Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

A necessary presidential library

President George W. Bush does not deserve a presidential library. But we should nevertheless give him one.

For the first time last Thursday, he spoke in some: but not much: detail about his plans for erecting a library at the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas: Laura Bush’s alma mater: that would bear his name on its façade.

“We just announced the deal, and I, frankly, have been focused elsewhere, like on gasoline prices and, you know, my trip to Africa, and haven’t seen the fundraising strategy yet,” Bush said during a humdrum White House press conference we don’t even hear about on the six o’clock news anymore. Like I said, he didn’t give us much.

Though Bush does not, by any means, deserve to have his name attributed to a library that is paid for and maintained, in part, by our tax dollars, he owes the American people a degree of transparency that he did not provide during his presidency.

Unlike conventional municipal libraries, presidential libraries are repositories for all preserved presidential records of a particular president. And luckily for the American public, President Bush, according to the Presidential Records Act of 1978, must preserve and hand over all of his presidential documents at the end of his term for the public to openly view at their own leisure.

Ironically, in 2001, before his reckless abuse of executive power in getting us into the illegitimate foray that is the Iraq War, Bush issued an executive order to include in the Presidential Records Act the records of Vice Presidents. Thus, next year we will we get a 2-for-1 special on the disclosure of currently censured documents. Boy, doesn’t that just make you want to lick your attack-ready intellectual lips.

It is no secret that the Bush administration has been one of the most secretive administrations of the last 30 years. But what is a secret is why all the hijinks that have led to domestic eavesdropping and extraordinary rendition, among others, are being kept so tightly under wraps within the four walls of the White House.

Since the Reagan administration’s “when in doubt, classify” policy that led to the classification of roughly 15 million documents in 1985, only the Bush administration has come close to classifying that volume of documents. Not only did they come close, but in 2004 they matched and in 2006 they passed the 15 million mark and classified 20.6 million documents.

At the same time, they declassified only 37.6 million pages of documents. To provide some perspective, at the midpoint of the Clinton administration, some five million documents were classified and some 204 million pages of documents declassified. And the Clinton administration only briefly exceeded the 10-million-documents-classified mark during one year whereas the Bush administration has only not met the 10-million-documents-classified mark during one year.

Even his father came nowhere near to the degree of secrecy that he has. During Bush senior’s lone term, he classified an average of seven million documents per year and declassified an average of roughly 12 million pages of documents per year: a wholly appropriate amount by anyone’s standards, partisan or nonpartisan.

Come 2009, because of the predicted advent of a George W. Bush’s presidential library and the inauguration of a presidential administration that will probably churn out unclassified documents by the millions in order to reverse the over-classification trajectory we are on, we might find out why Bush was so secretive about what went on inside his White House.

There is but one problem, however, in the step between building a Bush Jr. Library and revealing the many secrets his documents have to offer. As opposed to all of the previously built presidential libraries leading back to Hoover’s, Bush’s library, so far as we know, will not be operated by the government-run National Archives and Records Administration but by a private consortium of investors unimaginatively called the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation. Thus, as S.M.U. correctly points out in a letter of concern, the library could either become “a neutral space for unbiased academic research conducted by scholars or a conservative think tank and policy institute that engages in legacy polishing and grooms young conservatives for public office.” We will see whether this becomes another of Bush’s many secrets.

We will probably unveil these secrets assuming that we do not pick John McCain in November, who along with Arlene Specter and Lindsay Graham passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006: one of the most devastating (and borderline unconstitutional) recent documents to undoing Bush’s over-classification mess. If he were to become president, we can only expect McCain to follow his authoritative martial psyche.

I hope that I’m wrong about McCain and that I’m right about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, should either of them enter the White House. But moreover, I hope that the American people understand that opposing the building of a library for one of our worst presidents in history may, in fact, do much, much more harm than good.

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