8 Ways Conservatives Misremember American History

Too often the past is used and manipulated for partisan gain.  Bernard Bailyn once called this “indoctrination by historical example.”  This week The Nation is running a piece by Zachary Newkirk, a senior history major at Cornell University, listing eight ways that conservatives have misremembered American history.  Since we strive to be “fair and balanced” here at “The Way of Improvement Leads Home,” I would like my readers to head to the comments section and offer examples of the ways liberals have misremembered history as well.

In the meantime, here is Newkirk’s list:

1.  Michelle Bachmann on the founding fathers and slavery.
2.  Secession was fine, dandy, and legal.
3.  Forgetting September 11?
4.  Mike Huckabee’s “Learn Our History” cartoon series.
5.  The New Deal did harm.
6.  David Barton (Thanks for the plug, Zachary!)
7.  Textbook Textbook Revisions
8.  Jim Crow wasn’t that bad.

I should note that we have addressed #1, #4, #6 and #7 here at the blog.

And now for the liberal misuses of history.  Who is up for the challenge?

5 thoughts on “8 Ways Conservatives Misremember American History

  1. It would really be better to talk about the ways political uses of history misremember American history. As I've mentioned before, Barton and Howard Zinn really approach history the same way, just with different goals in mind.

    I don't want to go through them one by one, or make a new list, but #5 sticks out. One would hope that a senior history major would have learned that historical interpretation is a matter of debate, not just receiving settled historical facts, and there is a case that can be made (and not just by politicians, but by historians and economists) that the New Deal actually did prolong the depression. Pretending otherwise is to approach history like those he ridicules.


  2. Tom, you're showing your cards. You can find some whores (excuse me, scientists) who'll deny climate change, but that doesn't take away the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists know that climate change is very, very real. Similarly, there are some decidedly right-leaningeconomists who twist and turn and distort the facts to make it seem like FdR's economic policies were not beneficial, but the overwhelming consensus is that FDR did exactly the right thing at the right time.

    As to your comments about Texas, I'm reminded of Colbert's line that reality has a known liberal bias. What you refer to as the left-leaning curriculum was teaching people what actually happened. The Texas School Board was a major national embarrassment, and if TFN lost interest, someone forgot to tell them, because they are still posting about these laughingstocks on their webpage. I don't think they will ever give up their fight against the dumbing down of America, and they shouldn't.

    So, Tom, I count exactly 0 liberal misuses of history in your post. I don't know where you got three, unless you were counting your misreading of the Jim Crow line.


  3. Jim Crow wasn't that bad.


    BTW, there are a number of economists who think FDR's policies prolonged the Great Depression.

    And nobody I know has looked at the actual Texas schoolbook revisions. ['Cept me. They're no worse than the left-leaning curriculum they replaced.] What was “covered” were the debates and the hysteria around them.

    “Texas Freedom Network” and other left-advocates lost interest when the actual standards were promulgated, since they're rather modest and don't support the great furor and ideological attack raised against them.

    For the record. There's 3 liberal “misuses” of history right there for you and they were the easy ones.


  4. Instead of pointing out Liberal misuses of history, I'll overgeneralize about what I think Conservative and Liberal both do to abuse the past.

    Both use selective reading of primary sources without regard to context or historiographical interpretation.

    Neither understand historicity.

    Both utilize history primarily to champion current moral causes.

    Their styles do tend to differ, I think. Conservatives seem generally optimistic about history (American, at least.) They have to be, to support an American Greatness narrative. Liberals are a bit pessimistic and tend more quickly toward conspiracy theorizing of the Marxist or Chomsky type. Again, overgeneralization.

    I think it's just a reflection of the general problem that most people don't ever learn HISTORY as a *discipline*. Or something like that.


Comments are closed.