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James F. Hollifield: SMU should say yes to the Bush library

Roundup: Talking About History




[James F. Hollifield, a professor of political science and the director of the Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University, is the author of the forthcoming book “The Emerging Migration State.”]

WHEN I was a graduate student at Duke in 1981, the university was faced with a difficult decision: Should it accept the papers of its law school alumnus, Richard M. Nixon, and build a library and museum named for one of the most controversial presidents in American history? Some within the university said that to accept the papers would be to embrace a failed president who resigned in disgrace to avoid impeachment. Others argued that the documents would be a treasure trove for future scholars seeking to understand what happened during the turbulent years of the Nixon presidency.

At the time I had the luxury of watching this drama unfold from the sidelines. Today I do not. As the director of a center for political studies at Southern Methodist University, I was invited to sit on an academic planning committee for the George W. Bush presidential library. By agreeing to serve on this committee, I took a stand in favor of Southern Methodist University’s bid for the library, in part because I think Duke made a mistake in not accepting the Nixon library.

George W. Bush — like Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter in their day — is a controversial president for difficult times. But we must put partisanship aside and strive for historical perspective. We must consider the importance of having presidential libraries to help generations of scholars understand the times in which we live, and to inform future policy debates.

Whether one supports or opposes the Bush policies, there is no question that they have been momentous for the country and the world. Precisely because of the controversial nature of this presidency, the question of how George W. Bush made his decisions begs for scholarly research and discourse. The library will be a gold mine for scholars, and its location on a university campus symbolizes the need for study....
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