August 26, 2010

Glenn Beck rewrites civil rights history

As a history educator, this makes me sick. As an American citizen, it makes me want to cry.
Glenn Beck rewrites civil rights history - "'We are on the right side of history! We are on the side of individual freedoms and liberties and, dammit, we will reclaim the civil rights moment. We will take that movement -- because we were the people who did it in the first place.' -- Glenn Beck, on his nationally syndicated radio program, May 26."

We have seen this over the last few years, with people like Beck and other conservatives trying to rewrite the past. And I kind of understand that. After all, with all due respect to my conservative friends, conservatives have fought every major expansion of freedom in American history. They fought against the civil rights movement, and resisted efforts to expand economic and political roles for women.

The problem now is that for most Americans, those are assumed successes. No one outside the Klan really thinks that we should return to public segregation, or wants to push women out of the work place or voting booth. How then do you address the fact that your political movement resisted those advancements?

There seem to be a few options. For some, like Robert Byrd, you acknowledge that your opposition was wrong and you work to atone for that. For others, you simply move on with the knowledge that civil rights was good, and you choose to not address it. And then there are the modern conservatives steeped in the Glenn Beck and David Barton school of history--you just make stuff up. You say that conservatives were the ones who fixed racial and gender discrimination against the opposition of progressives. After all, progressives are actually "socialists" in Beck's world, so are inherently evil.

This is part of the problem we all face. I have to say we would be in a better position had grownup conservatives stood up to this shit when it started rather than looking the other way because of the positive electoral gains. The chickens are coming home, however, and the Republican party is going increasingly toward this anti-intellectual, counter-factual world where the past is just something to restate so you look better.

We will all suffer from this. As I keep saying, when the grownups regain control of the GOP, we will all be in better shape. Then we can go back to arguing about tax rates and the size of government, instead of listening to idiots claim that white conservatives passed the Civil Rights act or that Obama is trying to insert government control into Medicare. Enough with the stupidity, and enough of conservatives looking the other way.


Smitty said...

First, it is totally appropriate to this post that my word verification word is "jingso." So close to jingo...which is so accurate.

As for the rest of this post...a-MEN. Well-said.

LB said...

I have often wondered where I would have stood on civil rights had I been alive in the 50s and 60s. I would like to think that I would have supported the civil rights movement, but I'm not sure that I would have.

I don't think I would have rejected the movement out of any inherent racism (here I am breaking my rule, I will regret this I'm sure), but I wonder if I would have opposed the movement simply because it was change. Inherent in conservative philosophy is a resistance to change even though I think equally inherent to American conservativism is a desire to maximize individual liberty (I am speaking to the ideal of conservativism, not the way it always manifests itself in reality).

By way of analogy, removing race from the equation, would I have been a Tory or Patriot (if those are still the terms) in the 1770s? On the one hand I would have wanted to maximize freedom and would have preferred independence. On the other hand I would have been resistant to change.

Bob said...

"I have often wondered where I would have stood on civil rights had I been alive in the 50s and 60s. ..."

It is always easier to look back on history and assume we would have been on the right side of history, but much more difficult to really examine ourselves and ask if what we really would have done or where our hearts would have taken us.

Very thoughtful comment.

Streak said...

LB, at some point, I would hope you might respond to our discussion on the other thread. Have we yelled at you about race or something? (Not saying it didn't happen, but I don't remember it.) I think we have tried to maintain some civility here with people who are actually dedicated to dialogue.

Your point here is a good one, and one that I have made about films like Amistad where most Americans can identify only with the good people and not seriously consider that they might have supported slavery. Personally, I have no good faith that I would have supported civil rights. I would like to think so, but I have my doubts, primarily because, as i have noted, I do believe I am a racist. And if I grew up in an era where those racist assumptions were accepted and encouraged, then I think it would have been very hard to think outside that.

But to be fair, my post did not hinge on this kind of counter-factual supposition. We know that conservatives (of both parties, obviously) opposed civil rights and did so with great vigor. We assume that most of their heirs now accept (even if some do grudgingly) the outcome of civil rights. So how do conservatives then make sense of their opposition to civil rights?

Cold In Laramie said...

I found this discussion so troubling as well. I heard a similar argument on a sports radio station regarding Title IX - that women's sports are the result of beneficent rich white men who allow women to play sports in public colleges. I think that Beck's comments speak more to how people envision the "limits" of the civil rights movement. That the civil rights movement was about correcting legal forms of segregation and discrimination, not dealing with the historical ramifications of those legal and non-legal forms of segregation and discrimination. For instance, I imagine many people supported the Brown decision and the desegregation of schools. Yet, when officials began to implement
"busing" to correct de facto segregation many white people opposed because it became a burden on them. Indeed, some of the most trenchant opposition to busing occurred in a northern city - Boston. So, as the civil rights movement evolved from attacking de jure segregation and discrimination to de facto segregation and discrimination it appeared to infringe on the "individual freedoms and liberties" of whites. To connect to a previous post, Dr. Laura feels oppressed because she cannot drop the n-bomb on public radio. She feels as if her first amendment rights are abridged by such a limitation.