Nixon would be proud of Bush’s actions

Saturday, November 17, 2001

One of the dangers of being in a time of national crisis such as the one we are now experiencing is the possible abuse of power by the executive branch of the government. Everyone, including the news media, is so wary of appearing partisan that things can slip by either unnoticed or with little fanfare.

Such is the case with an executive order drafted by the Bush administration [recently] and signed by the president [Nov.1]. The order would allow an incumbent president to keep any former president’s records secret forever and would require anyone seeking particular documents to prove a “demonstrated, specific need” for them before they would be considered for release.

To the average citizen, that probably seems like a reasonable thing to ask, and any opinion to the contrary just paranoia on the part of an overly nosy press. In truth, we should all be concerned about this latest move by the Bush administration away from an open society and toward secrecy.

According to White House press secretary Ari “What First Amendment?” Fleischer, the move to clamp down on presidential records will result in freer dissemination of information. How that could be possible is difficult to understand.

Until Bush signed the executive order slamming the lid on them, documents pertaining to a president’s administration are available for release after 12 years, with the exception of those deemed to be too sensitive for declassification. That was the intent of the Presidential Records Act of 1978, enacted after former president Richard Nixon attempted to retain control of tapes and documents from his administration. Now, all papers from a former president’s administration, including the most mundane, are cloaked in a veil of secrecy, either by decree of a seated president or a former one. Richard Nixon would be proud.

What makes the signing of this executive order particularly suspect is its timing. Papers from the Reagan administration should have been released in January of this year; however, the current Bush administration has balked at releasing them, despite the fact that officials at the National Archives, including the Reagan library, wanted them to be made public.

Bush’s father, of course, was vice president under Ronald Reagan. Members of
the current administration also served the Reagan presidency in one capacity or the other, including budget secretary Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., Secretary of State Colin Powell, and chief White House economist Lawrence Lindsey.

The executive order signed by President Bush should alarm anyone concerned
with the erosion of open government and the movement toward secrecy.

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