website. “As President Obama has said, the change we seek will take longer than one presidency. The Obama Foundation is where the work we started together will continue.”

I’m reminded of an observation by Anthony Clark in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies: “We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard. As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Do we really need another extravagant, pretentious library and a recklessly large foundation funded by influence seekers and built by a legacy-hungry ex-president?

cartoon_rock_obama

It seems like our presidents are getting more and more concerned about their legacy and continued influence.

The New York Times reported, for example, that on election night in 1992, James L. “Skip” Rutherford, was celebrating in Little Rock, Ark., when he felt the hand of Herschel Friday, a member of the Clinton finance committee, on his back. “Hey, Skip,” Rutherford, recalled the lawyer saying. “Now we have to start thinking about that presidential library.”

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more extravagant than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $72,143,125.55.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, the largest of all the presidential libraries, cost $60 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to a little more than $130 million now.

Obama’s $1 billion project would be twice what George W. Bush raised for his library and its programs.

It is also far more than the $165 million spent on William J. Clinton’s Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Like the Clintons, if Obama hopes to raise $1 billion, he’ll have to hit up moneyed interests, a lot of them, and do a lot of backscratching.

Obama and his people say he plans to raise most of his haul after his presidency, but he’s already on the hunt. According to a report filed with the IRS by the Barack Obama Foundation, in 2014 Obama raised $5,434,877 million from 12 donors.

The donations ranged from $100,000 to $1 million. Michael J. Sacks, a Chicago businessman, gave $666,666. Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., donated $1 million. Mark T. Gallogly, a private equity executive, and James H. Simons, a technology entrepreneur, each contributed $340,000.

The Foundation reported raising another $1.9 million in 2015, leaving it with a balance of $2.6 million after expenses and a massive fundraising effort needed to reach its goals. Major contributors in 2015, according to the Foundation’sForm 990 report to the IRS, included: the Gill Foundation (Tim Gill) , $347,000; Impact Assets Inc., $250,000; the Sacks Family Foundation, $333,334; Lisa Strickler and Mark Gallogly, $330,000; Marilyn and Jim Simons, $330,000; David and Beth Shaw, $250,000.

Meanwhile, like slimy remoras that attach themselves to sharks, connected Democrats are already at the money trough.

The Foundation’s 2014 expenses include $476,551 to the Smoot Tewes Group, a Washington, D.C. fundraising consultant. Julianna Smoot, served as Obama’s chief campaign fund-raiser in 2008 and 2012. Paul Tewes served as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s National Coordinated Campaign Director in 2001-02 and its Political Director in 2003-04. He also directed Obama’s victory in the 2008 Iowa Caucus campaign.

$230,436 went to SKDknickerbocker, a Washington, D.C. public relations and political consulting firm that specializes in working for Democratic Party politicians. The firm collected another $182,865 in 2015.

SKDknickerbocker is a veritable cornucopia of Democratic operatives, including: Anita Dunn, former Obama White House Communications Director; Jessica Bassett, who has done press and site advance for Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton; Bill Burton, former deputy White House press secretary for Obama and co-founder of the super PAC Priorities USA Action during Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign; and Stephen Krupin, former chief speechwriter to Secretary of State John Kerry, director of speechwriting on Obama’s re-election campaign, and chief speechwriter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

While Obama is still president, it’s clear that he, his Foundation and these firms are already hard at work pressing the 1% to donate to the Obama Foundation. And this is surely only the beginning of what will become a massive fundraising effort, likely leading to all the same conflicts and questions associated with the Clinton Foundation.

This is all getting completely out of hand. It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding presidential libraries and foundations.

The way we’re headed, presidential centers will surpass Egypt’s pyramids as monuments to the egos of leaders. Given that many of the pyramids entombed not only the deceased, but also the deceased’s servants, Obama’s current and former advisors like Valerie Jarrett, John Podesta, David Plouffe and David Axelrod may have reason to be concerned.