Wednesday, February 23, 2005


A Little Late, Don't You Think?

Author Regrets Secretly Taping Bush Talks.

I'm a bit ambivalent about this. Personally, I'm actually less disturbed by the act of taping than the act of releasing the tapes to the media.

The President is a historical figure; tapes like these could one day be invaluable in understanding who George W. Bush was, and what his motivations were.

Of course, it's still a party foul to tape the man without his permission, but for me, releasing the tapes was a much more egregious offense.

For if you're truly interested in history, save the tapes for *after* the man leaves office. Donate the tapes to the presidential library, or the official biographer. For chrissakes, don't cough them up on Hardball.

I will grant an exception: if there was a crime discussed, then yeah, of course you should release the tapes. To the authorities-- again, not to MSNBC.

Anyways, this latest incident brings to mind an increasingly lamentable fact of modern Washington, and modern life in general: the lack of either official or unofficial documentation of events.

An email isn't paper. A backed-up archive will never be as efficient to study as a series of written memos.

Thus, the history of American governance will become increasingly difficult to write. Nuance will be lost; motivations misunderstood.

This is important not because we'll lose whatever information may be of fleeting puerile interest, but because we'll lose valuable insight that may prove cautionary to future American leaders.

Just think how much more challenging Cold War crisis management would have been had tapes of the Cuban Missile Crisis not existed. Or how many more constitutional arguments Americans would have if no one took the time to write the Federalist Papers.

Similarly, the lost art of letter writing may render future histories incapable of being written.

Likewise, because of two seminal political events-- Watergate, which led to the demise of Oval Office taping, and the Bob Packwood scandal, which eliminated for good any protection a written diary may have in this town-- it will be increasingly difficult to adequately judge America's political leadership and decisionmaking.

Because of all this, future generations will in all likelihood know less about George W. Bush's Administration than Washington's, or Lincoln's. And what they do know will be heavily influenced by media interpretation of events, rather than direct analysis of primary source documents.

It's a shame, really.

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