The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past.

by tristero

Rightwingers have a nasty but effective tactic I'll nickname Reinventing The Wheel. It goes like this:

Take something everyone with half a brain and/or education knows to be true - evolution, say, or the fact that many of the most important Founders were more deist than Christian - and dispute it with fallacious reasoning "backed up" by a bunch of cherry-picked facts, if not outright lies. Then, demand a "serious discussion" about whether evolution is really real, or whether America was actually founded as a Christian nation.

The only proper responses to this, of course, are to laugh at it or ignore it. Anything else is a complete waste of time that could be better spent trying to grapple with the genuinely serious issues this country faces. In fact, one could very easily argue that the main point of Reinventing The Wheel is to waste liberals' time because, indeed, every moment a scientist spends debunking Intelligent Design creationism is a moment not spent working to build and extend human knowledge, one of the many, many things the right wing fear.*

Unfortunately, sometimes it is simply not possible to laugh or ignore these creeps. For example, recently, a bunch of goons who got themselves elected to the Texas Board of Education passed new standards that require that American History schoolbooks require that Jefferson Davis's inaugural speech for the Confederacy be taught alongside Abraham Lincoln's.

Lincoln. Davis. Just two equally valid points of view. Teach the controversy!

Uh huh. Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

I will avoid making the obvious comparisons - like whether next the Texas BOE will insist that David Irving's books be taught alongside Elie Wiesel's when studying 20th Century European history - but rather merely bluntly state that this is a fucking waste of time. To put schoolkids through such a ridiculous exercise is an insult to every American who has fought and died in the cause of freedom and equal rights for all Americans.

We should ignore Texas BOE. But we can't. They have too much power to shape America's textbooks.

Michael Lind says, don't fight the right wing over this. Instead, yes, let's go along with the wingnuts. Yes, give the South's ideology equal time with Lincoln and the North. Schoolkids should read not only the Davis inaugural but also the Confederate Constitution. And they simply mustn't skip the Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens, Davis' vice-president:
The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically ... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
It's still a waste of time to spend more than a few minutes on this shit. We're talking introduction to American history here, and there are a lot of good ideas - can you say New Deal? - that will be given short shrift in order to leave enough time to illustrate conclusively the racism of the Confederacy.

But still, Lind is on to something here.


*For example:
Give me that old time religion
Give me that old time religion
Give me that old time religion
It's good enough for me!

**Cue the inevitable history nerds in comments to point out that it was also about some other things. Really? I had no idea. But hey, if you want to show off your knowledge of American history circa 1859/60, hey, go for it. When you're done, let's get real again. It's all about slavery. Without slavery, there would never have been a Civil War. If young students need to know one fact about the causes of the Civil War, it's that. And just like there's no time to dwell on fine points of chromatic harmony to the average 10th grader, there's far too much to cover by way of introducing American history to go into the subtleties.