LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Former President Bill Clinton (search) said his new library, dedicated Thursday in Little Rock, Ark., represents the changes that took place in the United States during his eight years as president.
"We moved out of the Cold War into an age of interdependence," Clinton told a crowd of rain-soaked supporters after a two-hour ceremony in a nonstop downpour. "We moved out of ... an industrial economy into an Information Age economy. We moved out of a period when we were obsessed with overcoming the legacy of slavery and discrimination."
Four of the five living presidents were in attendance to help dedicate the Clinton Presidential Library (search). Designed to reflect Clinton's eight-year-long theme of building a bridge to the 21st century, the $165 million glass and steel home of Clinton memorabilia and artifacts, holds memories the president can be proud of as well as a few recollections he may prefer to forget.
Despite the rain, the dedication served not only as a tribute to the former president, but also something of a roast. The three ex-presidents who spoke credited Clinton with not only being an astute politician, but a man who could get personal with a wide array of people.
"A fellow in Saline County was asked by his son why he liked Governor Clinton so much. He said, 'Son, he'll look you in the eye, he'll shake your hand, he'll hold your baby, he'll pat your dog -- all at the same time," President Bush said.
"Of course, it always has to be said that Bill Clinton was one of the most gifted American political figures in modern times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way," said former President George H.W. Bush, who was defeated by Clinton in 1992. "Here in Arkansas you might say he grew to become the Sam Walton of national retail politics."
Revealing that they first met 30 years ago when Clinton was a congressional candidate, former President Carter said Thursday that the two men now have a lot in common — aside from being former presidents.
"Neither the news media nor any members of the House or Senate can tell us how to do our jobs, unless you happen to be married to one of them, like Bill is," Clinton said, referring to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Sen. Clinton was among several of the famous faces from the Clinton White House that were in attendance Thursday. Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, had choice seats. Also appearing were top-ranking Clinton Cabinet members, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Health and Human Services chief Donna Shalala and former chief of staff Leon Panetta. U2's Bono and The Edge sang three songs, which Bono dedicated to the man who he said helped put Ireland on a path to peace.
Prior to the dedication, the city where Clinton lived as the state's governor before becoming president was transformed into a tourist hub, hosting 30,000 visitors in anticipation of the opening. The privately funded center exposes not only highlights from the 42nd president's terms in office but some lowlights, too, including the president's impeachment by the House of Representatives.
"Presidential libraries are not about rewriting history. Presidential libraries are about preserving history, and they reflect the good and the bad, the success and failures and the victories and defeats," said Skip Rutherford, head of the Clinton Presidential Library Foundation.
Even Monica Lewinsky's name appears in the library, in the alcove titled "The Fight for Power," which details the legal battles between Clinton and special counsel Kenneth Starr and congressional Republicans. The display is taken from Clinton's point of view, but historians say that is to be expected in any presidential library.
"We really let our visitors and all the people who come and visit this library over the next 20 years to decide whether or not it is objective," said presidential library director David Alsobrook.
In that alcove are also other memorable moments from the Clinton era, including the Republican-led legislation called the "Contract With America" and the Whitewater investigation, which includes Whitewater figure Susan McDougal in her U.S. Marshals-provided orange jumpsuit.
"We had to show this was a systematic attempt by Republican leaders to delegitimize Bill Clinton and the administration," said former Clinton adviser Bruce Lindsey, who worked with the ex-president through much of the exhibit-design process.
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."
In a series of eight 18-foot-wide panels, the library marks highlights and lowlights 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.
Included in this story is a life-size replica of the Oval Office and one of the Cabinet meeting rooms. Anyone will be able to access every official document from the Clinton administration — 80 million in all, plus 2 million photographs and 80,000 artifacts, including every gift to Clinton from heads of state and citizens.
On the back of each display panel, visitors can access an electronic version of Clinton's daybook. Eight touch-screen monitors call up a specific day in Clinton's presidency to discover what was on his official schedule.
"A lot of memories, but unfortunately for Democrats, it's all we have right now," said Democratic strategist James Carville.
Big-name Democrats are in Little Rock for the occasion, talking about the future of the party. Democrats have lost two consecutive presidential elections since Clinton held office.
"We're just two weeks from the election. It's too early to be making a lot of plans. Let's drop back and reorganize," said former Ohio Sen. John Glenn.
"I think I speak for most of the Democrats. This is a bipartisan week and not a partisan time, and we've got a lot of time to worry about 2008," said Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.
The end of the ceremony saw daughter Chelsea Clinton, whose voice has rarely been heard publicly since her father became president in 1993, handing over the library keys to the National Archives and Records Administration, which takes over management of the institution from Clinton's private foundation.
When the building opens to the public Friday, visitors paying $7 can peruse the library's 14 alcoves detailing different aspects of Clinton's Oval Office years — one of which is dedicated to scandal.
FOX News' Phil Keating and The Associated Press contributed to this report.