Monday, September 20, 2010

Co-opting the Past

It has become popular for people all over the political landscape to use history as a way to forward their agenda. This is not a new phenomenon, in fact, it is as old as the nation in which we live. Sadly, people have never been able to accurately portray the past in order to influence the present. Hindsight is always skewed, either to make the past look better or worse than it actually was. As a historian, I am appalled by how misinformed the general public is about their past. Many seek to relive prior eras that seem closer to our nation's core values and founding principles. Tea Partiers constantly invoke the "salad days" of the American Revolution and the great leaders of that time in their rhetoric. Yes, George Washington, John Adams and Co. were some of the greatest leaders we have ever known, but let's not forget that slavery and political strife were defining aspects of that time period. I hate to burst the Tea Party's bubble, but the late 18th Century wasn't like living in the Disney Cartoon- Ben and Me.

Also, let's dispel any of the rumors that the 1950's and early 1960's were so much better than the current decade. Women and African Americans, not to mention Homosexuals were all completely marginalized, mistreated and kept from being equal with straight white men. Anyone who wants to go back to the Leave It To Beaver world is forgetting these facts, as well as the fear of Communism that inspired McCarthyism, the Bay of Pigs threat, the Civil Rights Movement and the start of the Vietnam War. If you wish to invoke the past- invoke the reality of it, not the childish fantasy.

In addition to this, does anyone actually know about Adolf Hitler? Every time you turn around someone is comparing our current leaders to Hitler. I spent a majority of my undergraduate work studying Nazi Germany, and even though times are bad, I am 100% sure that the America of 2010 is nowhere near as bad as the Germany of 1944. Stop being ignorant and using the Hitler analogy when you make a political argument, please. Hitler's regime bares no comparisons with Obama's administration- no matter how many little mustaches you paint on his upper lip. I realize that sometimes it is common to exaggerate something to make a point, but unless any of our politicians in Washington engineer the mass extermination of a race of people, the Hitler comparison is not viable for any of them.

As a rule, it needs to be understood that no era, decade or century was perfect. Instead of trying to recapture bygone days, our country needs to look to the future. Times have changed too much to go backward, and the past should serve only as a lesson to learn from the mistakes we made. It isn't 1776 or 1955, it's 2010.

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