This past week saw the opening of the George W. Bush library in Texas, with great pomp and ceremony. This business of presidential libraries baffles me. What is it with presidents having their own libraries after they leave office? Who goes to visit such things? Does any other country in the world do this?
If these libraries are meant to serve as a repository of their papers for scholars to study, surely it would be simpler to give them to the National Archives? The libraries seem to be some sort of grandiose attempt to put the best face on their time in office and it just seems weird to me, almost as bad and self-aggrandizing as building a mausoleum for some leader’s remains.
These occasions tend to have a lot of quasi-eulogizing, with people feeling obliged to say only good things about the person. I think that the same rules should apply as those following the deaths of public figures, and consist of an honest examination of their records. Veteran Australian journalist John Pilger, like Glenda Jackson, gives us a good example of what should happen, describing of all the terrible things that Margaret Thatcher did in office that made her such an awful prime minister.
The corruption and inhumanity under Thatcher knew no borders. When she came to power in 1979, Thatcher demanded a total ban on exports of milk to Vietnam. The American invasion had left a third of Vietnamese children malnourished.
I witnessed many distressing sights, including infants going blind from a lack of vitamins. “I cannot tolerate this,” said an anguished doctor in a Saigon paediatric hospital, as we looked at a dying boy. Oxfam and Save the Children had made clear to the British government the gravity of the emergency. An embargo led by the US had forced up the local price of a kilo of milk up to ten times that of a kilo of meat. Many children could have been restored with milk. Thatcher’s ban held.
Her funeral was a propaganda stunt, fit for a dictator: an absurd show of militarism, as if a coup had taken place. And it has. “Her real triumph”, said another of her boys, Geoffrey Howe, a Thatcher minister, “was to have transformed not just one party but two, so that when Labour did eventually return, the great bulk of Thatcherism was accepted as irreversible.”
In 1997, Thatcher was the first former prime minister to visit Tony Blair after he entered Downing Street. There is a photo of them, joined in rictus: the budding war criminal with his mentor. When Ed Milliband, in his unctuous “tribute”, caricatured Thatcher as a “brave” feminist hero whose achievements he personally “honoured”, you knew the old killer had not died at all.
Chris Hayes follows Pilger’s example with the Bush library and says that he feels under no obligation to say only good things and that the Bush presidency was just as bad as we remembered it to be.