Select articles written by Anthony, published in Politico, 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.
Presidential libraries are perfect examples of just how far presidents will go to control their own legacies. Since the first one was created in 1941, what were intended to be serious research centers have grown into flashy, partisan temples touting huckster history.
Presidential records matter because they inform us about what presidents do and how they do it. American citizens give our chief executives a great deal of power to keep much of this information secret, at least temporarily. In exchange, at some reasonable time after they leave office, we get to pierce that secrecy and find out what really happened. Except, the development of the powerful presidential library altered that deal, allowing “history” to be written (rewritten, actually) by presidents themselves.
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.
The LBJ presented in the renovated exhibits – which were overseen by Updegrove – bears little resemblance to the meticulously-detailed and extraordinarily well-documented LBJ of Robert Caro’s multi-volume, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography. The museum’s adulatory portrayal differs little from those in recent presidential libraries, but it is quite different from the other mature museums in the National Archives system, which have, over time, begun to develop more thorough, balanced, and nuanced views of the men to whom they are dedicated.
They do, however, spend a significant amount of time and effort on a well-known but not well-understood practice: bill co-sponsorships. And despite the inordinate attention given to rounding up co-sponsors, bragging about co-sponsors and arguing about co-sponsors, it turns out that co-sponsoring bills in Congress doesn’t matter. At least not legislatively.
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.