Hawaii a natural place for Obama library site


POSTED: Monday, March 29, 2010

Hawaii legislators are poised to urge President Barack Obama to choose the state where he was born and raised as the site of his presidential library. While Hawaii may be an underdog to Chicago for the selection, lawmakers should be satisfied if Obama rejects the traditional library in a way that could embrace both applicants.

The University of Chicago, where Obama taught constitutional law for 12 years, has approached the White House several times since his inauguration about planting his presidential archive and museum in its Hyde Park neighborhood, Bloomberg News reported last October.

Chicago's candidacy could be formidable. In addition to Obama's professorial days at the university, first lady Michelle Obama was a vice president of its medical center, political adviser David Axelrod attended the university and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett was on the school's board of trustees.

But it would be presumptuous to guess what Obama will desire as a presidential

library or the equivalent; don't be surprised if he will want something unique.

When asked about such a library, “;He didn't know if that would be something he would want to do,”; close friend Eric Whitaker told Bloomberg.

Whitaker said Obama talked instead about the possibility of a “;virtual”; library that would avoid paying “;homage”; to him.

Whitaker said Obama seemed more interested in the kind of advocacy center that Jimmy Carter erected in Atlanta. At one end of the two-story structure is the library and museum, which are open to the public, and at the other end is the Carter Center, a nonprofit foundation that operates two dozen programs on health, human rights and conflict-resolution issues around the world. Among the designers was the Honolulu architectural firm of Lawton, Umemura & Yamamoto.

Presidential libraries have been consuming projects of presidents over the past 70 years in their retirement. That may seem unbecoming of an ex-president who will be in his early or mid-50s when departing the White House, depending on whether he serves a second term.

Chicago would be a fine central location for an Obama “;center”; focused on domestic issues, while Honolulu would be a logical launching pad for foreign programs, perhaps in concert with the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii's Manoa campus. (Ahem. Unlike the University of Chicago, Mr. President, UH is a public institution.)

Hawaii “;could be a home away from home for the first family and their work after the presidency,”; said Robert Perkinson, a UH American Studies professor who is preparing a presidential library proposal.

At this point, Obama's presidency is young, but already historic: He is the first African-American elected this nation's leader; health care reform has passed; he has received the Nobel Peace Prize. As it is concerning his unfolding legacy, it is still early to reach a conclusion about what an Obama library would be, or what else it might be.

In the meantime, an invitation in the form of a resolution by the Legislature - even Republicans are aboard this one - is a logical expression of Hawaii's interest in a presidential library in whatever form desired by the first president native to Hawaii.