"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Hagel Archives Idiocy

The idiocy du jour is the appalling spectacle of Chuck Hagel -- the erstwhile Senator from Nebraska and now nominee for Secretary of Defense -- blocking access to his "archives" at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.   Hagel understandably doesn't want conservatives poking around in his records for damning statements he's made in the past, either critical of Israel or pro-Iran or just generically stupid.   But, come on... this isn't beanbag.   He's nominated for SecDef!   You should expect to have your dirty laundry aired.   Otherwise, why have any kind of vetting process at all?

But the whole process offends me for a simpler reason.   We need to push back against the notion that records of public service by elected officials somehow belong to them, and they can "donate" them to a library with restrictions.   Could they sell their public records at auction?   Could a President sell his Presidential papers at Sotheby's?   If not, then he doesn't own them.   We do.   They should be thought of the same way a company would think of an invention by one of its employees working in its lab with equipment the company paid for -- it's a "work for hire" and the company owns the intellectual property rights.

Moreover, the last time I looked, Nebraska-Omaha is a public university, i.e., an agency of the Nebraska state government.   Why shouldn't there be an ability to use a FOIA request to get the information?

Finally, the thing that is most galling is the idiocy that these papers have some scholarly value that requires years of cataloguing before they can be used.   The highest and best use of this information is not an unreadable future biography of a non-entity Senator like Hagel.   No one will remember him 50 years from now.   The highest and best use of this information is right now, when there are decisions to be made about who is best to lead the world's biggest military in a dangerous world.   I don't think it's Hagel, and any information that can persuade people that Hagel is the wrong guy for the job should be brought to light.

Oh, by the way... is there no White House reporter who can frame a question as simple as this:

Mr. President, when you took office you said you wanted your administration to be the most transparent in history.   In the interest of transparency, why haven't you instructed your nominee for Secretary of Defense, Senator Hagel, to grant access to his archives at the University of Nebraska-Omaha Library?    

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