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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Conservatives Practicing Soviet-Style Revisionism

Jefferson bannedWhen the USSR was still up and kicking, teachers were required to edit history books. They'd cut out or paste over pages, replacing them with content sent them by the Communist Party. Figures who had fallen out of favor with the party were airbrushed out of photos and any mention of them was pasted over with a new history -- as far as anyone was concerned, those people never existed. As a result, Soviet students grew up in a world without any real past or, at least, a past nearly as unknowable as the future. If Comrade X was a big figure in Soviet history one year, the next he might no longer exist.

The reason for this was what the right would call "politically correctness" run amuck. The party's ideology dictated that the party was flawless. Removing people from history wasn't seen as an act of censorship, but as retroactively correcting mistakes. By revising history, the party believed they were able to control it. And the populace became used to ever-changing truths and, for the most part, accepted the party's shifting versions of reality.

This Soviet style airbrushing of history is happening now in the US. Specifically, Texas. And the first figure to fall out of favor with the party and be airbrushed out of history is one of the founding fathers. Liveblogging a Texas Board of Education meeting the Texas Freedom Network reported that Thomas Jefferson has become the Texas version of Leon Trotsky.

9:30 – Board member Cynthia Dunbar wants to change a standard having students study the impact of Enlightenment ideas on political revolutions from 1750 to the present. She wants to drop the reference to Enlightenment ideas (replacing with “the writings of”) and to Thomas Jefferson. She adds Thomas Aquinas and others. Jefferson’s ideas, she argues, were based on other political philosophers listed in the standards. We don’t buy her argument at all. Board member Bob Craig of Lubbock points out that the curriculum writers clearly wanted to students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson. Could Dunbar’s problem be that Jefferson was a Deist? The board approves the amendment, taking Thomas Jefferson OUT of the world history standards.

9:40 – We’re just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board’s far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America’s exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America’s Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.


9:51 – Dunbar’s amendment striking Jefferson passed with the votes of the board’s far-right members and board member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller of Dallas.

Jefferson is no longer in favor by the party. Having written about a "wall of separation between church and state," the third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence is no longer "politically correct" among the wingnut crowd who insist that the founders wanted to set up a theocracy. So he's out, replaced with such non-founders as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Sir William Blackstone. Also out, references to democracy.

This revisionist history isn't limited to Texas. It's being practiced in the talking points of the Republican Party. "During a Christmas Eve appearance on Fox News, I pointed out that most mainstream economists believe the government must boost the economy with deficit spending," wrote columnist David Sirota in January of last year. "That's when conservative pundit Monica Crowley said we should instead limit such spending because President Franklin Roosevelt's 'massive government intervention actually prolonged the Great Depression.' Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett eagerly concurred, saying 'historians pretty much agree on that.'"

Sirota did what few people would -- he checked. Not only do historians "pretty much agree" on the exact opposite of what Crowley and Jarret were saying, but so do the vast majority of economists. But history didn't serve their argument well, so they broke out the airbrush and history was "corrected." This became a common Republican talking point during the debate over the stimulus package -- that Obama's spending would fail, just as FDR's supposedly had.

McClatchy's Steven Thomma has a great piece on the right's attempts to edit history to their liking and I suggest you read it. In he looks for historical revisionism among the Republican elite and finds plenty. Among them; Sen. Joe McCarthy was a hero, the Jamestown colony failed because of its socialism (in reality, it was a company town founded by the stock-issuing Virginia Company of London and didn't actually fail), that Alexander Hamilton wasn't in favor of a strong central government, and that Theodore Roosevelt hated the rich.

Of course, this is all provably BS, which goes a long way toward explaining the actions of the Texas Board of Education. Texas is the nation's largest purchaser of textbooks, meaning that Texas standards influence other state's textbooks as well. Like Soviet students, the students of Texas and many other states will learn the history that the party approved, not the history that actually happened.

You may know too much for the party's good, but the airbrush can make sure your children don't.


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Anonymous said...

But, by most accounts of economists World War II marked the end the Great depression. The only real thing that The New Deal accomplished was just to put the government on a path toward perpetual and never ending debt. How can one measure the effectiveness of the New Deal? Easy. Are there poor people today? Yes? Then it failed. Simple. The New Deal was the "Great False Utopian Promise" of its generation. Just as both the Liberals and the Right espouse their own "Utopian" ideologies today. Try again.

Wisco said...

The New Deal wasn't meant to eliminate poverty. That's just ignorance on your part. And spending is spending, war or otherwise -- in fact, war spending is worse, snce you bascally convert money into bombs and blow it all up. Try that with stimulus money and see were it gets you.

And are you saying the New Deal created debt, but WWII didn't?

Wow, you've learned your lessons well, Comrade. The GOP politburo must be very proud.

Anonymous said...

Your North Korean handlers must be proud! The new deal is just one of a long line of failed government programs that did nothing but increase government debt and did little of anything to actually increase economic opportunities for the poor and downtrodden of the era. Your disagreement makes a really poor assumption about my GOP affiliation. That is because you only see ideas as left versus right. You simply can not see ideas outside that limited range. As for your point regarding war spending. I agree war is bad and spending money on war is bad. It is almost as if you said That because the Great depression ended at the start of World War II that somehow I thought war spending was a good idea. Oh well, You simply aren't going to be any fun to debate with.

Wisco said...

Oh for fuck's sake...

Look at history. Herbert Hoover was president at the beginning of the depression and he did exactly what the right recommends -- nothing. The economy went into a tailspin.

FDR came into office and the economy began to improve. Why? Because a depression or a recession is caused by people not spending money. So you get money to people who need it, because it's 100% guaranteed they'll spend it.

Now you can type out hamhanded insults all day, but that's no substitute for an argument. If you want to display your ignorance for all the world to see, you're going about it the right way.

You're also making my point for me: there's no shortage of gullible people who'll fall for revisionist history. The politburo will give you extra brownie points if you dump on Thomas Jefferson -- why don't you give that a shot, Comrade?

vet said...

If the idea of the course is to study Enlightenment political thought, then personally I'd agree that Jefferson is really not a very important figure, certainly not compared with Locke, Hobbes, Voltaire et al.

"Aquinas" doesn't seem to belong in that list, though.

But if you're talking about the influence of Enlightenment thought on political revolutions, then it's hard to see a case for excluding Jefferson. Or Trotsky, of course.

Anon: did the New Deal end the Depression? That depends on your definitions of "depression" and "end", and this really isn't a good forum for a debate like that. But it undoubtedly did more, for more people, than Hoover's policy. There was a reason why Roosevelt was the longest-serving president in your country's history: people liked what he did (and when he died, they were literally sobbing in the streets). That's democracy for you.

Anonymous said...

Jesus was an unemployed anti-capitalist freeloader who avoided women, justified stealing and encouraged others to quit their jobs.

Jefferson was a well educated, productive businessman and contributor to our nation and civilization in general.

dp said...

I love to see the talking point that WWII ended the depression. Which is usually followed by that the government had nothing to do with it. Really! FDR saved this country from a brewing revolution which likely would have been Marxist. You cannot have millions of unemployed young men crowding into the cities. FDR gave them jobs in the rural areas. Then came WWII, where the government became and ran the entire economy. There is this romanticized view that somehow the war was run private. Nothing could be further from the truth. If an industry didn't want to play along they were threatened with nationalization. Wage controls were put in place, rationing of essential goods and services,... This led to bigger deficits. We ended the war with huge debt. No FDR saved the country and what pulled us out of the depression was the fact the United States was the only country at the end of the war that had its industrial base intact. All of the other countries were completely destroyed allowing US business to sell, sell, sell. But how do you get workers when there are still wage controls? Why not offer benefits? For the first time workers could get cars, houses, and employer based health care.

Wisco said...

Wage controls were put in place, rationing of essential goods and services,...

This is one point that always bothers me about the "WWII ended the depression" argument. The war was actually bad for the economy, since rationing capped consumer spending. If you ran a factory then, yeah the war was great. If you ran a grocery store, a hardware store, a gas station, etc. -- well, not so much. It was a nightmare for small businesses which was an even larger part of the economy then than they are today.

The problem with right wing arguments -- and this is something I really should bring up more often -- is that they never think anything all the way through. They reach the conclusion that they want to reach and then they stop thinking. If they thought about this argument, rather than just repeat it robotically, they'd realize that it was illogical horsecrap.

Steven Marty Grant said...

The problem, as it usual is with these debates, is that it is not all one thing or the other . FDR put programs in place that held the country together long enough for the recovery to actually take hold. Much like the Bush/Obama bailout, it was an emergency response to a very bad economic situation. Many of the New Deal programs were a huge waste of money but at least they put a few people to work. And yes the war did finally end the depression. Hundreds of thousands of young men went to war(and got paid to do so), factories had orders that they could not keep up with, and military contractors hired anyone with a pulse. It was more government deficit spending but it was the war that they were spending on. Where the progressives miss the boat is in thinking that government spending is the long term solution. As dp pointed out our post war economy boomed because we were the industrial kings of the mountain. Our ability to produce factory goods won the war and fueled decades of economic growth that paid down years of writing rubber government checks.

My question is where is the money going to come from to pay down the debt now? Our manufacturing base is shrinking and we become less competitive every day. We have crossed over the line and now over 50% of people take more from the government than they put in. You can’t stimulate an economy that is already dead.