Adam Cohen: Now a Bestseller ... A Rightwing History book that Celebrates Politically Incorrect History
Adam Cohen, in the NYT (1-25-05):
If you're going to call a book "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," readers will expect some serious carrying on about race, and Thomas Woods Jr. does not disappoint. He fulminates against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, best known for forcing restaurants and bus stations in the Jim Crow South to integrate, and against Brown v. Board of Education. And he offers up some curious views on the Civil War - or "the War of Northern Aggression," a name he calls "much more accurate."
The introduction bills the book as an effort to "set the record straight," but it is actually an attempt to push the record far to the right. More than a history, it is a checklist of arch-conservative talking points. The New Deal public works programs that helped millions survive the Depression were a "disaster," and Social Security "damaged the economy." The Marshall Plan, which lifted up devastated European nations after World War II, was a "failed giveaway program." And the long-discredited theory of "nullification," which held that states could suspend federal laws, "isn't as crazy as it sounds."
It is tempting to dismiss the book as fringe scholarship, not worth worrying about, but the numbers say otherwise. It is being snapped up on college campuses and, helped along by plugs from Fox News and other conservative media, it recently soared to No. 8 on the New York Times paperback nonfiction best-seller list. It is part of a boomlet in far-right attacks on mainstream history that includes books like Jim Powell's "FDR's Folly," which argues that Franklin Roosevelt made the Depression worse, and Michelle Malkin's "In Defense of Internment," a warm look back on the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
It is not surprising, in the current political climate, that liberal pieties are being challenged, and many of them ought to be. But the latest revisionist histories are disturbing both because they are so extreme - even Ronald Reagan called the Japanese internment a "grave wrong" and signed a reparations law - and because they seem intent on distorting the past to promote dangerous policies today. If Social Security contributed to the Depression, it makes sense to get rid of it now. If internment was a good thing in 1942, think what it could do in 2005. And if the 14th Amendment, which guarantees minorities "equal protection of the law," was never properly ratified - as Mr. Woods argues - racial discrimination may be constitutional after all....
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Christopher Osborne - 1/29/2005
Isn't Woods one of those neo-Confederate advocates, such as that Mr. Kennedy who has written such books as "The South Was Right" and whose most recent title actually repeated the canard that slavery was supposedly benign and paternalistic?
Michael Green - 1/29/2005
One of the problems that Mr. Cohen unfortunately fails to address is the title: "politically incorrect." I am proud to call myself a liberal, but I am equally proud not to be politically correct. If this book were indeed politically incorrect, it would attack any effort to gloss over the wrongs committed throughout our history on both sides of the aisle. Of course, much of what Mr. Woods argues is ridiculous, and that is part of the problem: we need politically incorrect history, but we do not need factually incorrect history or interpretations that reflect an ingrown intellect.
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