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One day in the future, probably in 2021 or 2022, all the living ex-presidents will shuffle on stage for the opening of the Barack Obama Presidential Center, which will house his official library and museum.
We know, as of Tuesday, that it will be on the South Side of Chicago. What we do not know is what will be there — what artifacts will be selected to represent the two terms of the 44th president.
But we can make some guesses. With the help of the pros, of course.
The bin Laden shot
You could make a strong case that it’s the most iconic photograph of the Obama administration — the indelible shot of the president and his team in the White House Situation Room on May 1, 2011.
A hunched Obama, a cross-armed Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her hand over her mouth, awaiting word on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Obama himself called it the “most important single day of my presidency.”
A stein from the Beer Summit
Obama’s presidency has been marked by complex discussions about race and American life, and one of the first came in July 2009, after Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black Harvard professor, was arrested at his own home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
At a press conference the following week, Obama ventured that Cambridge police had “acted stupidly.” An uproar followed, and thus was born the Beer Summit — a meeting of Obama, Gates and James Crowley, the white police sergeant who made the arrest.
“It was a difficult moment,” Jeffrey Alexander, a Yale sociologist and the author of “Obama Power,” told NBC News in an email, “but one that tells a complex, truthful story about the difficulties Obama has faced throughout his time.”
A pen from the signing of the Affordable Care Act
Obama used 22 pens to sign his historic overhaul of health care on March 23, 2010. Surely one of them can find its way to the South Side to commemorate the landmark legislation of Obama’s presidency — and a touchstone of Republican opposition.
“The bill I’m signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for and marched for and hungered to see,” Obama said that day.
A Cuban cigar
In December, after a year and a half of secret negotiations, Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba — nonexistent since 1961, the year he was born.
And there are still 20 months left in the Obama presidency. In other words, there’s plenty of museum material still out there.
That could include “a spectacular success or failure in Iran,” said James Mann, author in residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the author of “The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power.”
Or a historic trip to Cuba. A White House spokesman said Monday that Obama has no immediate plans to visit the communist island, “but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.”
Incidentally, former President Jimmy Carter has visited Cuba, but it was after he left office (and established his own presidential center in Atlanta). The only sitting president to do it was Calvin Coolidge, in 1928.
When Obama stepped to the briefing room podium to speak to reporters on Aug. 28, 2014, he had a lot on his mind — the American strategy for fighting ISIS, Russian aggression in Ukraine.
But what will history remember?
Yes, it’s the tan suit. The jokes wrote themselves. Or everybody wrote them on Twitter, anyway: The Audacity of Taupe. Yes We Tan. And one from our own NBC News family:
A copy of the 2004 convention speech
The country met Barack Obama on July 27, 2004, at the convention that nominated John Kerry for president. He was an obscure Senate candidate from Illinois, and he sought to move past discussions of red states and blue states.
James Kloppenberg, a professor of American history at Harvard and the other of “Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition,” suggested it as one of a series of defining texts that might wind up in the Obama library.
He also suggested Obama’s 2008 speech responding to the furor over Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his 2009 speech in Cairo, his 2011 speech after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and his appearance in March on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
“In all of those texts he laid out his ambitious plans for fulfilling the promise of American democracy, drawing on multiple strands in our nation’s past to advance the ideal of equality as well as liberty,” Kloppenberg wrote in an email to NBC News.