"Among the many, many things that separate liberals from conservatives
(such as rationality, compassion, tolerance, fairness, but I digress…)
is the ability for liberals to look history square in the eye and not
flinch. We do not seek to gloss over the ugly bits. We acknowledge and
embrace them as a way of moving beyond them.
Conservatives look at American history the same way they look at sex;
as something disgusting to hide away from the neighbors and lie about.
They pretend that the more unsavory parts never happened and, in doing
so, fail to learn the valuable, and costly, lessons those parts taught
This obsessive-compulsive tendency is around us all the time. Sarah
Palin’s “Thanks but no thanks” and her “Surveyor’s marks”. Glenn Beck’s
“taking back” of the Civil Rights movement for conservatives who totally
supported it (hahaha. HAHAHA!!! That’s a good one! You’re so funny
Glenn!). Haley Barbour’s remarks that the 1950’s in Mississippi weren’t
that bad for, you know, those people.
And, of course, the amount of revisionism dealing with the Founding Fathers is legendary, almost, dare I say it?, mythological.
This is a terrible time to be a historian. It’s like being a
mathematician, someone repeatedly telling you the answer to “2+2” is “3”
and then being accused of hating America when you say “No, it’s 4.”
Conservatives do not have a healthy, well-adjusted view of history.
It’s incredibly simplistic and very self serving. As Senator Al Franken
said in his book Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them):
“Conservatives love America like a child loves his mommy and mommy can do no wrong.”
One could argue, quite successfully, that conservatives are like
children. After all, they throw temper tantrums (The Tea Party), lash
out violently when angry (militias) and have a tendency to not share
with the other children unless someone makes them (Wall Street). But
that’s not the point I’m trying to make (today at least).
Conservatives do not venerate real history. They fear and loathe the
accurate depiction of it. To fix this, there is a systematic effort
underway to gloss over the parts they don’t like. This is less of a
conspiracy than an understanding that undiluted history presents a
significant problem for conservatives. Specifically, it makes them look
Why do you think they skipped over the more embarrassing Amendments
in the much vaunted reading of the Constitution at the beginning of the
112th Congress? Because they were irrelevant? Don’t be silly. There is a
VERY good reason for conservatives’ need to rewrite the past in rosy
prose. You see, the darkest parts of America’s history? They were
responsible for almost all of them.
In no particular order:
- The Civil War – Conservatives started it to maintain slavery as a legal right.
- Women’s Suffrage – Conservatives stood against it.
- The end of segregation – Conservatives stood against that, too.
- Gay marriage – Go on, guess where conservatives stand right now?
(bonus round – in thirty years, guess where conservatives will SAY they
- Hate crime laws – Conservatives are STILL against them (ironically, they hate them).
- “Legalized” torture – Brought to you courtesy of the conservative
movement. Remember, waterboarding was never legally considered
torture. Except when it was. (Spanish-American War: American soldiers
court-martialed for doing it. WWII: Japanese soldiers convicted for
doing it. Vietnam: American soldiers court-martialed for doing it.
Texas, 1983: Sheriff and three deputies convicted for doing it.)
- The Great Depression – Conservatives allow banks to run rampant and
collapse the economy. Modern day conservatives blame liberals despite
overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
- The Great Recession – Conservatives allow banks to run rampant and
collapse the economy. Modern day conservatives blame liberals despite
overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This time with more success.
- Prohibition – Legislating morality, a “small government”
conservative favorite that just happened to give rise to organized crime
in the United States. Thanks!
- McCarthyism – McCarthy was a Democrat from 1936 to 1944. SEE?! He
was liberal! But no, not really. He switched parties in 1944 and was a
- Writer’s note: The original post had a reference to Japanese
internment camps that was inaccurate. I have been informed of its
bipartisan origins from readers both to the left and right and I
apologize for the error. – JR
- The Southern Strategy – Still in effect and just as disgusting (but effective) as it was fifty years ago.
There’s so much more but, needless to say, conservative ideology
leads to some dark places. They like to claim the liberalism leads to
gas chambers, Holocausts and tyranny. But history says otherwise. What
it does say is that conservative movements, especially combined
with the intolerance of Fundamentalism, lead to corrupt governments,
ethnic cleansing, poverty and economic disasters.
With a track record like that, wouldn’t you want to whitewash your
past? This is not to say that conservatives are purposely trying to harm
the country. That would require them to understand the consequences of
their policies. Not a conservative strong point. But they do recognize
when society has passed them by and they furiously backpedal and
obfuscate their stance in order to remain relevant. Where do you think
the Tea Party came from? Eight years of total, systematic failure due to
the very worst of unfettered conservative policies and, suddenly, the
Tea Party are “pure” conservatives that are exactly nothing like those “bad” conservatives? Spare me.
Listen to Glenn Beck on any given day and you will hear the cries of
history going down the memory hole. “Liberals are the ones who hate
Listen to Sarah Palin talk about her own actions and you will feel
like you’re in an alternate reality. “Ethics violation? What ethics
violations? That report said I was cleared of any wrongdoing!”
Listen to any talking head on Fox for as long as you can without your
ears bleeding. “We never suggested that Obama was a foreign-born
usurper that should be removed by any means necessary!”
This is not a new phenomenon. No conservative likes to talk about the
militia movement back in the nineties because of its end result.
Oklahoma City was a wakeup call for the country. Goaded on by violent
rhetoric and insane conspiracy theories directed at Bill Clinton,
Timothy McVeigh slaughtered 168 people. Compared to that, the Tucson
shooting is small potatoes and, from all indications, no where nearly
large enough to tamp down the tone from the Right, even a little.
Ask a conservative about the nineties’ militia movement and you’ll
get all kinds of denials and evasions about their roots in the
conservative hysteria of the time. The very same kind of hysteria that
we see today. Times ten. Conservatives failed to learn the lessons of
the militia movement and have embraced them once more without heeding
the inevitable consequences.
Do you doubt?
The militia spread like wildfire in the 90’s, preparing for the
government takeover of the country. Clinton was coming for everyone’s
guns and was the most corrupt president ever. He had a secret army ready
to do his illegal bidding. “Don’t Tread on Me” was hugely popular. Stop
me if you’ve heard this before like, say, yesterday on Hannity or
The tactic of delegitimizing a Democratic administration worked
pretty well despite the fact that it ended in violence. Here we
are,almost two decades later, and conservatives have learned nothing.
McViegh was simply an “isolated incident”, totally apart from the
rhetoric of the day. Down the memory hole it went.
How do we fight the pull of the memory hole? How do we keep the truth from being hopelessly obscured, rewritten and abused?
Write about it.
Keep a journal. Write a blog. Post an article. It doesn’t matter how
good your writing is. What matters is that you write the truth. Quote
conservatives whenever possible, as often as possible. Condemn them with
their own words. Write it, save it and never forget.
In thirty years, conservatives WILL say they always supported equal rights for homosexuals.
In thirty years, when Hispanics are on parity with, or exceed, the
white population, conservatives WILL say they always supported
In thirty years, when climate change is undeniable, conservatives WILL say they always supported environmental legislation.
They will be lying then just as they lie now. They will try to change
history textbooks to reflect their lies just as they are doing now.
They will publish book after book after book filled with “facts” and
they will be wrong just as they are now. It’s up to us to make sure our
friends and family remember what really happened no matter how hard it
may be for them to hear it.
It may not be in our Constitution but it is just as vital to our liberty.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” - George Santayana