Archive for March, 2010
I know Texans don’t generally give a crap about what the rest of the country, or the world for that matter, thinks about us. But this time, they’re laughing at us and they’re a little bit spooked by us at the same time. And they’re not wrong. We might wanna take a few notes this time. Below, some reprinted observations by SF Gate columnist, Mark Morford. You know, San Francisco, where all those crazy hippies live.
By Mark Morford,
SF Gate Columnist
Hey, kids! Here’s something I bet you didn’t know: Black people? Back in 1800 or whenever? They liked being slaves. True! Many savvy, industrious Negroes actually volunteered for that fine, desirable position. It was a completely balanced, fair, hugely successful system, until those damn liberals came along and ruined everything. I know, right? What a shame.
Do you know what else? America was wholly victorious in Vietnam. It’s a fact! Kicked some serious enemy butt! Mission accomplished! Sure it was a little bumpy for awhile, but President Nixon, that great and wronged American hero, put us on the righteous path in the end, wrapped that sucker up beautifully and made America the noble Superman to the world. Hey, it’s the truth! You can look it up in your history textbook!
Even more good, newly historic news: Despite what you may have heard from the liberal media, America has very much won its recent, God-sanctioned wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Angry Allah loses again! Just look at this handy diagram on page 281, Figure 4-9. See those little dark-skinned bodies stacked up neatly beside that minaret? Right next to that completely unstaged photo of the toppled Saddam statue? Look how many there are! Graphs never lie.
Did you know, back in the frontier days, that Native Americans welcomed the white man with open arms? Absolutely true. Those poor, sunburned people were so beaten down and exploited by their oppressive dictator “chiefs,” they were forced to believe in all sorts of disgusting pagan sun gods and had to eat, like, rocks and snakes and stuff.
It’s no wonder they greeted proud, fair-minded American colonials as great liberators — yes! Just like in Baghdad! — and happily gave us free access to their fields and their women and their wonderful bead-making technology, in exchange for, you know, gin and fireworks. And casinos.
Never doubt America’s irrefutable greatness, kids. Our prison system, for example, is the finest in the world. Also, dirty Mexican people had no role whatsoever in the Civil War or U.S. history (except as troublesome immigrants, yuck), hip-hop music is in no way, shape or form to be considered a significant cultural movement — unlike totally awesome Country & Western, and the War on Drugs is going spectacularly well, thanks to our fine military, numerous Afterschool Specials and the deep love of Jesus — who, if you look really closely at those old photographs from the Bible, is clearly wearing a U.S. flag pin on his robes to go along with his friendly, competely legal sidearm. God bless America.
These irrefutable facts — and many more just like them — are brought to you by the Texas State Board of Education, packed like a jug of rancid tartar sauce with intellectually numb simpletons who smell like ignorance and taste like fear. The TSBE: We make revisionist brainwashing fun!™
Maybe you didn’t hear? The little item about how a small pod of pale ultra-conservatives in Texas has just demanded a whole slew of specific changes be made to history textbooks down in the Lone Star State? About how, in fact, nearly every change is a rather ridiculous rewriting of history and the language surrounding it, all tending to favor — can you guess? — white privileged capitalist males, a bitter Christian God, and a whitewashed version of history that never actually existed?
Not much shocking about it all, really. “Texas education” has never exactly equated with “intellectual range and nuance.” But there’s a big, ugly snag: Due to the state’s huge purchasing power, the decisions of these tiny-brained ultra-conservatives could well influence what goes into various school history textbooks nationwide.
So it is that that some inbred neocon beliefs about homophobic God and gun-loving country will ooze their way into the minds of unsuspecting youth in a completely different state say, 10 years’ hence, like a poison slowly leeching into the cultural water supply. Ah, Texas conservatism. It’s the new DDT!
What, too harsh? I’m not so sure. Yes, everyone knows that history is slippery and spurious to begin with, all about context and spin and who’s telling the tale. History is, after all, written by the victors.
What they don’t usually add is how history is then revised by the politicians, gutted by the church leaders, molested by the power mongers, skinned alive by paranoid militants, poorly codified by the speechwriters and then spun, torqued and diluted by countless mealy “experts” before being shoved down the gullet of unsuspecting youth, where it is partially digested like so much liquefied school lunch meat, only to be wrongly half-remembered later in life by the most insane among them, who then quickly gets his own talk show on Fox News. And lo, the circle of life continues.
Say what you will about standardized testing, draconian teachers’ unions, lazy tenured teachers, crumbling campuses, slashed budgets, et al. I can think of no better argument for mortgaging everything you own so as to afford a private/charter school for your kid than the disturbing fact that these Texas State Board mongrels might have any power whatsoever to shape young minds by way of further tainting the already wobbly, spurious historical record.
Maybe it doesn’t really matter. After all, it’s widely understood that, given the state of public education, children don’t really learn much in school anyway. The system is so problematic and the teachers union so dangerously obstinate, there’s a good chance your kid will never crack open one of these flawed, historically inaccurate textbooks in the first place. Small consolation indeed.
It’s not all dire and brimstone. Prior to this ridiculous move — and by the way, the board’s revisions still have to be ratified, so there’s a slim chance public outcry and a deep sense of shame at their own repellent personal politics will get them to back off — there’s apparently been a small amount of improvement in school textbooks over the years.
From what I understand, in the wake of wildly influential bestsellers like “Lies my Teacher Told Me” and the late, great Howard Zinn’s “People History” series, among many others, school textbooks underwent some significant improvements in the past couple of decades, slightly more multicultural and inclusive, balanced, realistic. Not nearly as thin, lopsided, sexist, jingoistic, myopic as they used to be. Is that damning with faint praise? Maybe.
Alas, if California weren’t so utterly broke, slashing education budgets and shutting down schools, maybe our fair state could launch a counter-attack, demand some reasonably accurate historic revisions in those selfsame texts. Time was when we had some killer purchasing power of our own. Remember? Yeah, me neither.
Sadly, from what I hear, California schools don’t even use textbooks anymore. Or classrooms. Or desks. They all disintegrated sometime back in 1987. History is now taught by means of sock puppets, toothpick dioramas and firecrackers. And gin.
Of course, I’m completely exaggerating. The changes the Texas Board is shoving through are probably relatively innocuous, just another toxic chemical added to the already lethal school lunch menu, one of a thousand, really. I’m sure everything will be fine. Kids won’t mind a whit that they’re being fed heavily processed, dangerous, non-nutritive mental crap. Hell, they’ll probably enjoy it. You know, just like all those happy, contented slaves.
Even though I still consider myself a Texan, I don’t live there anymore. I certainly don’t have any children in Texas schools, so how and what the Texas Board of Education decides to teach the children of their state really shouldn’t concern me. It shouldn’t. But it does.
The practical reason, of course, is that textbooks created for the education system of Texas inevitably end up in school systems across the country. It’s such a huge market for textbooks that the major publishers are willing to bow to their wishes when revisions to history are requested, and the rest of the country can take it or leave it. This is not the first time Texas has skewed history for children all over the U.S.
This time, it seems, Thomas Jefferson was getting way too much credit for his role as a founding father. Writing the Declaration of Independence and most of the Constitution clearly just makes him a glory hog. The Texas board wants his responsibility in the creation of this country pared down a bit. That separation of church and state thing apparently still pisses them off.
On the other hand, there are some important figures of the past that the board feels are getting short-changed at the checkout stand of history. Confederate President Jefferson Davis is one of them. The Texas board feels that Jeff’s presidency should be treated more on an equal par with Abraham Lincoln’s. I mean, it’s only fair. He was a president, too.
Another much maligned, and unfairly disparaged character from the more recent past is Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. The board feels he’s been poorly treated by historians, and would like to see his image rehabilitated a little. The fact that he was a demagogue, a drunk, and an unrepentant liar shouldn’t completely overshadow the possibility that there really may have been communists in the federal government. I mean, really. He could have been right.
There are over 100 such “adjustments” to the state curriculum by the board, and these aren’t even the most egregious. These are just the easiest to make fun of. And, I’m afraid that the impracticality of it is not what’s really gotten up my nose. I think it’s more emotional than that.
What has happened in Texas, again, is that a handful of appointed and elected political hacks with a social and political agenda have been empowered to second-guess and overrule the panel of professional educators charged with creating the social studies curriculum for the state’s school children. They have, once again, held the state up to national and international ridicule, but worse, they seek to cheat the children of Texas of an honest and unbiased education.
This board, without a single educator or historian among them, has chosen to rewrite history to suit themselves and their own narrow ideology. No one cares if they wish to go through life ill-prepared and ignorant. Clearly they don’t mind. But to impose systematic, state sponsored ignorance on an entire generation of school children is immoral.
Shame on them.
This small band of ideologues is being allowed to lead the next generation of Texans into intellectual bankruptcy. The parents of Texas expect and deserve better for their children. They need to stand up and demand it. Now. Before the books are printed.
“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
It’s a great quote, but it’s unclear who said it. It actually seems to be an amalgamation of two separate quotations. Author James M. Barrie, of Peter Pan fame, said “Be kinder than necessary.” But his advice stops there. Plato is quoted as saying “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Whoever pushed these two together actually created a more thoughtful and salient point. It’s worth remembering the next time you find yourself about to be ungracious with someone.
My dear friend Peggy, a fellow Texan, sent this to me today. I think it offers a lot to think about and, as you know, The New York Times suffers from very poor circulation so I thought I’d lend them the weight and influence of my blog. Thank you, Peggy.
The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged
No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.
What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.
Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.
It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.
Barstow confirmed what the Southern Poverty Law Center had found in its report last year: the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback. And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.
Equally significant is Barstow’s finding that most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two. (Were Obama not earning extra demerits in some circles for his race, it might be a dead heat.) The Tea Partiers want to eliminate most government agencies, starting with the Fed and the I.R.S., and end spending on entitlement programs. They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington — a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All.
The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril. While Washington is fixated on the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele and the presumed 2012 Republican presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, these and the other leaders of the Party of No are anathema or irrelevant to most Tea Partiers. Indeed, McConnell, Romney and company may prove largely irrelevant to the overall political dynamic taking hold in America right now. The old G.O.P. guard has no discernible national constituency beyond the scattered, often impotent remnants of aging country club Republicanism. The passion on the right has migrated almost entirely to the Tea Party’s counterconservatism.
The leaders embraced by the new grass roots right are a different slate entirely: Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin. Simple math dictates that none of this trio can be elected president. As George F. Will recently pointed out, Palin will not even be the G.O.P. nominee “unless the party wants to lose at least 44 states” (as it did in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Waterloo). But these leaders do have a consistent ideology, and that ideology plays to the lock-and-load nutcases out there, not just to the peaceable (if riled up) populist conservatives also attracted to Tea Partyism. This ideology is far more troubling than the boilerplate corporate conservatism and knee-jerk obstructionism of the anti-Obama G.O.P. Congressional minority.
In the days after Stack’s Austin attack, the gradually coalescing Tea Party dogma had its Washington coming out party at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), across town from Capitol Hill. The most rapturously received speaker was Beck, who likened the G.O.P. to an alcoholic in need of a 12-step program to recover from its “progressive-lite” collusion with federal government. Beck vilified an unnamed Republican whose favorite president was the progressive Theodore Roosevelt — that would be McCain — and ominously labeled progressivism a cancer that “must be cut out of the system.”
A co-sponsor of CPAC was the John Birch Society, another far-right organization that has re-emerged after years of hibernation. Its views, which William F. Buckley Jr. decried in the 1960s as an “idiotic” and “irrational” threat to true conservatism, remain unchanged. At the conference’s conclusion, a presidential straw poll was won by Congressman Paul, ending a three-year Romney winning streak. No less an establishment conservative observer than the Wall Street Journal editorialist Dorothy Rabinowitz describes Paul’s followers as “conspiracy theorists, anti-government zealots, 9/11 truthers, and assorted other cadres of the obsessed and deranged.”
William Kristol dismissed the straw poll results as the youthful folly of Paul’s jejune college fans. William Bennett gingerly pooh-poohed Beck’s anti-G.O.P. diatribe. But in truth, most of the CPAC speakers, including presidential aspirants, were so eager to ingratiate themselves with this claque that they endorsed the Beck-Paul vision rather than, say, defend Bush, McCain or the party’s Congressional leadership. (It surely didn’t help Romney’s straw poll showing that he was the rare Bush defender.) And so — just one day after Stack crashed his plane into the Austin I.R.S. office — the heretofore milquetoast Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, told the audience to emulate Tiger Woods’s wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.”
Such violent imagery and invective, once largely confined to blogs and talk radio, is now spreading among Republicans in public office or aspiring to it. Last year Michele Bachmann, the redoubtable Tea Party hero and Minnesota congresswoman, set the pace by announcing that she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to oppose Obama administration climate change initiatives. In Texas, the Tea Party favorite for governor, Debra Medina, is positioning herself to the right of the incumbent, Rick Perry — no mean feat given that Perry has suggested that Texas could secede from the union. A state sovereignty zealot, Medina reminded those at a rally that “the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”
In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution. The right has a different history. In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.
In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”
Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: March 2, 2010 The column by Frank Rich on Sunday, about the conservative movement, misstated the job status of Tim Pawlenty. He is the current governor of Minnesota, not former.