The Biggest Man on Campus

The Biggest Man on Campus
New York Times
January 20, 2007

WHEN I was a graduate student at Duke in 1981, the university was faced with a difficult decision: Should it accept the papers of its law school alumnus, Richard M. Nixon, and build a library and museum named for one of the most controversial presidents in American history? Some within the university said that to accept the papers would be to embrace a failed president who resigned in disgrace to avoid impeachment. Others argued that the documents would be a treasure trove for future scholars seeking to understand what happened during the turbulent years of the Nixon presidency.

At the time I had the luxury of watching this drama unfold from the sidelines. Today I do not. As the director of a center for political studies at Southern Methodist University, I was invited to sit on an academic planning committee for the George W. Bush presidential library. By agreeing to serve on this committee, I took a stand in favor of Southern Methodist University’s bid for the library, in part because I think Duke made a mistake in not accepting the Nixon library.

George W. Bush – like Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter in their day – is a controversial president for difficult times. But we must put partisanship aside and strive for historical perspective. We must consider the importance of having presidential libraries to help generations of scholars understand the times in which we live, and to inform future policy debates.

Whether one supports or opposes the Bush policies, there is no question that they have been momentous for the country and the world. Precisely because of the controversial nature of this presidency, the question of how George W. Bush made his decisions begs for scholarly research and discourse. The library will be a gold mine for scholars, and its location on a university campus symbolizes the need for study.

Continued here.


One Response to The Biggest Man on Campus

  1. Charissa N. Terranova says:

    On Saturday, January 20, 2007, SMU Professor James F. Hollifield argued in the New York Times that SMU should welcome the Bush Library because it would offer a treasure of archives for historians in the future. He based his argument in part on the “long view of history.” Hollifield said that “we must also take the long view, and that means building institutions that will serve generations to come, giving historians the chance to do their work.” This echoes the argument made at the open faculty meeting at SMU on Wednesday, January 17 by the president of the university, R. Gerald Turner. Turner similarly argued that only the history as written in time to come would properly explain to us the workings of this Administration and the gravity of its acts. Hollifield and Turner suggest that the truth lies in the history that will be written by future historians according to their opinions and not in the evidence of our own moment.

    There are several problems with taking the “long view” of history. It is an ideology of history that presupposes that “only time will tell,” i.e. that somehow we will know and understand better in the future what the empirical facts already tell us now, and blatantly so. A few of those facts are the following: a.) the Bush Administration has breached the Constitution by evading and ignoring the balance of powers, in particular with respect to warrant-less wire tapping. b.) The Administration has lied to the American public several times, the most egregious of which has been the lie concerning weapons of mass destruction that led to the preemptive attack on Iraq. c.) The Administration has committed an international war crime because it has waged war on a country, Iraq, which did not attack the United States. This is a breach of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions (1949). d.) The Adminsitration has committed an international war crime by holding detainees in Guantanamo Bay without trial. This is a breach of the Third Geneva Convention (1949). Going against the precepts of our own judiciary, prisoners are being held, presumed guilty until proven innocent. e.) As a means to instrumentalize the partial shift from public to private military services, the Administration gave a no-bid contract to Haliburton at the outset of the war, meaning that our tax dollars have gone to a company in which Vice President Cheney owns a large amount of stock. It would thus follow that VP Cheney is profiting greatly off of this war. This is a conflict of interest that is, if not unlawful, then terribly unethical.

    The long view not only seeks to ignore the existence of these events and facts but it also positions itself as helpless before them. The denial of what we might call a science of provable facts is reminiscent of the critique of history posited in the 19th century by Frederic Nietzsche and in the 20th by his intellectual inheritor Michel Foucault. In many ways the long view of history takes the proverbial postmodern position vis-à-vis history; by being critical of if not seemingly helpless before a science of the facts, it suggests that the present reality, the concrete truth of events as reported by news sources, is but a jumble of subjective forces that are untenable and chaotic. Because the long view in this instance lends itself to the establishment of the Bush Library, Bush Museum and Bush Institute, all of which will undoubtedly lean to the right though otherwise argued, we might see it as part of what Michelle Goldberg calls in her book Kingdom Coming the “postmodern right.” For Goldberg, the postmodern right of today, like the postmodern left of the recent past, is critical of reason and science. Goldberg writes in particular about the advocacy of “intelligent design” by rightwing fundamentalist Christians and their rejection of the proven science of Darwinian evolution. President George W. Bush has suggested that intelligent design be taught in the classroom, championing it as though it is equally as valid as evolution. His argument, like those who advocate taking the long view of history, is that life is too complex to be understood through science.

    The long view of history is against reason also because it treats the geography of Texas as though it were a tabula rasa: the long view of history is willfully oblivious to the specific political condition of the DFW agglomeration. It ignores the science of reality in Dallas. Faculty members and administrators of SMU have compared the would be Bush Library, Museum and Institute at SMU to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, arguing that the latter did not bias Stanford University or harm its academic standing in any way. Unlike Palo Alto, the home of the Hoover Institution, Dallas is a historically conservative city, and known as such for several reasons, the most infamous of which is the assassination of JFK. To place the Bush Library, Museum and Institute in the city of Dallas is not comparable to placing the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto. The cultural geography of Palo Alto is not remotely similar to that of Dallas. SMU is not Stanford; Dallas is not Palo Alto. Though 75% of the city Dallas may have voted democratically in the last presidential election and though it replaced 41 of the 42 standing judges with democrats in November 2006, the city, especially the berg of Highland Park, is a republican bulwark, and well known as such.

    The long view of history is not persuasive in this instance. It is a weak argument for the Bush Library to come SMU. As a faculty of news-conscious citizens, we know enough now to reject the Bush Library. To welcome the Bush Library to the campus of SMU is not only to affiliate us with the aforementioned breaches of law, but it is also to condone and celebrate them.

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