SELECT ARTICLES WRITTEN BY ANTHONY, PUBLISHED IN POLITICO MAGAZINE, TIME, AND SALON
Last week, Barack Obama unveiled the plans for his presidential center, to be built in the historic Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago. Architects, city planners, educators, community organizers, activists, pundits, boosters and critics all have weighed in on the look and on the plans. But if you blinked, you might have missed something important: Obama will not follow the example of his 13 immediate predecessors. He will forgo the creation of a traditional presidential library and museum.
The National Archives and Records Administration—which operates presidential library-museums for every president from Herbert Hoover through George W. Bush—won’t be operating either for Obama. His private Obama Foundation, not the government, will own and operate the museum. And there really won’t be a presidential library. The Obama Foundation will pay for NARA to digitize unclassified records and release them to the public as they become available, but the center’s “Library,” which may or may not house a local branch of the Chicago Public Library, will not contain or control presidential papers and artifacts, digital or otherwise. Instead, according to a NARA press release that called the museum “a new model for the preservation and accessibility of presidential records,” those records will be stored in “existing NARA facilities”—meaning one or more of the agency’s research or records centers across the country.
Mark Updegrove, the federal director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library & Museum in Austin, Texas, is one of the instigators of the current backlash against Selma, the widely-praised film that depicts a crucial series of events in the Civil Rights Movement. Leaving others to engage in the historical debate about the film’s portrayal of LBJ, I would like instead to examine the campaign to discredit the film based on that portrayal. Waged by those intent on protecting and promoting Lyndon Johnson’s image, the efforts are part of a larger trend to use presidential libraries in ways far outside their initial objectives and Congressional intent, and to hire “legacy managers” rather than credentialed archivists and historians to run them.
An insistence that LBJ was so central to the movement that this film “bastardizes” it conveniently ignores his earlier role in successfully blocking civil rights legislation as Senate Majority Leader – a neat trick replicated in the recently-renovated LBJ Library museum. There, in exhibits depicting his pre-presidential career, Vietnam, foreign affairs, domestic programs, and the Civil Rights Movement, the narrative is clean, simple, and undeviating: Lyndon Baines Johnson Was A Great Man Who Did Nothing Other Than Great Things And Only For Great Reasons.
Conventional wisdom says that the higher the number of co-sponsors, the greater the chance a bill has of becoming law – and that a bill with a low number of co-sponsors is doomed. These are both wrong. My review of recent Congresses demonstrates that co-sponsorship is not a reliable indicator of a bill’s legislative success. While there may be non-legislative (read: political) reasons for co-sponsoring legislation, the effort spent on adding names to a bill in order to get it passed into law is wasted.
That's because co-sponsoring bills is legislatively ineffective. An inordinate amount of time, money and effort is expended on something that is almost certain to fail. And yet, the custom plays out session after session, because, obviously, the participants find something worthwhile in it. After all that work and expense, however, what they don’t find is their bills getting passed into law.