LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Top Clinton administration officials, both Presidents Bush, rock stars and ordinary admirers of Bill Clinton turned out Thursday to pay homage to "a man of compassion" at the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center.
An estimated 30,000 guests were on hand for the dedication of the $165 million glass-and-steel home of artifacts and documents gathered during Clinton's eight years in the White House.
Clinton, President Bush, and former presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter took the stage together while the Air Force Concert Band played "Hail to the Chief." Their wives had arrived on the stage moments earlier, and all held their own umbrellas against steady rain.
The nation's 42nd president told the crowd, "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."
He paid tribute to the people of Arkansas, his family, his predecessors and his colleagues, and he said he tried to combine the best of conservatism, maintaining what is worth keeping, and progressivism, discarding what is not.
He said he was disappointed by the divisions revealed in the just-ended presidential campaign, wondering if he was the only American who liked both candidates.
"We all do better when we work together," he said. "Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more."
In his remarks, Carter admired Clinton for his "insight, wisdom and determination."
"He was a leader who could inspire other people to go beyond what they thought were their own limits in accomplishing great goals," Carter said.
President Bush praised the skills Clinton demonstrated in office.
"Over the years, Bill Clinton showed himself to be much more than a good politician. ... He was an innovator, a serious student of policy and a man of compassion," the current president said.
His father, whom Clinton defeated in 1992, noted his campaign skill and added, "And, oh, how I hated that."
Clinton, still recovering from his September cardiac surgery, often chuckled and slapped his thigh during the others' remarks. He sported a new hairstyle, brushed flat over his forehead instead of sweeping back.
U2's Bono and The Edge played the Beatles song "Rain," before Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced her husband in remarks cut short by the weather.
Clinton's library collection consists of more than 80 million presidential items, and Clinton has promised to give scholars early access to previously private policy advice and other documents he isn't required to release until 2006.
Wet bleachers and lengthy security lines earlier in the day did little to squelch the enthusiasm of thousands waiting to attend. Sister Judith Dalesandro was among four nuns who arrived from a Roman Catholic convent in Jonesboro.
"Bill Clinton is the best president we've ever had in the United States," said Sister Dalesandro, who taught school in Little Rock when Clinton was Arkansas governor. "He was wonderful. He wasn't at all snooty. He would come and talk with the kids."
When the building opens to the public Friday, visitors paying $7 can peruse the library's 14 alcoves detailing aspects of Clinton's Oval Office years - one of which is dedicated to scandal.
A presidential timeline opens with Clinton's 1993 inaugural address and his dream for the nation: "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."
Eight 18-foot-wide panels offer notable moments, good and bad, from each year of Clinton's presidency, such as the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton-led peace efforts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, and Clinton's impeachment and acquittal over the Monica Lewinsky affair.
The Lewinsky matter is covered in an alcove dedicated to the "politics of persecution." The display lumps together Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" and independent counsel Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation.
Library director David Alsobrook acknowledged that many wouldn't be satisfied.
"His supporters will say, `Oh, why did you give this so much space?'" Alsobrook said as reporters received advance tours Wednesday. "But his detractors will come up and say, `Dave, where is the blue dress?'"
Another feature is the only full-scale replica of the Oval Office in a presidential library. Thousands of photographs of the office were taken to re-create the placement of every statue, photo and award.
Clinton said the library contained the essence of his presidency.
"The record is all in there - what we did at home, and what we did abroad. ... Even when we fell short, we pushed ahead," he said.