Monday, September 21, 2009

Presidental records, Executive Orders, and Books

There is a very interesting article in USA today about Taylor Branch (Parting the Waters fame) and his taped conversations with Clinton, Clinton's memoir, and Taylor's book coming out based on his own taped summaries of the conversations with the President. 

In the shop, I have actively avoided all books on the later presidency of Reagan, and the presidencies of all of his successors for this kind of reason.

Most of the first hand, important documents have not been available due to a Bush II era decision, so historians did not have as much of the access as they might otherwise have. There are a ton of opinion books out there on both sides, and only a VERY few currently will have true historical merit - Seymour Hersh's book on his time with Clinton for one, and the book jointly authored by 2 Senators (1 Dem, 1 Repub) on Iran Contra hearing being another off the top of my head). 

Thankfully from a historians standpoint, Obama reversed that Bush executive decision in January, and as of April a great deal of Reagan material and a first round of Bush I material have come out, with more on the way. I look forward to some more substantial works on 1984-96 US presidential policies in the coming years. 

It is interesting to read Branch's reaction to seeing an early draft of Clinton's book, but I think all presidential auto-bios  or memoirs are this way. They are concerned with legacies and, in a way, stature rather than unvarnished truth. Some of course cannot say as much as they might due to national security issues, but a great deal is obfuscated by pride, I fear. 


More after the jump...