Friday, February 11, 2011

American History Only a Conservative Republican Could Believe

American History Only a Conservative Republican Could Believe

10. The Robber Barons weren't robbers -- they were capitalist heroes.

The overarching task of the conservative historian is to rehabilitate the image of capitalism, even at its most red-toothed and -clawed. Not a hard job, as both our history and culture ceaselessly celebrate the innovative dynamism of American business.

But one of the rare areas in which history teachers are allowed to criticize unfettered capitalism is the Gilded Age of the "robber barons" -- Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Fisk, et al. These men, many of whom first rose to prominence through unseemly wartime speculation, built enormous fortunes on the exceedingly generous terms of the times, which included bribery, monopolies, and stock manipulation, perverting the alleged power of the free market on their own behalf. They were kind of like the Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers of their day -- except they never got caught.

Most of us still look on this as a shameful thing. But historians of the conservative-libertarian persuasion such as Thomas E. Woods, Lawrence W. Reed, and Thomas J. DiLorenzo (better known now as a neo-Confederate) look at the robber barons' dirty records and ask: So what? J.P. Morgan built a nice library!

They tend to skirt the smelly stuff, and talk instead about how Carnegie's machinations drove down the price of steel -- surely you're not against low prices? And if Jay Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt paid off legislators to acquire land for their railroads, the railroads got built, and that's what counts.

Why do they so eagerly defend the robber barons even at their worst? Maybe because, as economist Brad DeLong has noted, the grotesque inequity in American wealth that characterized their era has only one equivalent in U.S. history -- that of our own time. And if one's business is excusing the perfidy and criminality of today's speculators and swindlers, it is helpful to make heroes of the speculators and swindlers who are their models.

9. Sputnik bankrupted the Soviet Union.

This one comes from the top of the conservative food chain: Sarah Palin. In her Fox News rebuttal to President Obama's recent State of the Union, Palin said that the Russians' "victory in that race to space... incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union."

It has been pointed out that Palin's version of history is confused on many points. But don't tell that to conservatives. Among them, Palin's charisma is so overweening that her bizarre POV is yet defended -- in some cases, on the grounds that her "larger and more important point about history" was misunderstood (which then mutated into "Palin was right"), and in others just because, as a poster at Lucianne Goldberg's site put it, "The left will have puppies because of it."

Palin's ahistoricism has since metastasized among her following into an indictment of America's entry into the space race, which National Review's Jonah Goldberg described as "the government tells the people what to do, and it relies on a handful of experts to get it done according to government specifications."

(It should be noted that Sputnik revisionism didn't start with Palin; John Bircher Cleon Skousen claimed in the '50s that the USSR built Sputnik with plans stolen from the United States. It kind of figures Palin would follow in that tradition.)

8. Galileo was a conservative.

You may recall how conservatives made lifelong socialist George Orwell into a neocon icon. Now they're trying to do the same thing with Galileo.

You may think Galileo's an odd choice, because he's history's most famous scientific dissident, having been forced by the Catholic Church to deny his heretical finding that the earth revolved around the sun. But it's not his devotion to truth that makes him attractive to conservatives -- it's his persecution. As they feel themselves persecuted by a liberal conspiracy, conservatives will easily adopt as their avatar any historical figure who suffered and was later shown to be right, regardless of the relevance of his cause to theirs. If you've seen The Passion of the Christ, you know how it works.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, for reasons that should be obvious, has long portrayed Galileo's ordeal as not so bad; why, the Pope didn't even torture him, he just threatened to, and anyway the Church was only reasonably trying to "prohibit the circulation of writings which were judged harmful."

Scholarly apologists such as Jonathan Weyer and Paul Feyerabend have amplified the theme, but their heady thoughts were brought crashing to earth by National Review's Jonah Goldberg, who in 1999 attacked the "ancient, pro-enlightenment, zealot spin" on Galileo with easy-reading versions of the Catholic argument. (Dinesh D'Souza provided similar arguments at a slightly higher reading level.)

Galileo may have been prosecuted by the Church, said Goldberg, but he was persecuted by "jealous fellow-scientists," one of whom he compared to James Carville. Actually, Goldberg said, the Church loved Galileo. Admittedly they did try him, but that was "very complicated" -- the upshot being that "one need not look much further than then-Senator Al Gore's treatment of dissenters on global warming to see how modern inquisitions work."

Thus continued the rehabilitation of Galileo -- no longer the enemy of the Church, but the patron saint of global warming denialists. In 2001 the American Spectator called skeptic Lloyd Keigwin "The Galileo of Global Warming" and claimed he made a giant contribution to discrediting a movement that would impose a deadly energy clamp on the world economy...." More recently the "ClimateGate" scandal prompted a new wave of Galileo reclamation, with Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal lamenting, "The East Anglians' mistreatment of scientists who challenged global warming's claims... evokes the attempt to silence Galileo."

Scan the blogs, and you'll see plenty more of this stuff (e.g. "The Great Global Warming Inquisition"). Next stop: J. Robert Oppenheimer -- Victim of a Liberal Conspiracy.

7. The Founding Fathers really tried to end slavery.

Even in the exceedingly forgiving musical 1776, the Founding Fathers are shown willing to table the issue of slavery in order to win a consensus for the Declaration of Independence. (It also shows Jefferson "resolved to release my slaves," which he never did.)

That's not patriotic enough for Tea Party princess Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who told a sympathetic audience that "the very founders that wrote those documents [the Declaration and Constitution] worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." The one "founder" Bachmann cited was John Quincy Adams, who was actually the son of the founder John Adams.

Her bizarre assertion got negative press, and the inevitable right-wing defenses from Glenn Beck, Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism, and others.

That's no shock; Bachmann's theme was right in line with a traditional conservative method of reconciling their fairy-tale vision of American history with the founders' self-evident hypocrisy. Fundamentalists, for example, frequently cite the founders' verbal objections to the practice as the inspiration for abolitionism.

The basic idea seems to be that because the Founders were embarrassed by slavery, that meant they were in some secret way fighting against it. Author Paul Gottfried, for example, has argued that "Presbyterian theologians spilled rivulets of ink doing what Cicero and Pliny never felt obliged to do, showing how in their society slavery was being elevated to solicitous education for a backward people. The fact that such arguments had to be provided... underscores the perceived need to humanize a 'peculiar institution.'" So, like very young children in permissive households, the founders' dim awareness of guilt excuses them from blame.

It's hard for most of us to imagine that men who, shortly after the Revolution, countenanced the military suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion would have endorsed John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, or that George Washington, who tried to solve his dental challenges by having implanting in his gums teeth extracted from his slaves, was a precocious abolitionist. But when you hang out with people in tricorner hats and knee-breeches who think the Founders were guys just like themselves, it's a little easier to suspend disbelief.

6. Teddy Roosevelt was a socialist.

Theodore Roosevelt was a naval theorist and war aficionado, a lawman in both the Dakota Territory and New York City, and a cheerful imperialist. You'd think conservatives would appreciate him better. But Glenn Beck has helped turn that around, lambasting TR at last year's CPAC and denouncing his words as "a socialist utopia" which "we need to address ... as if it is a cancer."

In an essay at Beck's site, R.J. Pestritto, a professor at the conservative Hillsdale College, said that while "the progressives were elitists; they looked down their noses at the socialists, considering them a kind of rabble," nonetheless "the progressive conception of government closely coincided with the socialist conception." Pestritto was given room to defend his and Beck's views in the Wall Street Journal. And the Ashbrook Center's Ken Thomas concluded that Roosevelt "pushed centralization of power far further than circumstances justified."

Now even when conservatives defend Roosevelt, they qualify their enthusiasm, saying while he went wrong with his statism, he did do some good things, like subjugate foreigners and so forth.

You might wonder why conservatives have chosen to start picking on the guy from Mt. Rushmore. One explanation may be that they were sick of hearing liberals say, oh, if progressive taxation is socialist, then what about TR, was he a socialist too? Now, instead of sputtering, they can just say yes.

There are 5 more examples of Conservative historical spin and outright fabrication of U.S. history at the link. The prupose of this never ending spin is to justify whatever conservatives would like to twist our democratic republic into next. Want a society based on social-Darwinism? That is Ok because look what great things the Robber barons did with cheap labor and no labor laws. Want low taxes or no taxes - the economic component which made the middle-class possible through better public education, public universities, science research funding and medical research sponsored by tax funds - that is Ok too because taxes always "statism" ( another word conservatives have adopted to damn anything they disagree with and do not know what it means). Want to open a McDonalds in the middle of the Grand Canyon - hey you should be able to do that and anyone who opposes the idea is a commie who believes in communal land ownership.

After A Months-Long Investigation Of Pigford, Breitbart Has No Idea What Pigford Is About

Andrew Breitbart has claimed to have spent months investigating possible fraud in the Pigford litigation, a discrimination case brought by black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Yet, despite repeatedly making wild allegations of nefarious activities surrounding Pigford, the Obama administration, Breitbart victim Shirley Sherrod and others, Breitbart made clear today that he has no clue about the Pigford litigation.

In a press conference at CPAC today on Pigford, Breitbart attempted to describe the Pigford litigation. He said:

    BREITBART: What we were able to find out from Pigford is that it's majority fraud. What we were able to find out with Pigford is that the class action attorney, the lead class counsel, Al Pires used the black farmers in order to create this lawsuit. They were basically a Trojan Horse. And at the last second, without consulting with the black farmers, he created a two-track system. Track A was for attempted-to-farmers. Track B, if you dared take that, if you were an actual black farmer, the chances were that you would lose.

Breitbart's description of Track A and Track B is just plain wrong. The consent decree that settled in the case in 1999 requires claimants to show, among other things that they "farmed, or attempted to farm, between January 1, 1981 and December 31, 1996." It then gives the claimants the option of choosing "Track A" and "Track B."

Track A was for claimants who did not think they could (or did not want to risk trying) to prove they were discriminated against by the Agriculture Department through the traditional standard of proof  -- which requires showing that it was more likely than not that discrimination occurred. It was not restricted to those who only attempted to farm. If they produced substantial evidence of their claim that they farmed or attempted to farm, were discriminated against, and complained of the discrimination, they could get $50,000. As the consent decree makes clear, Track A is open to both people who farmed and people who attempted to farm.

Track B was for people who thought they could prove their discrimination claim through the traditional standard of proof.

Only 170 people chose Track B in the initial Pigford litigation. This is not surprising, since the decision by the Reagan administration to essentially dismantle its USDA anti-discrimination office but still tell black farmers to file discrimination claims with that office made it very difficult for claimants to prove their case by traditional means. Indeed, according to the judge in the case, in some cases, the remaining staffers in the USDA's civil rights office "simply threw discrimination complaints in the trash without ever responding to or investigating them. In other cases, even if there was a finding of discrimination, the farmer never received any relief."

But proving a Track B case isn't impossible. Indeed, as Breitbart notes in his Pigford report, Sherrod, her husband, and their farming company were able to win a Track B claim.

If Breitbart doesn't even know the basic facts about Pigford after months of investigation, it's awfully tough to believe his conspiracy theories about what the case means.
Breitbart continues to be to journalism what brown stains are to old public toilets.