History Activism and the Bush Administration, Part III

June 25, 2007, 9:45 pm

In response to this post and this post on the attempts of the Bush Administration to keep itself from going down in history, Barbara Weinstein, President of the American Historical Association, e-mailed me to explain why the Executive Committee of the American Historical Association (AHA) is not currently storming the gates of the White House as I had requested. With her permission, I publish Barbara’s response; in a nutshell, she reassures all of us that the organizations representing professional historians in the United States are not “sitting on their hands,” as I put it, while the Administration passes a large magnet back and forth over the RNC server. Quite the opposite.

“I think Tony Grafton has already responded to your comments about the AHA and the OAH not doing enough to protest the machinations of Cheney, Bush, & Co. regarding government records,” Barbara writes, “but I just wanted to add a few words. Although I personally feel like we’re never really doing enough, given the size of the outrage, I’m afraid the staff wisely insists that we lodge our protests” through the paid professionals in Washington. “As Tony may have mentioned,” Barbara continues, “the AHA is the largest contributor to the National Coalition for History, and we pay most of the salary for a full-time lobbyist (Lee White, a very energetic and determined guy, who has his office in AHA headquarters). I think OAH is the second largest contributor. The NCH website was the source of the HNN post, and Lee and Arnita Jones (AHA executive director) are always alert to any issue of this sort, and do what they can both to support those opposing executive policies, and to express the AHA’s position as publicly as possible. Perspectives has also been full of articles decrying government secrecy (including my April column), most of which have been reprinted on other websites. The real problem is that our means of action are limited. With past administrations, expressions of outrage or simple exposure would sometimes be enough to get the government to reverse its policy. But these guys are shameless. So we work as closely as we can with Waxman and with whatever groups are bringing legal complaints, and hope Congress votes or the courts rule in our favor, since denunciations seem to have no effect. If you” — that means all of you, readers — “have any suggestions for other steps we might take, I’m all ears.”

You might want to send your suggestions to the comments section at Tenured Radical 2.0, rather than spamming Barbara and proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.

I am also pleased to say that the Southern and the Berkshire Conference are members of the NCH, so all of my dues everywhere are going to this effort. Yours too, assuming you paid them this year. And if you don’t join these professional organizations because you think you can just read the journals in the library, and get the job ads on H-Net, and you aren’t giving a paper at the annual meeting, reconsider your position, because this is one way of not sitting on your hands as the Bush Administration unimagines its own history.

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