Saturday, July 02, 2011

Revisionism Kills

Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast explains one right-wing tactic that's importance always seems to escape the progressives, liberals and Democrats: the revisionism complete and utter re-engineering of common American History.

The standard, non-crazy history we’ve all been taught is being contested every day by Beck and others. Next time you’re on a long-ish drive, flip over to the AM dial and listen to any of the several Christian news-talk stations you’ll find. You will see what I mean. And I’m not talking about arguably controversial liberal assertions about history—Thomas Scopes was a great man, say, or Charles Beard was dead-on about the Constitution. I’m talking about stuff in the grade-school textbooks. The Civil War was caused largely by slavery? Lib propaganda, all of it.


Why is acceptance of a common history important? I'll use the example of the libertarian fantasies surrounding the Civil Rights Act.

It isn't just the left that gets snowed by this sort of thing. When Rand Paul got into a mess about the Civil Rights Act, a lot of older conservatives I spoke to (like my Dad) thought he was a kook who would never win that election. There was simply a refusal on their part to believe me when I told them that, far from losing that election, by getting involved in that "controversey" he had ensured his evenutal win. When the media got involved and talked about those views for a few days, they must have been shocked to find out how uncontroversial many viewers found Paul's position. They kept trying to play Maddow's gotcha moment into something beyond the left wing internets. They failed. They failed badly. And they've never seemed to understand why.

Now Paul's father Ron has been able to discuss his position about the law at length with hardly a notice, and every time this issue is brought up it is discussed in terms of government intrusion into business.

In the larger context, a fair number of voters start to question whether government intervention was necessary at all in the decisions of private business owners, based on the incredible historical inaccuracy that private businesses would have integrated peacefully without being coerced by government intrusion or the howling mad historical "theory" that private businesses would have integrated peacefully if governments hadn't specifically required them to discriminate.

Make no mistake, this demonstrates a stunning, jaw-dropping ignorance of historical racial, legal, cultural, and economic conditions that dominated this country from British colonization to around the Reagan administration. We still find pockets of that cancerous economic discrimination, and we are damn sure dealing with the economic, cultural, and social legacy of that discrimination.

Part of it is the understandable forward movement of history - the further you get away from a thing, the less present it is in the national conciousness. Part of it is the shame and rationalization of the mainstream population that benefited from the old status quo; everyone wants to fondly remember the "good ole days" when life was simpler and safer and more stable. But you cannot underestimate the effect blatant historical reengineering has on the national conciousness when combined with those preceeding two factors.

Of course, folks on the left tend to recieve the wrong signals from this type of thing and try to hang the "racist" tag around the necks of anyone who would challenge the CRA. That's because folks on the left accept history as a given, tend to think everyone else does as well, and think they don't need to reiterate why the CRA was needed in the first place because of that. Doing so concedes the historical argument to CRA opponents, allowing the popular narrative to completely dismiss the devastating effect of American racial, economic, cultural, legal conditions in the United States, especially post-Reconstruction.

A lot of folks on the left don't get that these people aren't making racial arguments. Instead, they are undermining the history and calling into question the need to discuss racial issues at all. When the liberals take the bait and go after them on race, they walk right into the "crying-racism" punch because the audience isn't primed to discuss race on those terms. That such factors as racial economics could be eliminated from a conversation about the Civil Rights Act is a mere demonstration of how effective it is to challenge common American history, and cut it off at the knees. Remove or confuse the context, and your policy opponents simply cannot contribute. This, of course, fulfills a completely seperate right-wing narrative that liberals are constantly "playing the race card."

The sports analogy to this would be that CRA defenders on the left constantly show up to play a ice hockey game in soccer uniforms and cleats. Then they spend the game wondering why it is so cold in here; why they are unable to move around the field of play or score goals by kicking the puck; and why the referees won't card their opponents for checking them into the walls.

When the right turns to historical reeingineering, the left needs to get into that game. In many cases, the left already won those arguments, and the right is simply inviting them to revisit those victories. When it comes to the CRA, and "libertarians" start utopianizing their fantastic "government coercion of business" theory of racial economics, here's what liberals need to do:

1. Government was coercive, but it wasn't business on the recieving end. Cue up film of Birminham 1963 when Bull Connor turned loose the dogs and fire hoses on black children. Follow that with film and radio from White Citizen's Councils, the "business" and "white collar" wing of the KKK.

2. Government was only following the will of the voting majority. Cue up the film of those segregationist governors leading their people in rallies. Follow that with images of the white race riots that burned over the South in the 1960's.

3. Show how businesses reacted to the thought of integration. White's Only. Colored entrances. Sharecropping. Businesses closing once Jim Crow laws failed.

4. Show how necessary federal government intervention was to tear down Jim Crow. Little Rock. Ole Miss. Alabama. Truman's decisions. Eisenhower's decisions. LBJ's decisions. Kennedy's speeches.

All that needs to be done is to dust off some old footage and replay the old news feeds. Again. And Again. And Again. And Again. Retake history, don't assume people accept it.

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