Ambushing the Bush Legacy

January 22, 2007

Ambushing the Bush Legacy
Naomi Schaefer Riley
Wall Street Journal
January 19, 2007

In an interview Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” President Bush told Scott Pelley that he is “not the kind of guy who sits here and says ‘Oh gosh, I’m worried about my legacy.’ I’m more worried about making the right decisions to protect the United States of America.”

It’s a noble sentiment, but with less than two years left in his presidency, Mr. Bush and his supporters do have to make some decisions about his legacy, or at least where it will be housed.

In December, the committee charged with selecting a location for W’s presidential library announced that it had narrowed down the candidates from three to one, eliminating Baylor University and the University of Dallas in favor of Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush’s alma mater. The proposed library will include, in addition to presidential papers and artifacts, a public-policy institute to further “domestic and international goals.” Among the goals mentioned by the selection committee are “compassionate conservatism, the spread of freedom and democracy throughout the world and defeating terrorism.”

It all sounds quite worthy, but certain members of the SMU faculty did not react well to the news of their campus’s selection. In an op-ed article for the college newspaper, two professors from the university’s theology school asked: “Do we want SMU to benefit financially from a legacy of massive violence, destruction and death brought about by the Bush presidency in dismissal of broad international opinion?”

A letter sent to SMU’s president last week, signed by 68 current and past members of the faculty, echoed this theme. It expressed concern about “certain actions and attitudes of President Bush during his term in office,” including (draw a deep breath here): “the erosion of habeas corpus, denial of global warming, disrespect of international treaties, alienation of longtime U.S. allies, environmental predation, disregard for the rights of gay persons, a pre-emptive war based on false premises and other perceived forms of disrespect for the created order and the global community.”

Which raises the question: Why would Mr. Bush want to have anything to do with such hostile–not to mention graceless and cliché-obsessed–people? Why not look elsewhere for his library’s site? Admittedly the professors who signed the letter make up less than 10% of SMU’s faculty. But presidential libraries inevitably bring a degree of prominence, even prestige, to the universities that host them. Why should Mr. Bush and his friends give SMU the satisfaction? One can easily imagine Cindy Sheehan parading around the university grounds for years to come with hordes of sociology professors and student activists following her.

Continued here.

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All the Presidents’ Libraries

January 22, 2007

All the Presidents’ Libraries
Stanley Fish
New York Times
January 21, 2007

When I arrived at Duke to take up a faculty position in the fall of 1985, I found a campus still polarized to some extent by the 1981 controversy over whether the university should be the site of the Richard Nixon library and museum. Nixon was a 1937 graduate of the law school at Duke, in Durham, N.C., and the offer of his papers was received positively by then president (and lifelong Democrat) Terry Sanford. But a significant number of faculty members opposed the plan, and the heated discussions that followed established a pattern of argument that would reappear whenever a university was proposed as the location of a presidential library.

Some took the position that the university would be enriched by an archive that would attract visitors and researchers from around the world. (This was an important point in 1981, because Duke was not yet the research powerhouse and “hot” school it later came to be.) Others objected that a Nixon library and especially a Nixon museum would associate the university with a disgraced political figure and might even be seen as an implicit endorsement of the former president’s policies and values. The faculty was evenly divided with a slight majority voting in the negative. Trustees voted in the positive, and an effort to broker a compromise – build the library but axe the museum – ultimately failed. The library and museum ended up in Yorba Linda, Calif.

Now, 25 years later, the president in question is George W. Bush and the school at the center of controversy is Southern Methodist University, in Dallas. S.M.U. is apparently the winner of the George W. Bush presidential library sweepstakes, and it’s déjà vu all over again as protesting faculty, students and alumni say things like, “I find it patently offensive for the board [of S.M.U.] to consider such an affront to justice given the Bush record,” and “Do we want S.M.U. to benefit from a legacy of massive violence?” and “Why on earth would you want anything with this man’s name stamped on it?”

A group of Methodist ministers, including some bishops, has set up a Web site that asks members of the church and other concerned citizens to sign a petition indicating their disapproval of the proposed library. Two theology professors associated with the university complained in the student newspaper of “the secrecy of the Bush administration and its virtual refusal to engage with those holding contrary opinions” (could there be a more blatant instance of the pot calling the kettle black?) and asked rhetorically, “What does it mean ethically to say that regardless of an administration’s record and its consequences, it makes no difference when considering a bid for the library?”

What it means is that the question of the ethics of the Bush administration – does it condone torture? does it invade the privacy of American citizens? does it sacrifice the environment to the interests of the oil and gas industry? – is independent of the question, is it a good thing for there to be a public repository of the records of a national administration for the purposes of research and education? Once that question is answered in the affirmative – and any other answer is almost inconceivable – the ethical performance (along with the political, military and economic performance) of the administration becomes a matter of study rather than something you are either affirming or rejecting. Historians do not require that the men and women whose lives and works they chronicle be admirable; the requirement is that they be significant, and that is a requirement every president, of whatever party or reputation, meets by definition.

Apparently continued somewhere here behind the NYT’s pay firewall.