Gail Williams (gail) Mon 31 Oct 11 10:52
Alex is writing every day at Salon -- but as it states, that was a piece that took more time and collaboration. It has already gotten over 140 posts in response.
Ed Ward (captward) Mon 31 Oct 11 11:05
It's very much worth reading and evolving into a position paper.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Mon 31 Oct 11 12:08
Yes, it is.
Alex Pareene (pareene) Mon 31 Oct 11 13:19
Hah, sorry everyone -- as you see, I'm busy writing! I did get the title from Zinn. I went back to his People's History (which I admit I hadn't read closely since senior year in high school) for inspiration. Obviously it's hard to ape the 'style' of a book that uses so many primary sources when you're making stuff up but it was on my desk as I wrote. (Helped me to remember the rich history of union-busting governors who went on to the presidency, too.) I probably actually borrowed the most from Cleon Skousen's "The 5,000 Year Leap." He's Glenn Beck's favorite pseudo-historian and his work explains a lot of contemporary conservative beliefs about our history. Alex Zaitchik wrote about him a couple years back at Salon: http://www.salon.com/2009/09/16/beck_skousen/ There's a very huge interest in American history underlying the conservative movement -- Founder-worship and carrying around copies of the Constitution and Glenn Beck telling people to read the Federalist Papers -- but anti-academia's baked into the entire enterprise, which means complete quacks like Skousen can become very, very influential. It can seem like some movement conservatives are writing these alternate histories as an effort to build a parallel scholarship, like they built an alternative conservative newsmedia with talk radio and right-wing blogs and Fox. (Something like Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" seems like a perverse parody of an actual scholarly work -- it's got pages and pages of footnotes but it's a completely incoherent reading of history, because it was actually just designed to... call liberals the "real fascists.") And that's sort of the mindset I tried to get into -- "correcting the record," and blithely interpreting all historical issues through the frame of modern political debates. (Thanks so much for the kind words on the declaration too, everyone.)
. (wickett) Tue 1 Nov 11 14:06
Hasn't the entire right-wing movement been on a parallel track since the 1980s with the home schooling and fundamentalist history and science books and their law schools? The Salon article is great. Thank you. I have one small quibble and that is about the Frank Ogawa Plaza and the man for which it was named. Ogawa was a Japanese-American, never lived in Japan, but was incarcerated with his family during WWII. He was the first Japanese-American to serve on the Oakland City Council and did so for many years. The Frank Ogawa Plaza was named in his honor and I believe his name should indeed be honored.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 1 Nov 11 16:08
The actual claims of people like Skousen and Jonah Goldberg are only slightly less absurd than the claims in your book.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 2 Nov 11 10:15
Alex, I was just looking at Justin Elliot's story about the Tea Party and OWS: http://salon.com/2011/10/02/tea_party_and_gop_split_on_occupy_wall_street/ Reading it I realize that I don't know what we mean when we say "Tea Party" these days. I have the birth-legend, where a populist group was then either embraced or co-opted by large numbers of GOP faithful, and began to overlap older groups of the "far right" such as the Dittoheads. But I don't really have a definition for what that means now. There seems to be such a crossover into the mainstream of the GOP, and I wonder how the candidates are surveying those lines. What do their pollsters ask their people? My old lazy short-hand was "people who like Palin," but that is dated, of course. Is it now "people who don't like Romney?" Reading the article, I wondered, how would you describe the indicators of the group that identifies as members of the Tea Party now?
Alex Pareene (pareene) Sun 6 Nov 11 19:00
Gail, that's a very difficult question. There are the people who, say, self-identify as Tea Partiers to pollsters, and the people who work with actual organized Tea Party groups, and then you have, like, Ron Paul supporters. You could maybe define TP very broadly as "people who like Herman Cain," right now? The term has become a catch-all for "conservative Republicans," which is accurate enough when you're dealing with journalistic shorthand descriptions of the primary electorate but definitely inexact. I think on the whole we're talking about a subsection of conservatives who are more militant and less willing to "settle" for ideologically impure Republican candidates than your average "base" voter. The best example is probably the mostly Freshman "Tea Party" Republicans in the House, who regularly rebel against party leadership. wickett, yes -- evangelicals pioneered this work in the 1980s. It's just remarkable how much it spread. A conservative can easily only consume conservative media (except perhaps when they want to go to a movie, those right-wing film projects are usually pretty bad).
. (wickett) Sun 6 Nov 11 19:41
Thirty years from President Jimmy Carter to Herman Cain seeking the job--a mere one generation. I am loath to call it education, but right-wing propaganda from kids' picture books through graduate textbooks has certainly been effective. How do we counter it? Problem with satire is that the propagandized may take it as truth.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 7 Nov 11 03:52
That's a good question. How do you compete with a fantasy narrative of historical justification? One of the things that makes it hard to compete is that a fantasy can be shaped to precise political ends, while actual history is messy and ambiguous.
Alex Pareene (pareene) Mon 7 Nov 11 14:43
I think satire is one handy weapon in the fight against bad history -- it both educates reasonable people as to what these right-wing revisionists actually believe (which is often very surprising to people who had a regular education) and makes their mistruths look ridiculous instead of compelling. Though movement conservatives gain some psychic strength from being laughed at, it's better to point out their silliness than to take them incredibly seriously. (Michele Bachmann's core supporters love her all the more every time the liberal media takes a shot, but her poll numbers suggest that the shots worked.) But in the battle of messy, ambiguous history and simplistic propaganda propaganda often has a pretty significant advantage. I dunno what the answer is, beyond more and better education for all.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 7 Nov 11 15:18
Stephen Colbert is an interesting one in how he plays the ambiguity problems. His liberal audience knows he is liberal, but conservative viewers like a lot of his jokes. It's all very through-the-looking-glass watching him give a Republican "friend of the show" the "Colbert bump." (There was research done on how he is interpreted - http://www.alternet.org/media/137918 and it confirmed each person's views.) Alex, I get why you would want to stay in character with the book descriptions for aesthetic reasons, but at what part in the marketing/sales dance can you do a wink-wink and confirm it's a joke? I think that is useful for all those who have seen a lot of far-fetched actual propaganda, and are hesitant, but testing that theory would be the only way to know. Is making it clear that it is a joke an element in making or not making the sale on the e-books pages?
Jennifer Powell (jnfr) Mon 7 Nov 11 17:06
I've heard that Colbert is popular among conservatives though Jon Stewart isn't. I think his satire seems like truth to them, and they like it.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Mon 7 Nov 11 17:52
I also agree that more and better education is a key - although I note that history is not even one of the core subjects under No Child Left Behind. One of the strengths of the sort of history as propaganda which Alex parodies is that the average person emerges from school with a grab bag of half-grasped facts and little connecting them. When that's all people have, creating a narrative can be very powerful. I once rode on a bus with a group of people who had just attended their first Nation of Islam meeting. This was a quite a while ago, and they got the full dose of goofy NOI history, with the white race being invented by evil scientists, etc. The narrative made even Alex's parody of TP history sound very sensible, but boy where these guys stoked. They finally had a handle on things - or so they felt. Basically, if you don't supply good narratives, phony narratives will fill the gap.
. (wickett) Mon 7 Nov 11 17:58
I, alas, have not read your e-book. Your target market is reasonable people who need / are seeking to learn about the right-wing agenda, is that correct?
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 8 Nov 11 12:36
(Meanwhile, Alex has a working-without-a-net excerpt up today on Salon: No "Satire" label showing. http://www.salon.com/2011/11/08/andrew_jackson_original_teabagger/ So there is already a comment that says >Excuse me, please, Alex. >Andrew Jackson did not have a wooden leg. He was called "Old Hickory" because he was as tough as a hickory tree. >Never did I hear growing up about a wooden leg. You are misinformed. >To verify his nickname, call the Hermitage in Nashville and speak with the curator. Tel. 615 889 2941. Oh my!)
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 8 Nov 11 14:44
You know, all satire aside, Andrew Jackson really was the original Teabagger. All the tropes are there. Hillbilly roots, not much in the way of book learning, hated those stinkin' urban elites (even if the urbs were a little tiny by modern standards). Hated banks and the finance industry of the day (even a stopped clock...). Took a firm stand against those illegal alien redskin types. Had a somewhat idiosyncratic interpretation of the Constitution.
Earl Crabb (esoft) Tue 8 Nov 11 16:29
and didn't he originate the national debt?
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Tue 8 Nov 11 16:43
IMHO Jackson was the worst President ever.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 8 Nov 11 17:46
Passing over the non-entities, he would be tied for worst with Woodrow Wilson for me - although it's disturbed me that I have an un-favorite President in common with Glenn Beck!
Alex Pareene (pareene) Wed 9 Nov 11 16:24
Hah, I got a few emails about the wooden leg thing, actually -- one from a very polite gentleman who followed up with a second email after he "got the joke," so to speak. I've always thought that a big old "satire" label sort of kills the joke, but I've known very few editors who agreed with me on that one. I like to assume readers are smart enough to get it (though of course when even a smart reader is led astray, that's probably the satirist's fault). My worst president is PROBABLY Buchanan but Wilson is up there. Harding was awful but at least not a racist.
Alex Pareene (pareene) Wed 9 Nov 11 16:32
Gail -- not sure if I entirely answered your question actually but I should note that I'm awful as promotion and marketing! It IS filed under "humor" on Amazon, though. You could definitely be right that liberal readers are passing it by as a "real" right-wing book -- I may look into doing something to make the joke a bit clearer. Andrew Jackson is such an amazing figure -- a horrible genocidal racist who also basically opened up participation in American governance to the masses for the first time. His killing the National Bank was the populist move, but it ended up destabilizing the economy for years. He was seriously on the side of the little guy, versus the elites, but "the little guy" was white men only, and he totally pioneered exploiting the racial paranoia of white men for political gain. Plus that huge wheel of cheese...
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 9 Nov 11 17:47
Yes, but at least it wasn't brie... I keep hoping we'll get populism without the insanity that generally seems to come with it. Harding seemed grotesquely incompetent, but also seems to have been a fairly nice guy - and perhaps not entirely aware of what a bunch of crooks he was hanging out with. In addition to his racial tolerance, he also freed Eugene Debs, who had been imprisoned for general insolence by Woodrow Wilson.
Julie Sherman (julieswn) Thu 10 Nov 11 06:50
I want to thank Alex, Mark and everyone else who contributed to this conversation over the past two weeks. Inkwell.vue turns its attention to a new conversation today, however, as always, this topic will remain open indefinitely for any further comments or discussion. Thanks again for an interesting discussion.
Alex Pareene (pareene) Thu 10 Nov 11 14:46
Mark is of course right about Harding, though the only thing I recall having learned about him in school was the rumor that he died while... romancing a mistress. (I learned this from a nerdy friend, not a textbook). Thanks everyone!
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