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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