Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Between Education and Propaganda: Public Controversy over Presidential Library Design

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Between Education and Propaganda: Public Controversy over Presidential Library Design

Article excerpt

When Professor of Economics James Rosse was appointed as chair of a faculty committee to consult on proposals to site the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library at Stanford University in 1983, he quickly sought input from those with experience in establishing and overseeing similar facilities (Rosse, 1983a, 1983b). Rosse knew that the incipient controversy at Stanford would be colored by what Chaim Perelman calls "presumptions"--shared notions of common experience that define "what normally happens and what can be reasonably counted upon" (Perelman, 1982, pp. 24-25). What are the presumptions about how presidential libraries should be built and operated? How did they shape the public argument at Stanford during the early 1980s, and in turn, how did Stanford's ultimate decision to reject the Reagan Library proposal reinforce or mold the presumptions? Close examination of primary documents housed at the Stanford University archives provides an opportunity to consider these questions and generate insight regarding the evolving political function of presidential libraries. Further, this path of inquiry affords the opportunity to develop Chaim Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca's theory of argumentation by deploying it as a tool of rhetorical criticism in case studies that feature rich and textured episodes of public controversy (cf. Farrell, 1986; Golden, 1986; Makau, 1986).

While commentary on extant presidential libraries abounds (e.g. Cochrane, 2005, 2006; Craig, 2006; Drake, 2007; Flowers, 2007; Geselbracht, 2006; Glenn, 2007; Horrocks, 1994; Houck, 2006; Hufbauer, 2005, 2006, 2007; Lyons, 1995; Stuckey, 2006), the public controversies surrounding rejected presidential library proposals remain understudied. Here, we couple analysis of the Stanford Reagan library controversy with a second "negative" case study involving argumentation leading up to Duke University's decision to reject a proposal for housing Richard Nixon's presidential library on its campus in the early 1980s. These parallel cases offer a glimpse into what Thomas Farrell terms "social knowledge in controversy"--episodes where prevailing social precedents governing human decision-making evolve in the crucible of public argument (Farrell, 1976). Such inquiry is especially timely in the contemporary milieu, where public controversy simmers regarding the sitting president's future library at Southern Methodist University, and where issues of government transparency and accountability persist as salient topics of public and scholarly concern.

FROM "THE PEOPLE'S RECORDS" TO PRESIDENTIAL TEMPLES

Throughout much of American history, presidential papers were the personal property of the president, who would retain sole custody of the documents after leaving office (Hufbaner, 2005, p. 25). This changed in 1941, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the first presidential library to store, preserve, and provide access to his presidential papers. Roosevelt (1941) believed that these papers were "the people's records" and should be freely accessible in a democracy. For the most part, future presidents followed Roosevelt's example, adhering to a standardized process codified in the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act that calls on private foundations to design and build presidential libraries, which once completed, are donated to the federal government and administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) (Geselbracht & Walch, 2005). There are currently 12 presidential libraries under federal control, with one (the new George W. Bush Library at Southern Methodist University) under construction.

In a recent twist, the presidential libraries created over the past several decades have transformed prevailing conceptions about the nature and purpose of the libraries, with a widening array of actors now drawn into design discussions. These actors include former presidents, presidential foundations, NARA officials, community groups, and academic institutions hosting the facilities. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.