rewriting history

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I mentioned Republican revisionism in a weekend post, but their efforts are not limited to a single incident regarding Texas textbooks. True to their Orwellian desires, displayed so memorably during the Bush era, conservatives are trying to control the present by controlling the past--factual accuracy be damned. As Steven Thomma wrote for McClatchey last week, "conservatives are working to redefine major turning points and influential figures in American history, often to slam liberals, promote Republicans and reinforce their positions in today's politics:"

The Jamestown settlers? Socialists. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton? Ill-informed professors made up all that bunk about him advocating a strong central government.

Theodore Roosevelt? Another socialist. Franklin D. Roosevelt? Not only did he not end the Great Depression, he also created it.

Joe McCarthy? Liberals lied about him. He was a hero.

Recent conservative bestsellers feature funhouse-mirror versions of reality: Amity Shlaes blamed the Depression on FDR, Jonah Goldberg claimed that fascists are liberals, Ann Coulter all but deified Joe McCarthy, Bernard Goldberg popularized the "liberal media" myth, and David Horowitz decried ivory-tower indoctrination. There's apparently no thesis so ridiculous that conservatives can't be conned into believing--as long as it insults liberals and liberalism. No facts are required--as any book by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, or Michael Savage can amply demonstrate.

Thomma cites a single countervailing case--the radical Ward Churchill, who, as UNC historian Fritz Fischer noted, "ignored a lot of evidence and made some up to promulgate a particular political belief." More pariah than professor, the disingenuous Churchill can't begin to outweigh the massive misinformation--both historical and contemporary--that permeates the Right. This helps to explains, as Steve Benen discussed at Washington Monthly "why conversations with those immersed in a right-wing ideology tend to be rather frustrating, if not futile, experiences:"

In order for political discourse to have any meaning or value, there have to be certain agreed upon facts that serve as a foundation for the dialogue. But as the McClatchy piece notes, that foundation is no longer stable -- conservatives frequently choose to believe versions of events that aren't real, because the make-believe version makes them feel better. [...] When dealing with a large group of influential conservatives who believe FDR created the Great Depression, Theodore Roosevelt was a socialist, and Joe McCarthy was a hero, what's there to talk about?

Steven Taylor at PoliBlog follows up on Thomma's anecdote about Dick Armey, observing conservative pretensions to a superior understanding of history:

It frequently seems like admonitions for people to read the Constitution or the Federalist Paper are hollow because the admonishers don't actually expect people to do it (and sometimes one wonders if said admonishers themselves follow their own advice).

That reminds me of George Will's exhortations about Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations--a book with which, as I noted, Will himself appeared to be unfamiliar. Conservatives complain a great deal about American public schooling, and I wonder if this is because they themselves are so sorely lacking in the basics whose importance they stress so vehemently. Eli notes in "The War on Reality" at FDL that "[t]he right views information itself as a threat, and they're doing everything they can to combat it and co-opt it:"

After all, informed voters might decide to vote for sane candidates over crazy dishonest hatemongers. Informed students might grow up to be favorably disposed to the successes of progressivism over the failures of conservatism. And informed policymakers might decide that the survival of the planet is a lot more important than Exxon Mobil's profit margins... or at least their constituents would.

It's quite audacious when you think about it. Rather than accepting reality and adapting their ideology to it, the right instead embarked on a massive multi-decade coordinated effort to adapt reality to their ideology. Instead of asking reality what it could teach them, they decided to fight it to the death. And if they win, everyone loses.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on April 5, 2010 8:30 PM.

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