Thursday, October 25, 2007

Secret history revealed?

In my last post, I pointed out how ignorance of, and ambivalence to, history and to the truth itself results in history being used as a political propaganda tool. In that instance, the ignorance of the story of Confederate soldiers and the question of race, has been twisted and taken advantage of by left-wing political opportunists.

Well, propaganda is an equal opportunity villain. The Left has no lock on it. Here is an example of how ignorance of American history is also used to score petty ideological points in a dishonest way by the Right as well.

"Secret history revealed!" Indeed. Why, all this time the Powers That Be have kept it all under wraps that the Ku Klux Klan was a creation of Democrats - until now. The cat is out of the bag, the big secret has been told, the bomb has been dropped, the cover-up has been exposed! Please.

Any fifth grade American history student ought to know as much. But then again, there is a TV show called "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader" that is based on the premise that adult Americans are stupid. Both the Left and the Right political establishments are operating under the premise that they are.

Here is what it seems most Americans don't seem to grasp: In the 19th century, the Democrats were the "conservatives" and the Republicans were the "liberals." They have since swapped places on some (but not all) issues. In the period surrounding the War Between the States, the Democrats stood for small government, low taxation, and state's rights. The Republicans stood for big government, high taxation, and a centralized national government. The right-wing South stood with the conservative philosophy of government of the Democratic Party, whereas the more socialist government of the former Whigs found a home in the more leftist North. This isn't rocket science.

But here is where the exploitation of the ignorance comes in.

This fact is now being used as a club by "conservatives" to beat up "liberals" (I'm not a big fan of the labels as they aren't really very accurate). But think about the idiocy of modern-day right-wing "conservatives" using the excesses and violent behavior of past right-wing "conservatives" to try to skewer modern day left-wing "liberals"! They can get away with this because of the continued use of the labels "Democrat" and "Republican" - as though a 2007 Democrat from New England shares any political ideology with an 1860 (or even 1960) Democrat from the Deep South. Similarly, the average 19th century Republican would be hounded out of the GOP by today's Republicans and branded as a member of the "loony left."

It is the classic "bait and switch" motivated by political partisanship.

And that's not even addressing the fact that the 14th amendment was not solely about race and the status of the freedmen. There is the huge issue about the repudiation of Confederate war debts as well as the heavy-handed way the amendment was compelled to be "ratified" (which resulted in some Northern states balking at ratification) that the article conveniently omits as well. But your average Johnny Republican and Billy Democrat don't need to know about such things.

Rather than history being something to learn from - our own foibles as well as those of others - history is increasingly a bludgeon for one side of the political aisle to hammer the other for short-term political gains and bragging rights. Whether or not the argument has any real integrity at all is irrelevant. Little factoids that can be used in name-calling, "talking points", and one-upsmanship have replaced real discourse, debate, deep reflection, and recounting of facts.

The sad part is that history is increasingly held captive by partisans - the dissent-stifling academic elite on the left, and the screaming talk show smart-alecs on the right.

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