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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rewriting History

I grew up in a world where Christopher Columbus was the hero who "sailed the ocean blue" and "discovered America" too. A world where local Indians saved innocent religious Pilgrims from starvation, and John Smith wooed Pocahontas and she became an English Baroness. It was only later that I learned that it was "more complicated." Nothing has changed much. I walked 5 miles to Harpers Ferry today and saw various paeons to Robert E Lee, a wax image of John Brown that depicted him as a black man, when he was in fact as white as I am. A paeon to some black fellow who resisted the assault on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. In a world where Robert E. Lee is a hero and John Brown a blood thirsty black person it's no wonder that folks still have delusions of what the South was up to in 1859, much less understand the present. Of course it's "more complicated" than any mythologized narrative. But that is why we need to tell the truth. Columbus wasn't a demon and he didn't "discover" America except from the POV of Christian Europeans looking for loot and slaves. The Pilgrims were indeed saved from starvation by help from local indigenous folks, but they weren't innocent and they were endangered of starvation because they had arrived with dreams of plantation farming or finding gold and silver. Pocohantas did save John Smith from death, and she did marry a gentleman and live in Britain. There is some truth in the legends.

Liberal Fascism

We see folks rewriting history everywhere. Jonah Goldberg wrote a book "Liberal Fascism" which is a prime example of rewriting history. Yes, there were common ideological elements between 20's and 30's liberalism and 20's and 30's Fascism. But Goldberg's thesis of identity involves rewriting (or at least spinning) the actual record. He's not the only one.

Alternet notes:

"Jonah Goldberg that contends that Hitler and Mussolini were committed left-wingers, and that today's liberals are fascism's natural intellectual heirs. While this may sound like yet another Coulteresque quickie aimed at prying some money out of Dittohead Nation, Goldberg insists that it is actually a Very Serious Work that "isn't like any Ann Coulter book" because it presents an argument that "has never been made in such detail or with such care. Goldberg also goes to great lengths from the start of the book to say that he's not really saying liberals are fascists, but hey, here are 400 pages of similarities between liberals and fascists, and if you start associating the two of them by the end of the book, then that's not his fault."[http://www.alternet.org/story/72960/jonah_goldberg's_'liberal_facism'_brings_historical_revisionism_to_comical_new_heights

Brad Reid continues later:

"But what in the world do Hitler's Germany, Soviet Russia and America under the Roosevelts all have in common, you ask? For one thing, Goldberg contends that all of these regimes gained popular support by using sinister populist rhetoric that painted wealthy capitalists in a negative light. Through sheer ignorance or ideological blindness, Goldberg never explores why trashing wealthy plutocrats during the Gilded Age and the Great Depression had become both politically profitable and morally sound. Rather, he deems all populist rhetoric as a key piece of the anti-individualist "totalitarian political religion" that American liberalism shares with Communism and Fascism.">
"While a lot of this stuff is easy to laugh off, some of Goldberg's historical revisionism is downright sickening. In one particularly grotesque passage, he tries to obfuscate the Nazis' treatment of homosexuals by calling their attitudes toward homosexuality "a source of confusion." Oh sure, he writes, "some homosexuals were sent to concentration camps," but it's also true that the early Nazi party was "rife with homosexuals." I'm sure the 100,000 men who were arrested for being homosexuals in Nazi Germany, as well as the thousands more who died in concentration camps, were proud to see their brethren so well-represented in the SS."

What is funny (not in the nice way) to me is the observation that many publicly homophobic individuals in the modern anti-Homosexual movement among the Far Right in our own country are also "rife with" closet cases who keep getting outed by folks in the gay movement. From Roy Cohn in the late 40's and 50's to "Mister spread my legs" Congressman. It's not a new thing that the vanguard of any angry movement is replete with folks who hate themselves; women who are misogynistic, gays who are homophobic, minorities who are self hating, etc... So again "it's complicated.

If Goldberg were the only one engaging in revisionism we could sigh and laugh a little. But of course he's joined by Amity Schlaes, who wrote "The Forgotten Man" with the primary objective of rewriting the history of the Great Depression. The author of one mostly positive review notes that aside from trying to paint Calvin Coolidge and Hoover as heros the book turns economic history on it's head. David Warsh writes;

"What then /did/cause cause the Great Depression? According to Shlaes, an overheated market, culminating in the October Crash of 1929, had something to do with it. So did bad banking policy and protectionism. "But the deepest problem was the intervention, the lack of faith in the marketplace. Government management of the late 1920s and 1930s hurt the economy... Fear froze the economy, but that uncertainty itself might be a cost was something the young experimenters simply did not consider." But for the air of emergency fostered by "the world of theory, the world of the pilgrims," the economy would have quickly equilibrated by itself, with wages and share prices quickly "marked to market." The Depression would have gone into the history books as no more severe than the short, sharp "liquidation" that began the '20s -- a "quarter-hour" in the history of the American republic in Andrew Mellon's memorable phrase." [http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/07/david-warsh-on-.html]

In short her argument is the true believer argument that insufficient "faith" in free markets drove the great depression; the idea that somehow letting the economy completely crash would enable debts to be discharged and businesses to get rid of excess industry and get back to the work of making things. A theory that is not economics or ethics, but ideological dogma. As the author notes:

"There is very little support for this idea among professional economists. Consult Essays on the Great Depression by Ben S. Bernake, for example, and you will learn that a majority of macroeconomists have concluded in recent years that prolonged adherence to the gold standard played a dominating role in determining the worldwide monetary contraction of the 1930s. "We do not yet have our hands on the grail by any means," he writes, but countries that left the gold standard early were able to reflate their monetary supplies and price levels, while countries that remained on gold were forced into further deflation. In other words, some approaching a consensus exists among economists that poorly-designed institutions and short-sighted policies were at the heart of the Great Depression. ... (About this considerable volume of work, Shlaes has very little to say. ...) ..."[http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/07/david-warsh-on-.html]

But of course Krugman gets on her for going after (Our hero) Keynes with pure BS spin:

Grr. Keynesianism says that deficit spending can help create jobs when the economy is depressed. The Great Society wasn’t deficit spending, it wasn’t intended to create jobs, and the economy of the 1960s wasn’t depressed. It was social engineering; we can talk about how well or badly it worked, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with Keynesian economics."

When Roosevelt did his efforts to alleviate the Great Depression Keynes hadn't even made a name for himself. Instead the Chicago School of Economics and economists in our own country had to discover the principles that Keynes would later talk about by trial and error. Krugman continues:

"Now, LBJ did engage in some Keynesian economics: namely, he imposed a contractionary fiscal policy in the form of a tax surcharge in an effort to cool an overheating economy."

And unfortunately such measures do "work" somewhat. Even con economists have discovered that monetary policy rarely impacts the economy the way theoreticians predict (Mostly because banks are privateering institutions and not agencies of good government). But hte whole prupose of rewriting history is to substitute myth (lies) and legends (half truths and exaggerations) for concepts that someone doesn't like. Krugman continues:

"Alas, pretty soon we’ll have all the usual suspects saying that the Great Society proves that Keynesian economics doesn’t work — after all, the “experts” told them so."[http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/amity-shlaes-strikes-again/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0]

So Secessionist traitors like Lee are painted as heros. The Generals who fight them are portrayed as drunks. Causality is turned on it's head and modern Neo-Fascists call their opponents fascists because young folks have been groomed to rewrite history.

All this is intentional. Whether it's Schlaes, Anne Coulter, Goldberg, or Dinesh D'Souza, these rewrites give license to folks for whom "free enterprise", "oligarchy" and "markets" are a religion. The right recruits, grooms and trains intellectuals who will carry on family tradition and spread convenient propaganda. As he notes about Goldberg, William Krystal and Podhoretz:

"William Kristol and John Podheretz, Goldberg was raised by prominent figures within the right-wing movement and was trained from the start to be an influential public "intellectual." And just as Kristol and Podheretz's writings closely mirror the neoconservative views espoused by their parents, Goldberg's penchant for attacking liberals in the most shameless and slimy ways imaginable is unsurprisingly similar to the style of his mother Lucianne, a right-wing literary agent who first came to national prominence when she helped Linda Tripp break the Monica Lewinsky scandal to the press." [http://www.alternet.org/story/72960/jonah_goldberg's_'liberal_facism'_brings_historical_revisionism_to_comical_new_heights]

That might border on being "ad-hominem" except that the author has already shown the misrepresentations, spins and outright lies of his targets.

And it "works" -- if repeating easily avoided policy mistakes is your definition of "working."

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