How Conservatives Rewrite History
The radical right has done a fine job of convincing its legions that the government plans to round up self-proclaimed patriots in FEMA-operated concentration camps, use health care to kill grandmothers, and institute political reeducation camps for youths, among other conspiracy theories.
Last month a Louis Harris poll shed light on the nonsense: Republicans who are convinced that Obama is a Muslim (57%), socialist (67%), gun-barring (61%), constitution-violating (55%) president without an American birth certificate (45%), hoping to turn the country over to a one world government (51%). Also nearly one in four Republicans think he’s the anti-Christ.
Despite all of the slander, the Obama administration made March, 2010, historical; but March will also go down in the record books as the month when right-wing revisionism ran amok. The adage March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb seemed to transform into March came in with the lyin’ and went out on the lam… and with it went history.
Let’s start with Texas. The state’s board of education is a true powerhouse when it comes to adopting textbooks. Not only are they purchasing textbooks for their 4.7 million students, other states cut costs by following the Lone Star State’s purchases. However, what these states are about to buy into are textbooks that have adopted a new history.
The fifteen member board, two-thirds of whom are Republicans, is led by a self-described “Christian fundamentalist” dentist, Don McLeroy, who told ABC’s Nightline that he has a “Christian worldview, kind of an Orthodox biblical worldview,” and that he’s used this worldview to reshape what future generations will learn in school.
The state board’s deletions and insertions are clearly ideological. On the agenda: emphasize the Christian faith of America’s founding fathers; never mind that religion was only mentioned once in the Constitution. If Christian doctrine was the most crucial element to the founding fathers, why would they have lumped freedom of religion into the first amendment with four other freedoms?
Still, these Texas conservatives want the church and state to be more interconnected, and are ignoring Jefferson’s more than two-century-old letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802 in which he coined the phrase “wall of separation between the church and the state.” Jefferson’s secularity has inspired the Texas Textbook Massacre to carve away at his contributions. No longer will the third president be considered a writer whose words inspired revolution, despite his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, which led to the American Revolution. (By the way, Jefferson mentions God in that document more times than it is written in the Constitution.) In his place students will learn about foreign priests and controversial theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin.
Jefferson, ironically enough, wrote about separation of church and state to protect religious institutions from government. Why are secular institutions left unprotected when religious zealots bully the state?
Furthermore, these new textbooks will credit the maniacal Joseph McCarthy’s baseless accusations by conceding that communists had infiltrated the United States government throughout the Cold War, though historians deny this. By not refuting McCarthy, we’re teaching our children that it’s okay to conduct smear campaigns. Case in point: Beck and Limbaugh.
Hopefully, the board includes a paragraph in the new books that summarizes how McCarthy exposed “subversive” literature, which led to book burning. But I doubt it, since the board is conducting its own modern-day book burning, sans fires, by using a delete key.
McLeroy hasn’t only tampered with history, but with science, too. When dealing with scientific evidence reached by a consensus, he told his panel to ignore the experts, suggesting that a consensus can be overrated.
With ostensible stories becoming the norm in the classroom, it seems to speak to a bigger issue. Fear of the other. White America, by 2042, is expected to drop to half of the United States population. A recent Pew Forum report on religion found that “the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country” and “Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses” giving way to other religions and non-believers. White Christian America is becoming the other.
Because of this the board marginalized Jefferson’s role, and tried, though failed, to remove Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice, and Cesar Chavez, the famous Mexican-American labor leader, from the curriculum. Why else would they have shot down proposals to include more Hispanics in their textbooks?
Not only were Republicans toying with textbooks, but they were also redesigning our money. A North Carolina Congressman proposed updating the fifty-dollar bill by replacing famed Civil War general and 18th president Ulysses S. Grant with the 40th president Ronald Reagan. I won’t argue over who is more deserving of their mug on the fifty, but it’s suspicious that the general of the Civil War who helped end slavery is on the chopping block, while President Andrew Jackson, who committed mass atrocities against the Native Americans, something often downplayed in the history books, is untouchable from the twenty.
It’s not just rebranding textbooks or money that echoes the voices of the revisionist right. In a March, 13, New York Times editorial, Frank Rich said that Karl Rove’s memoir, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight, and Liz Cheney and William Kristol’s “new right-wing noise machine” called Keep America Safe is helping rewrite history. “To hear them tell it, 9/11 was so completely Bill Clinton’s fault that it retroactively happened while he was still in office. The Bush White House is equally blameless for the post-9/11 resurgence of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Iran. Instead it’s President Obama who is endangering America by coddling terrorists and stopping torture.”
A Keep America Safe advertisement released in early March demanded the names of the Obama Justice Department officials who served as pro bono defense attorneys for suspected terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay prisons. Cheney’s organization labeled them the Al Qaeda Seven, which truly subverts the ideals of our justice system. Nineteen lawyers, nine of whom were former officials for George W. Bush, condemned the ad and wrote “the American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams’s representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre…”
At least some on the right are preserving history.
David Frum, a former speechwriter for Bush, lost his position as the resident scholar with the conservative group, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), for speaking out against the Republican’s handling of health care. Frum, on his site FrumForum, wrote:
We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.
So today’s defeat for free-market economics and Republican values is a huge win for the conservative entertainment industry. Their listeners and viewers will now be even more enraged, even more frustrated, even more disappointed in everybody except the responsibility-free talkers on television and radio. For them, it’s mission accomplished. For the cause they purport to represent, it’s Waterloo all right: ours.
There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother? I’ve been on a soapbox for months now about the harm that our overheated talk is doing to us. Yes it mobilizes supporters – but by mobilizing them with hysterical accusations and pseudo-information, overheated talk has made it impossible for representatives to represent and elected leaders to lead…
After hearing about Frum’s forced departure, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan, Bruce Barlett, who had also lost his position with a right-wing think tank in 2005 for speaking out on Bush’s policies, wrote:
I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn’t already.
Sadly, there is no place for David and me to go. The donor community is only interested in financing organizations that parrot the party line…
A political philosophy of conformity and “a closing of the conservative mind” is as dangerous as allowing the victors of war to write the history books. To absorb the most virulent conservative voices and jettison those who consider a thought toward the center kills rationality in the movement. That would leave only the liberal voice to be taken seriously. That’s dangerous, too. If nobody in the GOP is willing to stand up to the extremists that have abducted the right, then Republicans may, by next March, be as relevant as the Know Nothings are today. It appears to be sink or swim for the GOP, and if they choose sink, hopefully history won’t continue to plummet with them.
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