Sunday, September 2, 2012

Republican longing for America's past is the biggest lie

NBC's First Read picks up on a major theme of the Republican convention.
If you could sum up the majority of Romney's acceptance speech it would be with these two words: nostalgic optimism. Per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill, Romney used the word “restore” three times (" Now is a time to restore the promise of America"). And he vowed to “return” to the foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And the message of nostalgic optimism -- to the time of his father and mother -- was typified by this line: "I was born in the middle of the century in the middle of the country, a classic baby boomer. It was a time when Americans were returning from war and eager to work. To be an American was to assume that all things were possible. When President Kennedy challenged Americans to go to the moon, the question wasn't whether we'd get there, it was only when we'd get there.”
I found it interesting that Steve Benen, in commenting on this, wanted to give the Republicans a pass on this being about cultural issues and instead focused on the fact that the past Romney is so longingly referring to were actually days of liberal economic policies.
What's striking is to realize how extraordinarily liberal the country was, economically, during this era that Romney remembers so fondly. In the 1950s, the top marginal tax rate was 90% (nearly triple today's figure); union membership was 30% (more than quadruple today's figure); the Republican Party, which still had plenty of liberals, endorsed all kinds of progressive ideas (spending projects, living wage); and the economy was heavily regulated -- airlines didn't even set their own prices.
I actually think his point about liberal policies re-enforces what he so casually wants to dismiss...this is about a longing for an America where women, people of color and gays/lesbians all knew their America where white men could still lie to themselves about the vision of this country's commitment to equality.

It is that lie that still permeates the Republican Party today. A few years ago Tim Wise wrote about how that lie has gripped the narrative of how too many white people understand our history.
Whites refuse to remember (or perhaps have never learned) that which black folks cannot afford to forget...Most white people desire, or perhaps even require the propagation of lies when it comes to our history. Surely we prefer the lies to anything resembling, even remotely, the truth. Our version of history, of our national past, simply cannot allow for the intrusion of fact into a worldview so thoroughly identified with fiction. But that white version of America is not only extraordinarily incomplete, in that it so favors the white experience to the exclusion of others; it is more than that; it is actually a slap in the face to people of color, a re-injury, a reminder that they are essentially irrelevant, their concerns trivial, their lives unworthy of being taken seriously. In that sense, and what few if any white Americans appear capable of grasping at present, is that "Leave it Beaver" and "Father Knows Best," portray an America so divorced from the reality of the times in which they were produced, as to raise serious questions about the sanity of those who found them so moving, so accurate, so real. These iconographic representations of life in the U.S. are worse than selective, worse than false, they are assaults to the humanity and memory of black people, who were being savagely oppressed even as June Cleaver did housework in heels and laughed about the hilarious hijinks of Beaver and Larry Mondello.
Mitt Romney's speech and the entire convention were nothing if not an attempt to solidify this lie in the minds of Republicans.

For those of us who know the truth, the stakes are high. We know what going back there means. I know I don't need to spell it out for you. But its the reason Romney's childhood looked like this...
We were Mormons and growing up in Michigan; that might have seemed unusual or out of place but I really don't remember it that way. My friends cared more about what sports teams we followed than what church we went to. about the same time that what church you went to was a deadly choice for four little girls in Birmingham, MS. 

That, my friends, is something we can't afford to lie about.


  1. Dear Smartypants, I'm a black American who was born in the 1950s. I grew up watching Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. I never confused the fiction with reality, never felt left out, never was silly enough to measure my parents with the Cleavers. I would say my family was lower, lower middle class; not poor, because I felt no want. It was understood that these shows represented one family and were not presented as archetypes. I write this to say that there are many experiences, not just one. I'm in my 60s now and occasionally catch an episode of Beaver. I am struck by how gentle it is, the parents striving, in goofy circumstances, to teach their children right from wrong and to accept responsibility for their mistakes, even when it puts the parents on the spot. I cannot say they played no part in the formation of my character. More insidious to me are the programs our children are exposed to today, where everything is violent, even love. This to me is the greater lie. Thanks for your thoughtful blog.
    Humble Dragon

    1. Thank you for your thoughts.

      I think you captured it perfectly with this:

      It was understood that these shows represented one family and were not presented as archetypes.

      You made that distinction. Most white people - especially at the time - did not.