Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

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December 13, 2007

Column: Endangered history of U.S. presidents

Bush order closes personal papers

If your holiday shopping this season finds you in a bookstore, take a moment and do me a favor. Ask for the section on presidential history, and go take a peek.

You’ll find literally hundreds of works of presidential history, from scholarly tomes with hundreds of footnotes to the downright silly works on presidential pets.

Now, take a moment and imagine 25 years from now, and you’re looking for a nice, complete history of the Clinton or Bush presidency.

What you find could be disappointing. The content may look and feel like history, but it could be missing important context. The books won’t contain background or reference to personal papers and once-classified memos detailing West Wing intrigue that for more than 200 years made the nation’s presidential history come to life.

This hollow history of the presidency will haunt us unless we wake up and do something about a records-censoring executive order issued by President George W. Bush in November of 2001.

The order gave presidents the right to prevent the release of their presidential papers – forever.

It also allows a sitting president to block the release of a former president's records, even if that president doesn’t object to the public disclosure of his personal papers. To challenge action taken under the order, historians, journalists and ordinary citizens must seek redress in court.

Historians, who know that our history begets our future, are outraged, and Congress has responded, though slowly. The House passed legislation to nullify President Bush’s order by the veto-proof margin of 333-to-93, with 104 Republicans breaking Administration ranks.

That bill was also well on its way to passage in the Senate when, on Sept. 24, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., objected to floor consideration of the measure, automatically holding up a vote. Despite repeated requests from historical, news media and open government organizations, Bunning has refused to state the reasons for his opposition, which amounts to an act of legislative hostage taking.

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