The good news about Bush’s planned presidential library is that it’s going to be polluting Dallas and not Austin. For awhile there, I was positively obsessed with the idea that Bush was going to going to set up here as a form of counter-programming to the Most Awesome Presidential Library* in the world, the LBJ Library at UT Austin. Luckily, he didn’t, and we can still hold our heads high. No, he’s setting his library down at SMU, where it will be nestled in a wealthy, Republican neighborhood and safe from eggs and people flinging burned-out joints at it. There’s also going to be a think tank, because if you’re going to name a library after Bush, why not pile on with the equally comical idea of thinking?
But what’s so great is that Bush is having a hard time raising the money.
Yet, given the president’s current unpopularity, some Bush critics wonder whether the facility will turn out to be a historical white elephant. Fundraising for the project so far has been “very modest”, according to Dan Bartlett, a former Bush counsellor who is acting as a library spokesman.
Langdale said the president is intentionally waiting until he leaves office to start actively seeking out donors.
“The sceptics could be right: It might be a white elephant,” said Benjamin Hufbauer, an art history professor at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and an expert on presidential libraries. “But presidents don’t see it that way. … Presidents see these as a foundation from which to build a new reputation. It’s just the right kind of elephant.”
I’m sure he’ll make up the money when he gets out of office and starts calling in favors, so unfortunately this setback is nothing more than a setback. I’m sure the library will be finished on time. But it got me to thinking—is it really necessary for Bush to have a presidential library? After asking about it on Twitter and getting some replies, I discovered that only 12 Presidents have libraries. Herbert Hoover got one and then everyone thought they had to have one. Richard Nixon has two. (The display at the Clinton library right now is, I shit you now, “The Art Of The Chopper“.) But there’s no reason that a library should have to follow every President who leaves office. And if any President should be the one to skip the tradition, it should be Bush.
Sarah Vowell once wrote an essay about how the measure of a presidential library is how well it handles the mistakes a President made. She singles out the LBJ Library for praise in this department, pointing out that LBJ himself insisted that the library should deal with Vietnam in an honest way and not gloss over it out of some fear that it would hurt his feelings.** That bit of honesty makes it easier for visitors to open up and absorb all the great things LBJ did. Bush’s problem is that he’s not an honest man like LBJ was, and he’s surrounded by a bunch of fools. On top of that, he didn’t do anything good to offset the disaster that is Iraq. So I suspect his library will just gloss over his soul-sucking badness and may very well be the worst presidential library in the country.
True, it’s fitting for the worst President quite possibly in history to have the stupidest presidential library, but its presence will be a blight on SMU’s campus. So why not just break with recent tradition and not have a library at all? No one’s going to miss it, I’m sure. Unless of course they had an exhibit called “EPIC FAIL”, which would be fitting and awesome.
Here’s to hoping that the Barack Obama Presidential Library is full of win, both in content and design. Something cool and modern, like he is.
*That I’ve seen anyway. It’s also the only one I’ve seen. But that they have an animatronic LBJ who cracks hoary jokes should put it over the top, don’t you think?
**See? Best Presidential Library Ever.