Tuesday, December 30, 2008

no, it'll be a white dinosaur

uh-oh, here comes the creation museum of presidential archives:

as president george w bush eyes his legacy, his presidential library at southern methodist university in dallas, texas, threatens to be a white elephant.

bush has bought a $3m (£2.05m) house in a republican enclave 10 minutes away from his proposed library and hopes to play an active role in the policy institute that will be established there. with his approval ratings at a record low of 20%, according to a cbs poll, he is keenly interested in shaping the verdict of history.

"i'd like to be ... known as somebody who liberated 50m people and helped achieve peace," bush said in a recent interview. laura bush said last week that she saw the policy institute as a "great vehicle" for continuing her support for women's rights in afghanistan and the middle east.

work on the $300m library will begin in january, overseen by the architect robert stern, dean of the yale school of architecture. the identity of donors has been kept secret from bush, who established a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about their names after the sunday times revealed in july that a top republican donor was touting access to senior administration officials in return for donations of up to $250,000.

so far, fundraising has been "very modest", according to dan bartlett, a former senior white house aide and spokesman for the library.

... "all of them are white elephants to some degree. they are truly bizarre," said benjamin hufbauer, art history professor at the university of louisville in kentucky. "more than half of them are grave sites, like lenin's tomb, although they don't display the body."

despite their propagandist function, the libraries provide valuable access to archives that show the president "warts and all", according to hufbauer. but after 9/11 bush signed an executive order granting presidents the right to withhold documents held in the libraries from the public. historians hope barack obama will overturn this.

conservatives are already engaging in a fierce battle over bush's legacy. john o'sullivan, a former adviser to baroness thatcher who is based at the hudson institute in washington dc, writes in the new issue of national review, a conservative publication, that bush turned out to be "neither a conservative nor a right-wing radical".

... bruce bartlett, a former republican treasury official who was ostracised for writing a critique of bush in his book impostor in 2006, said: "bush is going to go down as one of the worst presidents in history. a lot of conservatives kept their mouths shut at the time because they didn't want to be crucified like me.

"i thought bush would have to go a long way to beat richard nixon and herbert hoover but, at the last minute, he pushed the ball across the line and brought on the new great depression."

presidential libraries are built with private money, but the national archive pays for the staff who maintain the papers. "personally, i think it's inappropriate for the taxpayer to run these temples of worship," said bartlett. ...

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