Tuesday, August 14, 2007

FOIA and Historians' Focus

Historians have been battling the Bush Administration over changes to the Freedom of Information Act (and rightly so) as it pertains to Presidential records for well nigh the current President' entire term. There have been calls to "free" records from the Johnson, Nixon and Reagan administrations as well as the current. Strangely, though, there really hasn't been much call from historians to "free" Clinton era docs (or for President Carter, for that matter). Hm. I wonder why?

Maybe that will change now that a certain former First Lady seems to be hiding behind FOIA...
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton cites her experience as a compelling reason voters should make her president, but nearly 2 million pages of documents covering her White House years are locked up in a building here, obscuring a large swath of her record as first lady.

Clinton's calendars, appointment logs and memos are stored at her husband's presidential library, in the custody of federal archivists who do not expect them to be released until after the 2008 presidential election.

A trove of records has been made public detailing the Clinton White House's attempts to remake the nation's healthcare system, following a request from Bill Clinton that those materials be released first. Hillary Clinton led the healthcare effort in 1993 and 1994.

But even in the healthcare documents, at least 1,000 pages involving her work has been censored by archives staff because they include confidential advice and must be kept secret under a federal law called the Presidential Records Act. Political consultants said that if Hillary Clinton's records were made public, rivals would mine them for scraps of information that might rattle her campaign.
I bet they would. Currently, it is political activists--and not historians....um....--that are calling for the release of the Clinton papers.

I'm trying not to play to the historians-are-liberal stereotype, but it sure seems that the motivation for hammering the Bush Administration on this issue--while partly altruistic--also nicely coincides with an ideological desire to dig up dirt on the current Bush as well as the past Bush, Reagan and Nixon Administrations (Republicans all). Hey, I'm sure there's dirt to be found! But any similar desire to dig into Carter or Clinton Administration records seems muted in comparison. At least that's my impression. Maybe historians need to wake up and realize that their relative silence on Clinton and Carter records feeds into stereotypes and undercuts the profession. If nothing else, they should bring Carter and Clinton into their arguments for professional (and political) cover.

1 comment:

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