Ron Rosenbaum: The Tea Party's Toxic Take on History





[Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler.]

I am a great believer in used-bookstore serendipity. Sometimes when you're thinking about how to express something, you find a perfect exemplification of it just by chance in the musty stacks of such an emporium. Here's a remarkable example. I'd been trying to find a way to write about Tea Party ideology, and in particular about the fraudulent history and distorted language it indulges in. Listen to Tea Partiers on cable news—or read the signs they hoist or their Internet comments—and you frequently encounter the flagrant abuse, the historically ignorant misuse, of words such as tyranny, communist, Marxist, fascist, and socialist....

And if Obama's not a socialist fascist communist, he may be—ooh, scary, kids!—a "progressive," which, as Victoria Jackson learned from the erudite Glenn Beck, is really a secret "code word" for communist.

And they believe him! That's the thing. The recent New York Times study of T.P.ers reported that party members are "better educated" than most Americans. But educated in what? Clearly, they—or at least a significant, influential portion of them—are utterly uneducated in history. One can get a college degree without taking a single class in world history and thus still be ripe for the idiot distortions of a Glenn Beck....

The muddled Tea Party version of history is more than wrong and fraudulent. It's offensive. Calling Obama a tyrant, a communist, or a fascist is deeply offensive to all the real victims of tyranny, the real victims of communism and fascism. The tens of millions murdered. It trivializes such suffering inexcusably for the T.P.ers to claim that they are suffering from similar oppression because they might have their taxes raised or be subject to demonic "federal regulation."...

This is just one example of the toxic effect of Tea Party ignorance on the lives of their fellow citizens. But the damage done by the injection of fraudulent history into the body politic by Tea Party ignoramuses and their enablers will be more profound and lasting than one tragedy.

That's because ignorance of this sort isn't inconsequential. Historical fraudulence is like a disease, a contagious psychosis which can lead to mob hysteria and worse. Consider the role that fraudulent history played in Weimar Germany, where the "stab in the back" myth that the German Army had been cheated of victory in World War I by Jews and Socialists on the home front was used by the Nazis to justify their hatreds.

It's a historical lie, but it caught on, and Hitler rose to power on it, asking Germans to avenge the (nonexistent) stab in the back! It may be true that the Tea Party will disintegrate before it acquires any real power, as more and more of its leaders are revealed to be fanciers of racist jokes and bestiality videos. But one can't be assured of it. It's important to expose the lies for what they are before they further debase the language with their false use of words....

One of the things these reporters were obsessed with was disproving the "stab in the back" myth, because they knew its sinister propaganda power. They even provoked one of Hitler's cronies who was propagating the "stab in the back" myth to sue them for libel. They called him a "political poisoner" and added that "if he were only an idiot his writing would make him look ridiculous, but he's worse than idiot." (If only some politicians and pundits would have the courage to say something like this about the T.P. poisoners of history.) They wanted him to sue so they could lay out the evidence against the "stab in the back" in court. In the end, they won the argument but lost the suit because the judge was a Nazi sympathizer....


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