THEY’LL REJECT OUR HISTORY AND REPLACE IT WITH THEIR OWN…. Sometimes, a headline can tell us quite a bit: “Not satisfied with U.S. history, some conservatives rewrite it.”
The most ballyhooed effort is under way in Texas, where conservatives have pushed the state school board to rewrite guidelines, downplaying Thomas Jefferson in one high school course, playing up such conservatives as Phyllis Schlafly and the Heritage Foundation and challenging the idea that the Founding Fathers wanted to separate church and state.
The effort reaches far beyond one state, however.
In articles and speeches, on radio and TV, 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.
It’s not especially surprising, of course. Reading this, it’s hard not to think of the Ron Suskind classic when a senior adviser to then-President George W. Bush dismissed those who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality…. That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
If today’s conservative Republicans reject reality, it stands to reason that they’ll reject history, too.
But it’s nevertheless a reminder of 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.
The result is an American history in which every era can be distorted to satisfy the far-right ego. Indeed, it continues to apply to more contemporary events — tell the typical Republican that Ronald Reagan raised taxes in six of his eight years in the White House, and he/she will probably look at you as if you’ve lost your mind. That is, in fact, what happened, but the right chooses to reject this history, because they don’t like it. (Tell these same Republicans that Barack Obama’s health care plan is in line with what moderate Republicans have supported for years — and that the individual mandate was actually a GOP idea — and you’ll get the same reaction, even though it’s true.)
For all the talk about getting reasonable people with different ideologies into a room to find common ground on a host of complex issues, it’s worth remembering that for many political actors in 2010, there isn’t even agreement on the basics. 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?