Political Archaeology

Just ran across this great article in the NY Times in which Clinton aides talk about the way the White House has changed. It’s a fascinating read from any number of angles. To whit:

“None of these newly arrived archaeologists would allow their names to be used when discussing their findings; to preserve cooperation with the Bush White House in a handover-of-power that still has 49 days to go, President-elect Barack Obama’s top aides have imposed a gag rule. But few can contain their amazement, chiefly at the sheer increase in the size of the defense and national-security apparatus.

“For a bunch of small-government Republicans,” one former denizen of the White House who has now stepped back inside for the first time in eight years, “these guys built a hell of an empire.”

I know, I know. Not exactly the most surprising news in the world. The article then goes on to discuss the ways in which the secure video links (supposedly installed to facilitate conversation and discussion between the White House and officers in the field) tend to squelch any sort of real conversation:

“But several veterans of the White House have noted in conversations over the past two years that the secure video does not lend itself to open, vigorous debate. Instead, it can squelch it. The picture is being piped into too many places; field commanders don’t want to speak their mind to the president if their immediate superiors at the Pentagon or Central Command are tuned in, too. There may be recordings for posterity, or presidential libraries.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I know I got a good dose of “libraries are the cornerstone of democracy” in library school. Not always true, apparently. Or is technology, which allows us to document so much more, and so much more easily, to blame? In any event, it’s interesting (albeit obvious) to note the way that being “on the record” shapes discourse.