Rubin Reports: American History Distorted – How Lawrence O’Donnell Unintentionally Shows Why Contemporary Leftist-Style “Liberalism” Is Wrong (JEWISH PRESS) By: Barry Rubin 05/10/12)
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The following statement from Lawrence O’Donnell is being widely
circulated on the Internet. I’m sure that most of those who read it
think these are self-evident truths about history proving that
Republicans and conservatives are so obviously evil that the issue is
beyond reasonable debate. Such credulity in the face of the current
hegemonic narrative is an accurate sign of how American history has
been taught to the current generation. It also shows us why we hear
the equivalent of “the science is settled” on the difference between
the two currently competing views of America.
“What did liberals do that was so offensive to the Republican Party?
I’ll tell you what they did. Liberals got women the right to vote.
Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. Liberals created
Social Security and lifted millions of elderly people out of poverty.
Liberals ended segregation. Liberals passed the Civil Rights Act, the
Voting Rights Act. Liberals created Medicare. Liberals passed the
Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. What did Conservatives do? They
opposed them on every one of those things, every one. So when you try
to hurl that label at my feet, ‘Liberal,’ as if it were something to
be ashamed of, something dirty, something to run away from, it won’t
work, because I will pick up that label and I will wear it as a badge
This statement is well worth analyzing. Begin by noting that while
this is supposedly a pro-liberal statement it is actually intended as
a pro-Democratic Party statement. The message is by the “Anti-
Republican Crusaders” directed explicitly against Republicans. The
conflation of the accomplishments listed and the word liberal, on the
one hand, and the presentation of Democratic Party as one creates
considerable problems for his historical narrative.
As a side remark, I thought the word “Crusaders” was not PC. Weren’t
the Crusaders supposedly aggressive, cruel bigots? What will
O’Donnell’s radical Islamist allies think of this usage?
In addition, either O’Donnell doesn’t know much about American
history or he thinks the American people don’t. Probably both parts
of that statement are true.
I am still a registered Democrat but I’m also someone who tries to be
an honest historian. The following analysis is academic – in the old
sense of the word – and as balanced as I can make it.
O’Donnell’s list is the dominant narrative in America today. You will
find it promoted in every mass media outlet and taught as the only
possible interpretation of U.S. history in schools. How accurate is
it? Well, that’s the third question that should be asked. The first
–Why is it that Obama and the current radicals-pretending-to be
liberals have to run on an old historical record rather than their
own record in office and the current anti-liberal ideas they propound?
–Why is it that we should assume that the situation faced by America
today is the same as it was in 1913 or 1933 or 1964? Perhaps more
government and regulation was needed in those years but since we have
had decades of more and more of these things isn’t it possible that
we’ve had enough, in fact, far more than enough?
These are two questions most of the American people never see.
Let’s go through O’Donnell’s list:
–Liberals got women the right to vote. Of course, the main credit
belongs to the women’s suffrage movement. But which ardent supporter
of that movement first introduced the nineteenth amendment in
Congress? Senator Aaron Sargent who was a—wait for it—Republican from
California and a conservative. The legislatures of most of the state
passing the amendment were also dominated by Republicans. This was
not primarily a partisan or wider ideological issue at the time
because many people held views which, in today’s context, would be
considered quite contradictory.
–Liberals got African-Americans the right to vote. That seem obvious
but hold on and let’s look at the facts. The main opponents of civil
rights were not Republicans but Southern Democrats. And since the
Democratic party put its own interests above racial justice the party
held back for many decades on this issue. President Woodrow Wilson
was a particularly nasty racist. Most politically active African-
Americans were Republicans. Only at the last moment did President
Lyndon Johnson really turn around the Democratic Party and it changed
course. Yet such people as Al Gore’s father and the powerful ex-Klan
leader Robert Byrd continued to oppose civil rights. Liberals and
Democrats deserve credit for what they did but they did far less than
I also seem to recall Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves and
Republicans creating Reconstruction while the Democrats were the
party of secession, surrender to the Confederacy, the Ku Klux Klan,
and Jim Crow.
Note carefully something very revealing here. Liberals “got” women
and African-Americans the right to vote. I thought there were
powerful grassroots’ movements that forced these changes on the
Washington power brokers! Yet O’Donnell accurately reflects the
profoundly patronizing attitude of today’s leftist elite toward the
little people. Funny, isn’t it? A real liberal or even a historical
leftist would stress the role played by the average people who
courageously grouped together to bring change. This is one more
indication of the isolation of the current political-intellectual
ruling elite (which in many ways is profoundly reactionary) from the
liberals of the past. According to O’Donnell–and none of the admirers
of his statement see the incongruity here!–the white, male
establishment of the 1920s and 1960s, respectively, gave out these
gifts to dependent people the way that government “gives” rights
today. Thank you, master!
–Liberals created Social Security and helped the elderly. That’s
absolutely true but that was a long time ago. What’s relevant today
is that contemporary liberals refuse to deal with or even recognize
the crisis in Social Security and have done much to make it worse.
They may have created it but who is going to save it?
–Liberals ended segregation and passed the civil rights and voting
rights laws. See civil rights, above. If you count the votes, the
partisan story is—if you forgive the play on words—hardly as black
and white as O’Donnell and others make it out to be. And certainly
since this legislation was passed, Republicans and conservatives
immediately accepted it and have not really challenged or blocked
implementation. Of course as J. Christian Adams of PJ Media has
shown, these laws have recently been manipulated for partisan
purposes by Democrats.
-Liberals created Medicare. See Social Security, above. Again, this
program has long enjoyed bipartisan acceptance. Moreover, Republicans
have supported its expansion on several occasions. The question is
how it will be managed now that Obamacare gutted Medicare.
-Liberals created clean air and clean water laws. True but see above
on Social Security. The issue is whether these should be continually
expanded, made more expensive and subject to strangling legislation.
As we can see, it is false to accuse conservatives and Republicans of
having opposed all of these things.
In short, O’Donnell largely misstates the record and tries to
distract from the real issues of 2012. I think I could make a better
case for the historical virtues of liberalism than does O’Donnell.
Ignorance aside, why doesn’t he do better? Because his choices reveal
what’s going on today. There are basically two issues on which the
Obama era rests: more entitlement payments and playing the race (or
some other ethnic/gender) card.
You don’t expect O’Donnell, for example, to cite how most liberals—
but not leftists—joined in a bipartisan policy to fight Communism.
There was also a time when liberals supported genuine academic
openness and a relatively balanced mass media. Those times are also
O’Donnell goes on to say that “liberal” should not be a dirty word
but a badge of honor. I agree. It should be but it has been tarnished
far less by conservatives’ attacks than by radicals who have hijacked
that word and use it for an agenda that is bankrupting the United
States, reducing liberties, and making a mess of U.S. foreign policy,
among other things. There are certainly many conservatives who
believe they can or must make their case by proving that every
liberal president was terrible and that every liberal action in U.S.
history was detrimental. These people are the perfect counterparts of
O’Donnell. But that doesn’t make either “my side was always right”
school of American history and politics correct.
Of course, it is deliciously ironic that this statement is made by
O’Donnell who is an avowed left-winger and socialist. He is one of
those who epitomize the problem and the reason why so many Americans
have concluded that the “L word” is something to be ashamed of. That
will change only when liberals and Democrats rebel, perhaps after a
resounding electoral defeat, and throw out the left-wing hijackers.
And what if that doesn’t happen? Well, between 1861 and 1913, a
period of 52 years following their dreadful performance during the
Civil War crisis, the Democrats only held the White House for eight
years, and that was the conservative Grover Cleveland. Following the
debacle of Jimmy Carter, the president whom Obama most resembles,
during the years 1981 to 2009, the Democrats held the White House
only eight of those 28 years, and that was by Bill Clinton who ran as
a centrist. A whole long list of Democrats from the left side of the
party also failed miserably. Remember George McGovern, Jimmy Carter,
Al Gore, John Kerry, and Michael Dukakis?
The truth is that neither Democrats nor Republicans, liberals nor
conservatives have a monopoly on historical virtue. It all depended
on the specific circumstances of the time. And the specific
circumstances of our time make the Obama-O’Donnell crew a disaster
for America. (© 2012 JewishPress. 05/10/12)
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