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8 Ways Conservatives Abuse History ... and the Truth

The conservative movement is powered by selective memory and convenient historical revision.
 
 
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The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here. 

The mortgage crisis began in 2006 and it’s all President Obama’s fault—at least according to Fox News host Sean Hannity. Hannity recently  blamed Obama—“his policies, his economic plan, his fault”—for the mortgage crisis, ignoring who was actually president (that would be George W. Bush) as the housing market  slipped

Hannity’s is just one example of the selective memory and historical revision frequently on display in the conservative movement. Right-wing pundits, politicians and pseudo-historians are nibbling away at objective historical truths to rewrite history for present-day purposes, and hardly any topic is off-limits: glorifying the “Reagan Revolution” to children, sugarcoating the Jim Crow South and revising textbooks to offer a favorable view on Phyllis Schlafly—among many others.

Below, read about eight ways in which conservatives try to rewrite, sugarcoat or ignore aspects of American history.

1. Michele Bachmann on the founding fathers and slavery. Propelled to the front of the Republican field after her victory in the Iowa straw poll, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann’s historical views are notoriously error-prone. In one her infamous gaffes, she  said the founding fathers “work[ed] tirelessly to end slavery” (in fact, George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves) and that  John Quincy Adams was a founding father—he was born in 1767.

Bachmann was a research assistant to John Eidsmoe for his 1987 book  Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of our Founding Fathers, in which Eidsmoe wrote, “The church and the state have separate spheres of authority, but both derive authority from God. In that sense America, like [Old Testament] Israel, is a theocracy.” And at  a conference, Eidsmoe outlined his belief in church/state separation: “The church’s responsibility is to teach biblical principles of government and to drive sinners to the cross.... The function of the state is to follow those godly principles and preserve a system of order.” Bachmann   has praised Eidsmoe as “absolutely brilliant. He taught me about so many aspects about our godly heritage.”

2. Secession was fine, dandy and legal. Texas Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is fond of  pro-secession comments; in 2009, he  joked that “we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”

In his dreams. In fact, these attempts at humor sidestep what secession actually leads to: a nullification crisis, a Civil War, hundreds of thousands of casualties and the federal government as the victor anyway. And secession is illegal. In 1866 the Supreme Court ruled in  Texas v. White that Texas’s ordinance of secession was “absolutely null.”

Perry isn’t the only Republican to make such comments. Congressman Zach Wamp  alluded to secession and Georgia’s Senate  passed a secession-related bill in 2009.

3. Forgetting September 11? Conservatives have an uncanny ability to misremember when the September 11 attacks occurred. In July,  Fox News host Eric Bolling said “we were certainly safe between 2000 and 2008 — I don’t remember  any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time.” (In his “ apology,” he accepted no blame: “Yesterday, I misspoke when saying that there were no US terror attacks during the Bush years. Obviously, I meant in the aftermath of 9/11, but that is when the radical liberal left pounced on us…. thank you liberals for reminding me how petty you can be.”)

A surprising slip came from ex–New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In January 2010 he  claimed that “we had no domestic attacks under Bush.” In December 2009  Mary Matalin made the outrageous claim that Bush inherited the attacks from Bill Clinton. In November 2009 Bush’s ex–Press Secretary  Dana Perino said “we did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.”

 
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