Bush-bibliotheek nu al omstreden

Nieuws | de redactie
22 mei 2007 | President Bush heeft een probleem met zijn toekomstige ‘Presidential Library’. Deze zou geschonken worden aan de alma mater van First Lady Laura, de Southern Methodist University in Dallas, waar zij in de Raad van Toezicht zit. Maar er is een fikse strijd ontbrand over de opzet. De president en zijn politieke geestverwanten willen aan de bibliotheek –met museum en archieven- een denktank koppelen om de politiek van Bush en de reflectie daarop ook na 2008 impulsen te geven.

Veel hoogleraren en alumni voelen niets voor een dergelijke aanpak, omdat daarmee het nationale, boven de partijen karakter van de Bush Library al vanaf het begin bewust aangetast zou zijn. Ook willen historici dat de Library pas aanvaard wordt door SMU nadat de president zijn maatregelen om de toegang tot presidentiële archieven fors te beperken intrekt: “If the Bush folks are going to play games with the records, no self-respecting academic institution should cooperate,” stelt Steven Aftergood, directeur van het Project on Government Secrecy bij de Federation of American Scientists.

The policy triggered outrage and a still-pending lawsuit when President Bush issued it about seven weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Now, as SMU officials try to complete a deal for a Bush library, museum and policy institute, the Society of American Archivists plans a public relations offensive meant to pressure Congress and the university to force a change.

“Whether they like it or not, they have become a player in that discussion,” said Mark Greene, president-elect of the archivists and director of the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center. “There’s been no indication from the Bush administration that they have in any way rethought the executive order, and it is our hope that these negotiations provide a possible pivot point.”

Professor Matthew Wilson van SMU in Dallas is in een opiniestuk in de belangrijkste krant van Texas, de Dallas Morning News, ingegaan op e discussie aan zijn universiteit en legt uit waarom hij een voorstander blijft van de vestiging van de Bush Library op zijn campus.

‘In recent weeks, the proposal to locate the Bush Presidential Library complex at SMU has generated considerable discussion and debate. While opponents have offered varying levels of and rationales for resistance, a common line of argument seems to have emerged in recent days: SMU should accept the presidential library and perhaps the museum, but refuse to house the proposed Bush Institute for policy research.

The institute, critics say, is likely to be “partisan” in character and thus inappropriate for a university setting. Even if the Bush Foundation would consent to a separation of the institute from the library (a dubious proposition), this opposition is misguided.

Far from being regarded as the unwanted stepchild of the library project, the policy institute should be embraced as the component likely to contribute most meaningfully to the university’s and the community’s intellectual life. I think it is inaccurate to refer to the proposed Bush Institute as a “partisan” think tank. It will not be plotting electoral strategies for Republican candidates, nor will it be an arm of the Republican National Committee. Instead, the institute is likely to be ideological; it will explore and advance policy proposals on issues of interest to President Bush.

To be sure, most of those solutions, and most of the people working on them, are likely to be in some sense conservative. This sort of general ideological orientation (either left or right) is quite common among the nation’s best policy research centers, including the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution at Stanford. All of these centers produce thoughtful, provocative policy research that stirs discussion, debate and response – exactly the sort of discourse that a university should welcome. Indeed, the very debate over the proposed Bush Library has demonstrated that there are abundant voices at SMU that will be willing (dare I say eager?) to engage and rebut arguments emanating from the institute.

Moreover, we should not forget that Mr. Bush’s policy concerns are wide-ranging and not always in line with conventional notions of conservative Republicanism. His proposals for immigration reform, for example, are more compatible with the preferences of many Democrats than with those of hard-liners in his own party. Likewise, his ideas for government- funded, faith-based charitable initiatives were embraced enthusiastically by many African-American clergy and viewed with skepticism by many conservative evangelical Protestants. Finally, priorities like expanded free trade and educational reform defy simple partisan or ideological classification.

While Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy has been controversial and often unpopular, pitting leaders and residents against one another across a largely partisan divide, it is not the sum total of his presidency. As a member of the SMU faculty engaged in teaching and research on this campus, I am eager to see not merely that a Bush Institute exist, but that it exist here. This university and this city are natural venues for the discussion and debate of critical questions like the role of religion in public life, reform of immigration policy, national security strategy, the prospects for expanded free trade and the viability of global democratization efforts, all of which have been special concerns of the administration.

Institute fellows, in tandem with SMU faculty from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds and ideological perspectives, should be able to explore these issues in ways that will enliven and enrich the campus’s intellectual climate. Moreover, the fellows and visitors at such centers typically include nationally and internationally prominent scholars, as well as major political figures from both parties. Regardless of one’s ideological perspective, having such people on campus to give guest lectures, participate in panel discussions and even teach classes (subject to the university’s normal scrutiny of faculty appointments) will be a boon to SMU students, adding a dimension of educational experience that few other universities will be able to match.

To view these opportunities with skepticism is, I think, misguided. To squander them by rejecting the Bush Institute would be a tragic mistake.’

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