Government Spending

No More Tax Dollars for Presidential Libraries

Let America's former presidents burnish their legacies on their own dimes.

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Last week, at the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, President Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter put partisanship aside and descended on the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas to say nice things about our 43rd president, (They're all in the same racket, after all.)

At 226,560 square feet and a cost of $250 million, the Bush Presidential Center is the biggest and most expensive yet of the 13 presidential libraries that one scholar has derisively called "America's Pyramids."

One of the key exhibits at the Bush megalith is Decision Points Theater, a virtual Situation Room wherein visitors can "consult" video advisers and make their own calls on some of the "Decider's" key decisions, like war with Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and bailing out the banks.

As Bush put it in an interview with CNN's John King, "hopefully, people will go to the Decision Points Theater and say, 'Wow, I didn't understand that' or 'I now understand it better.' "

In Decision Points Theater, if you decide not to go to war with Iraq, "43" himself comes onscreen to tell you flatly that you're wrong: "Saddam posed too big a risk to ignore. … The world was made safer by his removal." Bush is entitled to his own spin on the decisions he made, but he should burnish his legacy on his own dime.

Though the libraries' construction is privately funded, they're managed by the National Archives and Records Administration, using federal tax dollars.

Last year, it cost the American taxpayer some $75 million to keep them open.

Sure, that's chump change in a $3.5 trillion federal budget—still, we're chumps to allow it, given that modern presidential libraries are publicly subsidized propaganda vehicles—garish shrines to the cult of the presidency.

Historian Benjamin Hufbauer, author of Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory, writes that our presidential libraries "present an ideologically charged narrative that valorizes a presidential life, helping to incorporate it into the nation's civil religion."

In the newer libraries, exhibits "often amount to little more than extended campaign commercials in museum form, because the former president and his supporters essentially control the content."

Thus, Hufbauer notes, the Reagan Library omits any discussion of the Iran-Contra scandal, and the JFK Library "does not address in detail JFK's numerous health problems and extramarital affairs, even though they have been thoroughly documented"—a tactful way of describing our pill-popping satyr of a 35th president.

The Presidential Records Act of 1978 gives the federal government ownership of the records each president creates in office, and those archives are an invaluable resource for historians. But to maintain them, argues scholar Richard J. Cox in "America's Pyramids: Presidents and Their Libraries," we don't need "a library for each president, each armed with its own archivists and museum curators and scattered about the country."

Instead, Cox proposes a single repository, run by the National Archives in D.C., separate from any propaganda exhibits that presidents and their supporters decide to fund privately: "Establishing a different kind of Presidential Archives will end the 'cult of personality' that seems to be in place with the current Presidential Library system."

If our ex-presidents want whitewashed shrines to their legacies, they should run them without taxpayer help. As it happens, our recent presidents have mainly left us a patrimony of mounting debt, intrusive government, and permanent war.

If you seek their monument, look around you.

This article originally appeared in The Washington Examiner.

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  1. This is a case study in how government grows. What started with the common sense idea that Presidential papers ought to be stored somewhere for future historians has become a multi million dollar game of build the next Presidential Disneyland. How about we just write a check for a couple of million to the out going President’s favorite college to store these records making them available to the public and researchers in perpetuity and call it a day?

    1. Actually, why do you even need a physical location at all? It strikes me that it would be very easy to digitize the entire collection and use the entire initial fundraising for the library to finance an endowment for the maintenance and management of a website wherein this information is stored. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper and have the added advantage of massively expanding dissemination.

      1. Because the documents themselves have historic value. And the risk of digitizing them is you lose the records. The documents are worth keeping. But doing that doesn’t require hundreds of millions of dollars.

        1. What historic value? Only as an objet-d’art. The content of the documents is where the value for assessing history lies. Hell, now that I think about it, you could easily finance the endowment by auctioning the actual physical documents (with no rights to the content)off to the highest bidder. And, unless you’re in the early 90s, making digital copies of information doesn’t do much to risk destroying it. Hell, at this point, I’d be surprised if a large portion of the material isn’t initially in digital form in the first place.

          1. What historic value? Only as an objet-d’art. The content of the documents is where the value for assessing history lies.

            I guess we can throw the copies of the Constitution in the trash, then. After all, it’s freely available online and in bookstores nationwide. What possible use could the original have?

          2. Seriously, this worship of technology borders on spergish.

  2. Presidential libraries are our pyramids.

    1. Yes, that’s what the article said.

      1. CT is that one derisive scholar.

    2. What a brilliant and original observation.

    3. Except the ex-Presidents are buried there.

      How about we build a presidential pyramid in advance of each election and bury the winner before he can do anything?

      1. Pre-emptive entombment.

        Good idea.

      2. Can we include his top aides and campaign managers?

        1. There is precedent for entombing servants with the master:

          Ghengis Khan

          Various Han Emperors

          1. Mr. Burns and Mr. Smithers

      3. excellent idea!

  3. the Bush Presidential Center is the biggest and most expensive yet of the 13 presidential libraries

    If that’s all, then they’re not doing it right.

    /O

    1. Just think what a big, tacky, craptacular mess Obama is going to build? Bush and Clinton are fucking humble compared to Obama. He might actually build a pyramid. Or maybe a huge social realist statue of himself leading the oppressed masses to the promised land.

      1. He might actually build a pyramid.

        He can use this one:

        http://upload.wikimedia.org/wi…..id_HDR.jpg

        1. I think this will be his starting point.

          1. Given what the MLK monument looks like, I am thinking the Obama library is going to be some fabulous social realist kitsch.

          2. He could replace this with his statue.

            http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_qukM…..yramid.jpg

            1. With a large Nobel peace prize around his neck while he crushes a bunch of 6 year old terrorists under his giant foot.

      2. My ex’s father was a big-time sculptor, and I remarked that his work looked very Soviet. Too bad he’s not still around – he could have done a bang-up job on Our Lord and Savior’s Soviet-style statue.

        1. There is a big commission to be had. There is going to be an Obama statue at the library and it is a good bet its height will be measured in stories not feet.

          1. To be a satisfactory symbol of the Obama Presidency, it will have to feature a figure symbolizing the Media, with its tongue up the Presidential rump.

      3. Im going to the Obama dedication, just so I can heckle with “You didn’t build that!”

        1. I think I’ll mark my calendar now!

  4. I’ve never been to one of these places. Are they fun? Interesting? What is the appeal?

    1. Do you like old limos and to scale mockups of the Oval Office?

      The Eisenhower one is really cool. But unlike other Presidents, Eisenhower did this little think we like to call lead the war in Europe before becoming President. So his library actually shows some interesting history as opposed to pictures of Big Daddy back when he was running against Congressman Good for Nothing in his first political race.

    2. The Reagan Library in Simi Valley is really cool. They have the Air Force 1 that Bush retired, and you can walk through it.

      The Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, not so much.

    3. I’ve been to the Bush library in College Station and enjoyed the trip. His is biographical, and includes a model of the plane he flew during WW2, a Studebaker like the one he drove to Texas, all of the gifts he was given by heads of state, and a 12 foot portion of the Berlin wall. Because he was a China Liaison and UN Ambassador, the director of the CIA, and VP before he was President, you basically get a snapshot of his life, politics, and history throughout several decades. And yeah, there’s a replica of the Oval Office that I think you can get a picture sitting behind the desk.

      1. It’s amazing how the man’s political life basically paralleled the whole Cold War.

  5. Oh, so now that a brother might get a li-berry, you want a cut spendin’?

    RACIST!

    /sarc

  6. Bush is so obsessed with the concept of decision-making it can only be the case that he entered office with no real experience doing it.

    I watched the Dick Cheney documentary over the weekend, and evidently Bush was quite insecure about making decisions through much of his presidency. The two major times he contradicted Cheney were when he went to Congress for approval on the Iraq war (for political legitimacy) and when he refused to pardon Scooter Libby (which for Cheney is a continuing source of tension).

    I couldn’t help but think that if only Bush were more secure in his abilities earlier on, he might have actually made some better choices than he did. Cheney was pure Machiavelli and didn’t care about politics, which is why he could never be president. Bush at least understood the cosmetics of governing and in the case of the Libby pardon, his “gut” was in the right place. Cheney was responsible for so much that went wrong during the Bush admin. it’s hard not to wonder what it would have been like with someone else as VP.

    1. And this is why we don’t need anymore political family dynasties. People being elected by name as opposed to talent is what gets us some of the dumb ass politicians we have.

    2. Yeah, and you just keep on with that ridiculous libtard trope that Cheney was the shadow President. It must give you a good wank.

      1. Ask him yourself.

        1. Tony saw a 30 minute special on TV, you see, so he knows the ins and outs of 2001 through 2009 like the fly on the Oval Office wall.

  7. So, how about these exhibit ideas for the Bush library?

    Display case full of yellow cake the Iraqis were baking?

    Display room full of the WMDs he found after his troops invaded?

    A room full of fake million dollar bills, one for each dollar he borrowed while in office?

    A recorded videotape loop of political economy history professors explaining how he pissed away majority control of the House, Senate and White House?

    A secret tunnel to an undisclosed location nearby so you can pretend to be Cheney?

    A blue screen back drop, a chair and a kid so you can read “My Pet Goat” and record it during some crisis?

    A free souvenir copy of the bill he vetoed?

    A room full of empty prescription drug bottles in the shape of Florida, in honor of Medicare Part D and the political motivation for passing it?

    A few children left behind, with an automaton of Laura Bush making sure they’re not?

    1. Display room full of the WMDs he found after his troops invaded?

      It may not look like a nuclear missile silo, but you would indeed need quite a bit of real estate to contain it. Agree or disagree, there were weapons in Iraq that broke the UN agreement that ended the first gulf war.

      A blue screen back drop, a chair and a kid so you can read “My Pet Goat” and record it during some crisis?

      Don’t forget the bombs Mossad planted in WTC… and your tin foil hat.

      1. Aww, don’t disturb the Bush Haters. They desperately NEED Bush to have been awful, to distract people from realizing that he was sandwiched between two of the three most embarrassing Presidents in our history ?. and that all three were Democrats.

  8. Th real problem here is that we expect the former Presidents to retire and write their ‘memoirs”/whitewash-jobs. John Quincy Addams served as a Representative from Mass. for the last 17 years of his life. Taft served as Chief Justice after leaving office (and is generally considered to have done that better than he did the job of President. We should make the silly bastards go out and work for a living.

  9. Bipartisanship!!!!!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!

    1. You deserved better than “The Hulk.” No one should be suckered into helping Ang Lee work through his daddy issues.

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  11. Terrific piece!! I completely agree: let the former presidents pay for their shrines to themselves!

  12. Decision Points Theater

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