Do All Presidents Get A Library? 'Veep' Shows Selina Meyer Fighting To Honor Her Own Legacy
With Selina Meyer getting her presidential portrait after her short stint as president on Veep, it only makes sense that the egomaniac would want to leave the other legacies that presidents get to leave. Along with getting her portrait painted in the April 23 episode, Selina wants to open a library on Veep. If you aren't familiar with the real-life practice of a former president creating a library, then you might be wondering why this is such a big deal. Yet, the history of presidential libraries goes all the way back to Franklin D. Roosevelt and once you realize that, you know there's no way that Selina is going to miss out on this milestone.
Veep showrunner David Mandel discussed the idea of Selina having a library to The Hollywood Reporter after the Season 5 finale. When talking about what her life would look like after the presidency, Mandel said:
"We have a rich tradition in this country of the post-presidency of a lot of really interesting presidents. Starting with Nixon and his attempts at rehabilitation to some humanitarian work that Jimmy Carter has done and obviously Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. Is [Selina] going to have a library?"
Although Selina wanted to run for president again during the Season 6 premiere, Ben thankfully put the kibosh on that, so the focus of Veep will be this "Life after president" idea. And with that comes the potential of the aforementioned presidential library.
Selina attends the library opening for her predecessor President Stuart Hughes in the second episode of the season (appropriately titled "Library"), and, as the above preview shows, is inspired to get her own. Despite only serving about a year in the role of president, Selina justifies it by saying, "I want a library. The Kennedy Library is a reference point 'cause, you know, he was also a part-termer."
Besides Selina being hilariously and inappropriately delusional to compare her situation to Kennedy's (who only had an abbreviated term because he was assassinated), there's a reason that she's already creating an argument to get what she wants. That's because there's actually controversy when it comes to presidential libraries.
As New York University professor of history and education Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in The Washington Post, presidential libraries are not mentioned in the Constitution and became a practice with FDR. Roosevelt personally created a library in his home state of New York as a place to store the records of his administration. Before then, documents from a president could be lost, destroyed, or sold since there was no central location to preserve them.
In 1955, 14 years after Roosevelt's library was opened, the Presidential Libraries Act was passed, which "established a system of privately erected and federally maintained libraries." That's where part of the controversy comes in — because while each former president is responsible for creating the library, taxes are used to upkeep the 14 presidential libraries, including Barack Obama's which will be housed in his presidential center after it's built in Chicago.
Zimmerman suggested in his Washington Post article that there should just be one presidential library because of the cost, but also because the libraries are influenced by the people they are named after. As Atlas Obscura noted, there is a museum component to the libraries (the museum and library are usually in a presidential center) and these museums highlight the president in a favorable light. This potentially biased portrayal of the president is even referenced on the official National Archives website as the Presidential Libraries FAQ page admits, "The composition of the first exhibits in the museums reflect the funding sources of those exhibits." That means the president has his say in how he is portrayed in his own center.
Selina having control of her own image for a future library is definitely not a good thing since it will certainly include some seriously revised history. Yet, that's also why Veep taking on the subject of the presidential library is so perfect. Although the initial concept of the presidential library for storing documents from a presidency makes sense, some people believe that these institutions have morphed into temples for honoring past presidents. With that in mind, there's no way that Selina is going to be OK without having a library — even if she only has a year's worth of documents to archive there. And the battle for her right to take part in this modern presidential tradition is going to be as epically self–aggrandizing as the library itself.