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History in the (Re)Making

Growing up during the some of the coldest years of the Cold War, I was taught two special evils of the Soviet Union:  1) The Soviets put ideology before science; 2) The Soviets were always rewriting history to erase the horrors of their rule.

Both of these anti-Soviet Union arguments were taught to me in the years after Sputnik and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The point of the lessons was that in the Land of the Free we put the search for truth before ideology. America was exceptional.

So it is amusing that America’s extreme Right, a group that still sees communists behind every tree and is once again loudly prattling on about American exceptionalism, has willingly adopted instant historical revision and science denial as their very own. The GOP denial of climate science is, potentially, world killing. But today I want to focus on the history part. Here are some of the Right’s New Historians in action.

Back in 2009, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) claimed it was the Republican Party that passed civil rights legislation in the 1960s:

“Just as we were the people who passed the civil rights bills back in the ’60s without very much help from our colleagues across the aisle,” said Foxx. “They love to engage in revisionist history.”

Foxx’s claim is absurd, but as the GOP knows so well, reality-based history may be easier to dispense with than today’s reality, and they are pretty good at dispensing with existing reality. Say it loud enough and repeat it often enough and everyone will believe the Moon is made of green cheese.

Speaking of the Moon, Sarah Palin told us recently that the Soviets won the space race, but that the victory cost them their communist empire:

That was another one of those WTF moments when [Mr. Obama] so often repeated the ‘Sputnik Moment’ that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. He needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist USSR and their victory in that race to space, yeah, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it led to the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.

I would aspire Sarah Palin to get her facts straight, if not her syntax. I suppose she sat on her front porch and watched the Soviet’s launch their space-race winning rockets. She was only five years old when the U.S. placed a man on the Moon, though, so perhaps that explains something.

And then there’s the Michele Bachmann wopper. The Founders “worked tirelessly” to end slavery.

“But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” Bachmann added, claiming “men like John Quincy Adams… would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”

Bachmann even cited the wrong Adams. She is, however, following in the shallow footprints of her champion, Glenn Beck. Beck claimed that the notorious clause in the Constitution that defined slaves as three-fifths of a person (to get Southern states to go along with the Constitution thing) was a secret plan to end slavery.

The three-fifths clause was offensive, and so they didn’t do it. This shows such a — either lack of understanding of our history, who the Founders were, what the Constitution says, or it is just cowardice in Washington. Three-fifths clause. African-Americans: three-fifths in the South, three-fifths of a human being. That’s an outrage, unless you know why they put that in there. They put that in there because if slaves in the South were counted as full human beings, they could never abolish slavery. They would never be able to do it. It was a time bomb.

Forget the Missouri Compromise, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War. The Founders are above all reproach and so they must have…yea, they planted a secret time bomb that ended slavery, so secret that we would have never known it if Glenn Beck hadn’t told us about it.

What’s revealed here is the Right’s authoritarian worldview.  Authority must be maintained at all costs, even at the cost of the truth. Authority is the primary value. A lie that protects or enhances authority isn’t a lie at all, because the first truth is authority itself.

Of course, it could be that Foxx, Bachmann, Palin and Beck are Soviet agents planted in our midst years ago. That would explain their odd allegiance to historical revisionism. Didn’t Palin say once she could see Russia from her porch? A nation grows ever more suspicious…

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith