The Bush Library: Control of History to Save a Sorry Image


George W Bush, as I have argued many times, has been a spectacularly successful president – if your definition of “successful” includes turning the govt into a sort of combination National Chamber of Commerce and corporate wish-list enforcer. He has virtually gotten everything he’s asked for, usually on his own terms. He had a rubber-stamp Republican Congress for 6 of his 8 years and even when the Democrats won it back in ’06 largely due to the way his ultraconservative, pro-corporate policies devastated the country, they continued to give him pretty much everything he wanted, including FISA, telecom immunity, more troops in Iraq (anybody remember “the surge”?) and worker- and environment-unfriendly trade deals.

But once he’s gone, history is not going to look kindly on him. He hasn’t left yet and already they aren’t. The reasons are simple: his success has been a disaster for the nation in every important area one can think of. Surprisingly, that’s not how he sees it. For example, he’s currently running around insisting that the odious, destructive NCLB has been a major success and even had the gall to warn Obama not to mess with it.

Bush argued that No Child Left Behind has “forever changed America’s school systems” for the better, forcing accountability on failing public schools and leading to measurable improvements among poor and minority students. [There’s no evidence whatever it has done any such thing, but since when would a lack of proof stop Bush?]

“I firmly believe that, thanks to this law, students are learning, an achievement gap is closing,” Bush told the audience at General Philip Kearny School.

He also suggested that Obama, who has vowed to overhaul the program, should tread carefully before following through on promises of reform. “There is a growing consensus across the country that now is not the time to water down standards or to roll back accountability,” Bush said.

No, there isn’t. There’s a growing consensus that NCLB has been an utter failure and needs to be re-vamped. Personally, I think it’s so bad there’s no saving it. We ought to throw it out and start over.

But the point here is that Bush is in almost every sphere trying to convince people that sows’ ears are silk purses. This wouldn’t be a problem except that he signed an executive order extending an ex-president’s control over his papers, well, forever. The NYT editorial board thinks maybe we need to remind him that a presidential order isn’t, you know, law.

It’s time to remind President Bush as he leaves office that his White House records are not his personal property. They belong to the nation. The Presidential Records Act made that the law of the land after the Watergate scandal. Showing disturbing forethought, Mr. Bush signed an executive order in his first year, effectively decreeing that a sitting or former president can withhold his papers indefinitely.

***

When Mr. Bush signed his order, the speculation was that he was hoping to spare the disclosure of some inner-sanctum embarrassments committed by his father’s administration or perhaps Ronald Reagan’s. Now, with so much of the latest Bush history needing to be plumbed from Baghdad to Wall Street, a robust public records law is ever more crucial for robust democracy.

The general “speculation” they mention wasn’t mine. I always said Bush was preparing the way to protect himself and control what was or even could be written about him by historians. The proof came a few years later when the news of the immense Bush Library and Propaganda Center was loosed upon the world. It was confirmed when it turned out that Karl Rove, of all people, was going to be in charge of, incredibly, the whole shooting match.

But it was the late Rev Andrew Weaver who noticed all the facilities that had been put in place as part of the Library’s deal with SMU to keep the Methodist Church and the university itself powerless to influence anything done on their campus by the Bushies, like for instance right-wing litmus tests being given to “historians” before they were allowed to view the materials and “viewing contracts” that gave Rove the right to censor any historian’s work before it was published if it didn’t meet with his approval. If any of that BS started (Rove was famous for doing shit like that when he was Pol Dir), SMU couldn’t prevent it or stop it. The nub:

The controversial institute, dedicated to promoting the domestic and international views of George W. Bush, would not be under the supervision of SMU and would hire without regard to university policy. No other university with a presidential library has permitted such an institute on its campus.

It would be completely independent of either church or educational authorities and the owners of the land on which it sits would be unable to say one word about its use – or abuse.

But things are not going entirely the Bushies’ way. Just yesterday a Federal judge nixed the Bush Admin’s argument for keeping WH visitors’ logs secret.

A federal judge yesterday rejected the Bush administration’s latest attempt to keep secret the identities of White House visitors, and he declared that the government illegally deleted Secret Service computer records.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth concluded that the deletions took place before October 2004, when the Secret Service transferred large numbers of entry and exit logs to the White House and then deleted copies of them.

That’s law that is in the same ballpark with presidential control over papers, and the secrecy of the visitors’ logs was likewise a Bush/Cheney innovation that ignored previous law and made up its own. This decision doesn’t bode well for the argument that will be applied for the papers but it won’t matter whether or not Bush loses another legal argument if the papers are controlled by Karl Rove and other Bush partisans at the Library.

This is all about saving the sorry butt of a sorry president when history comes to call. Maybe that’s why Bush has always been so sanguine, even upbeat, about what history would say of him. He knew he’d be controlling it.

The NYT board thinks Obama ought to simply overturn Bush’s EO with one of his own, restoring the Presidential Records Act as Congress wrote it. That’s not going to help if the papers are locked up in Texas.

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