Historian Tim Naftali, Laura Bush to discuss civility in politics, other topics at FAU
A top U.S. historian and former director of a presidential library says the country's archivists need more authority and resources to better monitor America's top secrets.
Timothy Naftali, who has written books about former President George W. Bush and the Cuban Missile Crisis, said the 1978 Presidential Records Act is clear — former President Donald Trump as well as ex-vice presidents Joe Biden and Mike Pence should not have had classified materials in their possession and dwellings.
But Naftali said the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration needs the legal authority to conduct thorough searches of documents as the principals in a presidential administration leave office at the end of a term.
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"The National Archives does not not have the personnel nor does it have the authority to go through the personal records of presidents and double-check they aren't by mistake taking classified materials," said Naftali, the former director at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California. "I believe the National Archives should have more authority to do a review, but they need more personnel. They don't have the staff to do it right, not even close. Not even close."
Historian Timothy Naftali will moderate discussion with former first lady Laura Bush at FAU in Boca Raton
Naftali, an associate professor at New York University, will appear in Boca Raton on Saturday to moderate a conversation with former first lady Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara Pierce Bush.
The event at Florida Atlantic University is part of the 2023Alan B. and Charna Larkin Symposium on the American Presidency. “A Conversation with Laura W. Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush” will take place at 4 p.m. in the Carole and Barry Kaye Auditorium in the FAU Student Union at 777 Glades Road.
Naftali said both Bush women share unique historical places as the spouse and daughter of one president, George W. Bush, and the daughter-in-law and granddaughter of another, George H.W. Bush.
"The audience will appreciate a discussion about what it's like to be a first family," Naftali said.
"We live in a period where there is some debate among Americans about the nature of the presidency. We've been through a period where presidential norms have been challenged. So we will have a discussion about what it's like to be a first lady, and to be a member of their family, and what are the pressures on you and what are the expectations. But also what is the sense of mission and responsibility."
But he expects that encounter will be a wide-ranging discussion that will go beyond their lives in the White House, and the role of a first family in America, and delve into the two women's ongoing commitment to global public health and education.
Naftali said both Laura and Barbara P. Bush, one of the couple's two twin children, have continued a commitment to promoting women's rights internationally as well since Bush 43's term ended in January 2009. The historian said he will ask them their views on the topic at a time when civil liberties for women have suffered in a number of places, including Afghanistan and Myanmar.
"It's once again a difficult and challenging time around the world," Naftali said.
Naftali said he will also ask both about their work in global public health, particularly their commitment to AIDS relief, as well as lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic that struck nearly three years ago.
"What did they learn from that? What can we continue to do?" Naftali said. "Illness is not something that's contained within national borders. As human beings we share a common interest in combatting illness around the world. We have a moral interest but also a practical and pragmatic interest in it, too. And both Mrs. Bush and her daughter have been personally committed and engaged in that issue."
Education issues may spark interest at a time of acute partisanship in Florida schools, universities
Naftali added that Laura Bush is an avid reader and a former librarian, so he will ask her about "literature, letters, and ideas" and will ask both "what they are reading" and what topics intrigued them.
"My hope is to introduce the audience not just to great stories about the challenges of the White House, but also how these women have both taken from their experience, from this remarkable moment when Mrs. Bush was the first lady and Barbara was a part of the first family, what they brought from that experience and how it's shaped the rest of their lives," Naftali said.
Naftali said he is well aware the discussion is taking place in Florida at a time of surging division and partisanship over education. Textbooks are being covered in some state classrooms, a state university's entire mission has been upended in the span of a month and K-12 and college educators alike are being scrutinized not for their scholarly efforts but also for their perceived political positions.
He said he will ask the two about "how they view the world today and the challenges of 2023" as well as "civility" in public discourse as well as the divisions and partisanship in the nation.
For his part, Naftali said he sides with a more open view of teaching that places trust in the young people in the classroom
"Anyone who is engaged in teaching is committed to the world of ideas and wants young people to grow up to be able to make sense of the world themselves," said Naftali.
He said part of the role of a parent, guardian or educator is to teach students "to see flaws in an argument, to sharpen those skills to build a better argument" and disagree respectfully and effectively with viewpoints they don't agree with.
"So they read things they don't necessarily agree with as they develop their own point of view," Naftali said. "I believe we want the next generation, and the generations after that, to know how to navigate the world of ideas, and the way to do that is to introduce them to ideas when they are old enough to understand them."
Naftali proposes a more orderly process to avoid misplacing of classified materials
Naftali added that he believes the National Archives should be empowered work with an administration beginning in the third year of a presidential administration to develop a plan for transferring custody of all materials that are public domain.
"There should be a plan put forward so that it's not a rush, rush, rush at the end," he said. "That's one reason why things may be inadvertently taken."
That said, Naftali cautioned the cases of Biden and Pence are very different with Trump, though having the records was "not right and it shouldn't have happened."
For starters, Naftali said the number of documents both as vice president kept appear to have been much smaller than Trump. And, he said, both Biden and Pence turned over the documents. Trump kept them despite repeated demands by the National Archives for their return.
"The Trump story is different," said Naftali. "There's a big difference between inadvertence and intention."
“A Conversation with Laura W. Bush and Barbara Pierce Bush” will take place at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Carole and Barry Kaye Auditorium in the FAU Student Union at 777 Glades Road. Tickets are $35-125 and can be purchased at www.fauevents.com or 561-297-6124. Group pricing and student pricing are also available.
Antonio Fins is a politics and business editor at the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at email@example.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Timothy Naftali in talk with Laura Bush at FAU in Boca Raton Saturday