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Clinton dedicates presidential library

Former President Clinton speaks Thursday during the dedication of his $165 million presidential center.
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Presidents past and present pay tribute to Clinton.

Bill Clinton dedicates his presidential library.

President George W. Bush honors former President Bill Clinton.

Former President Carter expresses his admiration for Clinton.

Former President George H.W. Bush on legacy of U.S. leaders.

The Clinton presidency: A complicated mix of successes, failures.
Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
Jimmy Carter
Hillary Rodham Clinton

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (CNN) -- President Bush joined Bill Clinton and two other former U.S. presidents Thursday to dedicate Clinton's presidential library, a ceremony that also brought together celebrities from both Washington and Hollywood.

The library and presidential center has offered Clinton an opportunity to further define his legacy as the nation's 42nd commander-in-chief.

"This library tells a story about America in the last part of the 20th century," Clinton said, describing a nation exiting the Cold War and entering a world of information technology. The nature of government had to change as a result, Clinton said. "That whole story is here."

President Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush, attended the ceremony, as did Clinton's Democratic predecessor -- former president Jimmy Carter.

All four men walked side-by-side to an outdoor stage near the library, welcomed by a cheering crowd, expected to number about 30,000.

Missing was the nation's fourth living former president, Gerald Ford, who, at age 91, has been limiting his appearances at public events.

Carter spoke about the rare presidential gathering.

"At the end of a very difficult political year -- more difficult for some of us than others -- it is valuable for the world to see two Democrats and two Republicans assembled together all honoring the great nation that has permitted us to serve," Carter said.

"Bill Clinton brought insight wisdom and determination to bear on the issues that he addressed. He was a leader who could inspire other people to go beyond what they thought were their own limits, to join him in accomplishing great goals," Carter said.

The current President Bush also spoke highly of Clinton, his predecessor.

"Visitors to this place will be reminded of the great promise of our country and the dreams that came true in the life of our 42nd president," Bush said. "The William J. Clinton Presidential Library is a gift to the future by a man who always believed in the future and today we thank him for loving and serving America."

The two-story library's glass-and-steel extension over the Arkansas River illustrates a familiar Clinton theme, a "bridge to the 21st century." But Britain's Economist magazine compared the building to a glorified house trailer -- which prompted a chuckle from Clinton.

"Well, that's me," Clinton said, implying that he -- a moderate Democrat -- combined stereotypes of both "red" conservatives and "blue" liberals. "I'm a little red and a little blue."

The library offers a "warts and all" look at Clinton's presidency, including his impeachment and a brief mention of his acknowledged relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. That exhibit -- which is titled "The Fight for Power" -- also criticizes former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, leader of the Whitewater probe.

Celebrities from Hollywood as well as Washington were in the audience, despite the day's rainy weather. Clinton friend and Washington attorney Vernon Jordan greeted former Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

Other Clinton-connected figures in attendance included Madeleine Albright, the nation's first woman secretary of state, and former Vice President Al Gore.

Oscar winners Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams joined audience members Barbra Streisand and her husband, actor James Brolin.

Overall, the library's collection boasts nearly 2 million photographs, 76 million pages of paper documents and 75,000 museum artifacts, such as a collection of Clinton saxophones.

Former first lady Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said the museum tells her husband's life story.

"I think, if you've been to any presidential library, it tells the story of that president's life," she said Thursday before the ceremony. "I've been to -- I guess -- all of them and they are all trying to portray to Americans what that particular president believes, what he did, when he was president."

The library also includes interactive visitor stations, high-definition television screens and 15 alcoves dedicated to various domestic and foreign policy issues.

By the numbers, the library is an impressive one. Its museum measures 20,000 square feet and includes a 110-foot timeline where visitors can stroll through the major events of the administration, which spanned from 1993 to 2001.

The first floor includes the timeline and a replica of the White House Cabinet Room, along with an orientation theater for visitors. On the upper floor is a full-scale replica of the Oval Office.

"Most Americans will never visit the White House," Sen. Clinton said. "And this presidential library will have an actual replica of the Oval Office from when Bill was president, so thousands of people will be able to bring their children and are able to see that -- or the Cabinet Room or one of the limousines that drove the president around."

In addition, the campus houses the Clinton Foundation -- a private organization focusing on global economic, social and health issues -- and the Clinton School of Public Service, which is part of the University of Arkansas.

The entire facility -- library, museum, foundation headquarters and school -- was constructed at a cost of $165 million in privately raised contributions from more than 10,000 donors, its Web site said.

CNN's Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.

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