We’ve all heard it and by now it’s a cliche: “Well, we won’t know what REALLY went on until they leave office and the historians get to take a long look at it.”
Since 2001 that cliche has actually been largely inoperative due to an order signed by President George Bush that some felt was designed to preserve and influence (by slicing off information that might be negative) his legacy and the legacy of his father. But now the House has voted to overturn it — and by a margin big enough that it seems as if Bush’s veto threat won’t mean much:
Brushing aside a veto threat, the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to overturn a 2001 order by President George W. Bush that lets former presidents keep their papers secret indefinitely.
The measure, which drew bipartisan support and passed by a veto-busting 333-93 margin, was among White House-opposed bills the House passed that would widen access to government information and protect government whistleblowers.
“Today, Congress took an important step toward restoring openness and transparency in government,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman said.
The presidential papers bill nullifies a November 2001 order, criticized by historians, in which Bush allowed the White House or a former president to block release of a former president’s papers and put the onus on researchers to show a “specific need” for many types of records.
Among beneficiaries of the Bush order was Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, a former vice president and president.
And it would have allowed Vice President Dick Cheney to halt the flow of info to future historians as well:
The order gave former vice presidents the right to stop the release of their papers through an executive privilege that previously only presidents could use. And it extended to deceased presidents’ designees rights to keep their papers secret indefinitely.
The House bill would give current and former presidents 40 business days to object to requests to view their papers, allow a sitting president to override a former president’s claim of executive privilege and strip former vice presidents and the designees of deceased presidents of the power to use executive privilege to block access to their historical documents.
That’s a significant shift. This is essentially a battle to ensure future Presidents (and Vice Presidents) who could control information while in office are not allowed to interfere with the work of historians who look at an era and then draw lessons from it. How could historians analyze the lessons if all that’s available is official spin material from former Presidents and former Veeps?
Who determines the legacy? Is it what a former President or former Vice President want it to be? Or in the interest of America learning positive and negative lessons, is it NOT the right of former government bigwigs to lock up materials willy nilly that might put them in a bad light?
Three notable things here: (1)This order by Bush is part of a pattern of controlling information that is indicative of this administration’s constant effort to give the public highly selective facts (and some of them turned out to wrong). (2)It would not be surprising to see, if this law passes and survives a veto attempt, the administration challenge this in court. (3)When this story first broke some years ago it was noted how this would allow Bush 41 to keep lots of information bottled up.
Why is there such a desire to keep this info from public historians? Whatever it is, politicos don’t usually try to lock up information that puts them in a GOOD light…