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The Ultimate Revisionists

April 12th, 2007

Sean recently asked me if I had seen Conservapedia, and though I had, it reminded me of a theme I’d been kicking around but had not gotten around to writing extensively on yet: revisionism. One of the favorite charges of conservatives is that liberals are revisionists about everything, “rewriting” history on everything from Iraq to the Constitution, from WWII to the Reagan era and so on. No clearer a case of projection could be found; conservatives are in the midst of nothing less than a revolution of revisionism, with history being only one small but notable aspect. The framers were all Christians and the U.S. was set up as a Christian nation, with our legal system founded on the Ten Commandments; conservatives are the heroes of civil rights for minorities because Lincoln was a Republican; Reagan won the Cold War single-handedly; Iraq was all about freeing the Iraqi people; and so on and so forth.

Conservatives are the ultimate revisionists. One of the key elements of conservatism is, after all, the desire to return to a “better” past, and all the revisionism of past times that is required to make it all seem like a sepia-toned paradise.

But it’s not just the past they want to revise, it’s everything. Aside from the obvious point of political spinning to revise people’s views on current political developments, conservatives have branched out into several other areas. Newt Gingrich spearheaded linguistic revisionism in the 1990’s when he sent Republicans a memo titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” on how to use language to spin reality. Republicans became “active, confident pioneers of reform,” while Democrats were “corrupt, self-serving traitors espousing a destructive welfare state.” This was nothing new; as you recall, Bush 41 spearheaded an attack on the very word “liberal”; Gingrich’s effort was simply more methodical and far-reaching. But the end result was a culture in which language became a tool to do far more than give immediate spin.

This branched out into the conservative war to control the media itself, either by pressure and influence or by direct ownership. It had its roots in the successful punditry of people like Rush Limbaugh, but fully blossomed with two developments: the foundation of Fox News and the establishment of the perception of the media as being “liberal.” These two elements work in lockstep.

I’ll begin with the second of those two, the “liberal media” lie. As I laid out in this post, the whole “liberal media” myth began with an unscientific survey which found that 60% of news reporters had personal political affiliations to the left of center. Though the study could have simply proven that more liberal reporters answer surveys than conservatives, and though the survey gave no evidence whatsoever that any such personal affiliations had any effect whatsoever on actual reporting, the “study” was used as “proof” that liberals ruled the media–despite a different survey which showed that in fact, editors and publishers, the people who really do rule the mainstream media, are 66% conservative. But once the “liberal media” perception got started, it was simply repeated as fact so many times that now it is an accepted “truth,” even in light of current media positions which are so blatantly conservative that a “liberal media” is unthinkably absurd.

The reason for the perception is yet another facet of revisionism and spin: if everyone can be convinced that the news media is liberal, then everyone will believe that the actual truth is more conservative than is being presented in the media.

Which leads us to the other piece of the conservative media play: Fox News. Conservatives are in a tizzy about how Democrats are “afraid of reporters” and are somehow “dangerously threatening a free press” by refusing to take part in debates hosted by Fox News. The reason why Democrats are shunning said debates is for a reason that should have been made more clear long ago: Fox “News” is nothing more than the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. In fact, it is so openly political that it is amazing that they can still make any claim to being an objective news organization at all.

But Fox has, from the beginning, made its biases perfectly clear. They followed the Limbaugh model on a large scale: they went for far more opinion and commentary than actual news, stacking the ranks of their broadcasters with some of the most brazenly partisan pundits that could be found. They eschewed formal news formats, and instead launched a new style of “journalism” featuring hard-edged and angry delivery of doctrine and dogma backed by riffs of rock music and flashes of high-tech computer graphics. They then called their unabashedly right-wing fare “fair and balanced,” in contrast with the rest of the “liberal media.” And when their ratings rose and challenged other news organizations like CNN, those organizations quickly rocked hard to the right in the hopes of regaining their faltering market share.

So as conservatives now saturating the airwaves consistently pushed the idea of a “liberal media,” the media tilted noticeably to the right, delivering a one-two punch to perception: a right-wing media perceived as being so “liberal” that the public would believe that the actual truth was even further to the right.

But the trend of revisionism didn’t stop there; it only accelerated with the election of George W. Bush, and gained a frictionless surface in the wake of 9/11. The Bush administration started revising everything it could get its hands on, most notably science itself. Global warming and Creationism became new foci of the revisionists. Scientists who depended upon public funding or worked for the government in any way found their reporting censored and edited at the highest levels, themselves sometimes even put under gag orders preventing them from telling people the truth, while the government spouted a revised form of science that upheld their political agendas. Even the public perception of science itself was attacked on the grounds of “fairness” and “opinion.” Suddenly, if any “scientist” could be found to oppose an idea, then all views on the issue were represented as “opinion”; no matter how many scientists stated firm acceptance of an idea that offended conservatives, there was “no consensus,” “the jury was still out,” and “more study” would be necessary. Meanwhile, any conservative yahoo who came to the table with an idea, no matter how ludicrous and unsupported by evidence, would have to be taken seriously, else there would be no “fairness” and science would be suppressing opinions. Suddenly, science from the schoolroom to the government ceased being a forum where evidence or even reason would be required; conservative credentials are all that one would need to have one’s theories presented side-by-side with arguments which had been steadily built over decades or even centuries by arduous, relentless study and piercing peer review.

Similar revisionism came to the legal establishment; this trend started in the 70’s with right-wing backlash against the Roe v. Wade decision. In the conservative view, any judge who rules in a way unfavorable to the conservative worldview is “legislating from the bench.” The political legal philosophy of strict constructionism, breaking into a myriad of branches in an attempt to rationalize the philosophy’s negation by the Ninth Amendment, attempts to completely revise the Constitution itself by narrowly reinterpreting it out of relevancy, making way for broad new insertions of conservative philosophy to act as a new core of judiciary standards. By interpreting wordings in our highest statement of law, there is no right to habeas corpus, no right to privacy, no separation of church and state, no protection against unreasonable search and seizure–virtually no right to anything save for keeping and bearing arms, when it comes right down to it.

So the arrival of the Conservapedia comes as absolutely no surprise to me whatsoever. Whether it turns out to be a new phenomenon in the definition of all things in the light of political agendas, or if it winds up being nothing more than a sad, pathetic joke, it makes no difference. It is simply the most obvious and inevitable development imaginable in today’s conservative revisionist movement to redefine anything and everything in a conservative light.

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  1. K. Engels
    April 12th, 2007 at 14:12 | #1

    Tell me about it, I can’t walk into a bookstore in my area without finding shelves full of “Politically Incorrect Guides” and “The Patriot’s History of the United States”. Often titles like these are the only books in stock on the topic (even at major booksellers). I wish I could say that the only reasons the shelves are full of these books, instead of Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States”, is because they aren’t selling, but I know that is not true.

  2. Luis
    April 12th, 2007 at 14:16 | #2

    Hmrgh. That’s an aspect I can’t see from over here in Japan. But again, not too surprising.

  3. Tim Kane
    April 13th, 2007 at 17:28 | #3

    About two years ago, on a Saturday in the NY Times, David Brooks reviewed an Economic History book that credited the Catholic church as being the agent repsonsible for the ascent of the west: Nevermind the repression of education, the assault on Galileo, and the Inquisition.

    Now what would David Brooks, of Jewish persuasion, be doing hawking a book that validates the church. Well Brooks is a Noecon.

    Neocons are disciples of Leo Strauss. Strauss believed in a ruling uber class of athiestic philosopher elites, ruling over the masses who were to be controle by religion and religiousity. Strauss, in the neitsche frame of mind that prevailed in Germany prior to WWII, from which he sprang, beleived philosophers, should rule, but philosophy would lead to athiesm, and like Nietsche, he believed that once the masses quit believing in God, civilization would come to an decadent end. Strauss doesnt believe in God, so he doesn’t care what religion is used, any religion will do.

    And so in neoconservative circles we have conservative Jews breaking bread with Conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants.

    The book Brooks was hawking was revisionist history that tries to create a precedent for Straussian reality.

    The revisionost history, is quite vast and encompassing.

    Just as Hilary Clinton suggested with the ‘vast right wing conspiracy.’

    Strange and dangerous times we live in.

  4. cc
    April 16th, 2007 at 05:42 | #4

    If the Democrats choose not to speak in a particular forum, they have every right to do so. But here’s what it comes down to. Boycotting FOX News will cost them a huge audience they could give their views to. It’s one of the highest rated 24-hour news channels. Appearing on their shows will give them an additional outlet. I often find hearing opposing views expressed in interviews on Bill O’Reilly to be interesting and enlightening. Really, who cares if the host sometimes takes one side or the other? Maybe you should try to watch it sometime, rather than dish out old talking points, because the fact is, hosts on the network often take a neutral position and sometimes even agree with the Democrats on particular positions. You are correct that FOX is maybe more conservative-leaning than MSNBC or CNN. But so what? They allow a wide range of views to be expressed on the network. There really is no way the Democrats’ opposition to FOX helps their cause, other than as a way to play politics. If that’s the case, then it’s ill-advised. FOX discusses opposing views. It doesn’t suppress them.

    And don’t cite any examples of shouting matches, unless you want to make me LOL, because heated debate is NOT supressing speech or viewpoints.

    Frankly, I will never understand these complaints. Maybe its executives and employess are conservative. So what? That doesn’t mean they have some nefarious master plan. How do they expect to broaden their following if they only go to places where the audience already shares their views?

  5. Luis
    April 16th, 2007 at 12:54 | #5

    cc: That’s the standard argument, but it’s wrong for two reasons. The first is the reason why Bush never falls below 29% in the polls: that’s his core, his base–that’s the 29% who wold vote for Bush even if it turned out he was a pedophile or something. That’s the 29% who would never change their minds on the issues no matter what evidence came along. That’s the 29% who would never vote for a Democrat come hell or high water. And that’s the core audience for Fox News, and the secret of its success: so many people watch Fox News not because of the quality reporting or the jazzy format, but because it presents a worldview so attractive to them. This is the choir they are preaching to. You are an excellent example of this: tell me, after reading my blog and seeing all of the evidence I’ve presented on the key and core issues, have I really changed your mind and persuaded you to vote Democratic? I don’t think so. If you watched a Democratic debate, do you really think that there’s a good chance you would vote for a Democrat next election? I seriously doubt it. That’s what the Democrats would be facing on Fox News: an audience so predisposed to hating their guts and believing they are wrong and undesirable that the chances of changing their minds is virtually nil. That is not the whole of the Fox News audience, but it is certainly the great majority.

    The second reason is that Fox News is not just “right leaning,” as you put it; it is dedicated to forwarding the cause of conservatism and defeating liberals. It is so guilty of the revisionism I outline above that it’s not even funny. Doubt me? Then view this page showing a small sample of captions which appear on Fox News. Fox has made it clear that their intent is to forward the cause of the Republican Party and to ridicule, belittle, attack, and undermine Democrats.

    So here’s the point: why should Democrats (a) give credibility to their opponent’s propaganda arm, when it is taken too seriously already, and (b, more importantly) subject themselves to a forum where they will be attacked and pitted against each other, when they could instead choose a forum where their own views on issues will be dealt with far more objectively? Even if they got the chance to show themselves to the few people who view Fox News and are not dead-set against them, they would be shown to these swing voters in a poor light–and it is pretty ridiculous to assume that this portion of Fox News viewers would never see a debate hosted elsewhere.

    If Dems agree to go on a Fox News-hosted debate, they will face both pre- and post-debate “analysis” which will be heavily slanted against them, and will be peppered with questions designed to emphasize their weaknesses, failures, and differences while avoiding giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths and accomplishments, or to discuss serious issues that they have answers for. They would be constantly fighting against their moderators as well as each other. It would not exactly be like this Simpsons parody, but it would not be too far off from it, either.

    Tell me: if the DNC offered to host a debate between Republican candidates that MSNBC and CNN would broadcast, and the hosts were chosen from Air America Radio, and the pre- and post-debate analysis were led by Keith Olbermann and Al Franken, would you encourage the candidates to take part so they could gain a “huge audience they could give their views to”?

    Frankly, I seriously doubt it.

    Just because Fox pretends to be a news organization instead of a propaganda arm of the RNC does not make it, in fact, a news organization that deserves to be counted among the ranks of serious journalistic outlets. Democrats would have to be weak or stupid to let their opponents control their message.

    And until I see Republican candidates agree to the debate that Air America Radio has offered to host, any claim to the contrary can not be taken seriously.

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