After six years of incompetence and cronyism, a failed war
against terrorism, the quagmire that is Iraq, wars against science, the
environment, corporate regulation and the public's right-to-know, a chummy
working relationship with the country's most reactionary conservative
evangelical Christians, a politicized faith-based initiative, giveaways to the
energy industry, tax relief for the wealthy, a culture of corruption
culminating in the forced resignations and imprisonment of some of the
administrations key soldiers, and an attack on fundamental democratic rights
and values, the Bush Administration is hatching plans to celebrate itself with
a $500 million library (the costliest presidential library ever) to be built
after Bush's second term is over.
In what is being called "their final campaign,"
Bush's "truest believers" are aiming to raise a half-billion dollars
for the mother of all presidential libraries. The library and an attached think
tank -- which will pay for conservative research -- is being earmarked for the
Dallas, Texas campus of Southern Methodist University, where First Lady Laura
Bush is an alumna and a trustee.
Inside Higher Ed recently pointed out that SMU, which
had been competing for the library with Baylor University and the University of
Dallas, appears to have cleared the final hurdle to getting the project when
the university "won a court fight over its right to demolish a condo
complex the university had purchased, in part to have land for the Bush
That was before university faculty, administration, and
staff questioned the ideological underpinnings of the project.
Bringing back the Pioneers
In late November, the New York Daily News reported
that "Bush sources with direct knowledge of library plans" said that
"Bush fund-raisers hope to get half of the half billion from what they
call 'megadonations' of $10 million to $20 million a pop." According to
the Daily News, "Bush loyalists have already identified wealthy heiresses,
Arab nations and captains of industry as potential 'mega' donors and are
pressing for a formal site announcement -- now expected early in the new year .
. . The rest of the cash will come from donors willing to pony up $25,000 to $5
(While the donors to Bush 43's library will remain
anonymous, in February 2006, the Associated Press reported that among
the donors to Papa Bush's presidential library located at Texas A&M
University in College Station were a sheik from the United Arab Emirates, who
contributed at least $1 million, the state of Kuwait, the Bandar bin Sultan
family, the Sultanate of Oman, King Hassan II of Morocco, the emir of Qatar,
and the former Korean prime minister. China also gave tens of thousands of
dollars to the library. In addition, funds were received from the late Kenneth
Lay, the former head of Enron, and Dick Cheney, the current vice president.)
libraries," the Daily News pointed out, "are run by the
National Archives and Records Administration, but building costs must come from
private donations. Bells and whistles, like an institute or an academic program
like Bush's father's public service school at Texas A&M, are also
The really big extra
embedded into this project appears to be what Bush insiders are calling the
Institute for Democracy. Modeled after the Hoover Institution, a long-time
conservative think tank located on the campus of Stanford University in Palo
Alto, California, Bush's institute operation would hire conservative scholars
and "give them money to write papers and books favorable to the president's
policies," one Bush insider told the Daily News. This would be the
post-administration version of a policy they established during his reign;
paying columnists to advocate for administration policy.
According to the newspaper, "The half-billion target is
double what Bush raised for his 2004 reelection and dwarfs the funding of other
presidential libraries. But Bush partisans are determined to have a massive
pile of endowment cash to spread the gospel of a presidency that for now gets
poor marks from many scholars and a majority of Americans."
While it may seem counterintuitive, it isn't all that
surprising that while Bush's popularity continues to plummet, and his
administration's policies gain no traction with the American people, his
handlers would already be hatching the mother of all redemption plans. Perhaps
Bush's close advisors are hoping that Bush won't have to spend his entire
post-presidency trying to rebuild his standing amongst the American people and
history a la Richard Nixon.
However, as with many of the Bush Administration's grand ventures,
this one too appears to be running into opposition; the SMU faculty,
administrators and staff -- a group that former Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld might call "dead enders."
According to Inside Higher Ed, "Faculty critics
say that although many of them disagree with President Bush's policies, they
would not object to a library-oriented archive and museum . . . and they say
that in discussions with professors, the university has discussed a vision for
such a Bush center. But creating an academic center with a specific goal of
boosting the Bush image and agenda strikes many professors as antithetical to a
university's academic values."
In a letter dated December 16 and addressed to R. Gerald
Turner, president of the Board of Trustees, members of SMU's Perkins School of
Theology urged the board to "reconsider and to rescind SMU's pursuit of
the presidential library."
"We count ourselves among those
who would regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as
ethically egregious: degradation of habeas corpus, outright denial of global
warming, flagrant disregard for international treaties, alienation of long-term
U.S. allies, environmental predation, shameful disrespect for gay persons and
their rights, a pre-emptive war based on false and misleading premises, and a
host of other erosions of respect for the global human community and for this
good Earth on which our flourishing depends.
"Another matter that warrants our
attention is that whether it aims to or not SMU will, in the long run,
financially profit on the backs of hard-working Americans who feel squashed by
policies they've now rejected at the polls. Surely it's not the case that SMU
will allow itself to benefit financially from a name and legacy that globally
is associated with suffering, death, and political 'bad faith.' Taken together,
all these issues set decision-making about the Library in a framework of
inescapable ethical questions, and remind us of a key imperative adopted by
many leading universities around the globe: 'to be critic and conscience of
"The letter doesn't call for the university to withdraw
from the competition, but to have a full discussion of the library's goals . .
. with the clear implication that the university must agree to be host only to
a library without an agenda," Inside Higher Ed reported.
At this point, "critics of the library plans are trying
hard to frame the question as about academic standards for open research and
debate, not about Bush-bashing," Inside Higher Ed pointed out.
Suzanne Johnson, an associate professor of Christian education, said that she
would understand the value of an archive of the Bush administration, and sees
how many SMU scholars would benefit from having such a collection on campus.
But she said that the campus has been left 'uninformed and naive' about
President Bush's plans to create a policy center to promote his view of the
world." Johnson was also concerned about the fact that SMU
"historically has had a reputation for attracting wealthy students . . . a
reputation that the university has tried to fight in recent years by offering
generous scholarship to low-income students. 'I think it might be a setback in
terms of trying to attract a different constituency among students,' Johnson
said. 'Children of wealthy, leading Republicans in this state come to SMU, and
then they are groomed here to become Republican leaders in all sectors of
society. We shouldn't be in the business of just replicating
Ironically, the fundraising push for Bush's library comes at
the same time many Americans have digested and are debating the substance of
Sean Wilentz's provocative May 4, 2006, Rolling Stone piece, titled "The
Worst President in History." Wilentz wrote that Bush's presidency
"appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic
event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11 . . . there seems
to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier
of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are
now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst
president in history."
Wilentz, the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History and
director of the Program for American Studies at Princeton University, is not
alone in his assessment of Bush. According to an informal survey of 415
historians -- conducted in 2004 by the nonpartisan History News Network -- 81
percent considered the Bush Administration a "failure."
News of the Bush library has also begun to hit the
late-night television talk circuit: Noting that the president's team was aiming
to raise $500 million for the project, Conan O'Brien pointed out that would
"work out to $100 million a book." Other talk show hosts, political
commentators and comedians will no doubt find both the humor and outrage in
this chutzphatic project. However strange as it may seem now, you can be
certain that the money will be raised and the monument will be built. Where it
will be situated still remains in question.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the
conservative movement. His
WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies,
players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.