Right and Wrong

Monday, March 21, 2011

Right and Wrong

Back when I was a teenager, I used to get into thunderous arguments with a good friend of mine over song lyrics. He would sing along with the radio and interject the most irritatingly erroneous lyrics imaginable. I would, of course, in true feminine know it all fashion, alert him to the error of his ways. He would then proceed to disagree with my interpretation, and we were off. “No!”, I would say...” Eleanor Rigby did NOT pick up her EYES in a church where a wedding has been! She picked up the RICE! And she LIVES IN A DREAM! Not in a TREE!!” Did it matter? Probably not so much. The culture was in no real danger, I suppose, if one sixteen year old boy thought poor Eleanor lived in a tree. But it wasn’t accurate and somehow that bothered me.

Imagine how I feel these days. I open the morning paper and it seems history is being reshaped like marzipan fruit in every corner of the country. We currently have a newly minted congresswoman who recently spoke at a fundraiser in the state of New Hampshire and lavished praise on her audience by saying “You're the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord!" Really? Wasn’t that Massachusetts? It would have been easy to consider this lapse an anomaly had it not been for a later speech in Iowa where she declared that “our founding fathers worked tirelessly until slavery was no more”. Really? Are these the same founding fathers who owned slaves and who stipulated in our constitution that they be counted as three fifths of a person? She then continued to wax rhapsodic about how welcoming and equalizing America had always been to its early settlers by saying, "It didn't matter the color of their skin. It didn't matter their language. It didn't matter their economic status. It didn't matter whether they descended from known royalty or are of a higher class or a lower class. It made no difference. Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn't that remarkable? It is absolutely remarkable."
Well yeah, I’d say it was remarkable. And I bet if you talked to the Jewish families, or the Japanese families, or .... let’s see.... the African-American families of our history, they’d think it was pretty “remarkable” too. Especially since it’s a pretty long way from accurate.

Now Lord knows, we all misspeak on occasion, saying things off the cuff that make us cringe later on. Consider the poor road-weary rock star who bounds onto center stage to shout a full-throated greeting to the city of New York, only to be vociferously told that he is, instead, on stage in Cincinnati. But this is something different. These were prepared remarks from a woman who was elected to the United States Congress and who apparently harbors White House aspirations. This is a Congresswoman so disenchanted with the American public school system that she has home schooled her five children, as well as a passel of foster children. One can now only wonder if there might just be more than a few breezy spots in the education of those children.

Unfortunately she is not the only example of a rather suspect rewriting of history. Last year, the Board of Education in the state of Texas approved sweeping and questionable changes for the history and social studies textbooks used in their public schools. This newly approved version of history renames the slave trade with the much more innocuous sounding “Atlantic triangular trade” and audaciously removes Thomas Jefferson, the man responsible for crafting much of The Declaration of Independence and the voice who, perhaps coincidentally, coined the phrase “separation of church and state”, from a list of great political thinkers whose words sparked revolution. Hmmmm. So Thomas Jefferson had nothing of importance to do with either the French or the American revolution? Really? It is perhaps interesting to note that the school board is an appointed body and that the vote to pass these changes was made exclusively along party lines.

Of course we are, and have always been, a fairly partisan country. When one party is elected the other seems to immediately launch the next campaign to oust them, so often sadly missing any opportunity to compromise and work together for the good of the electorate. But how far will we go to advance our agendas? We are all entitled to our own opinions and I will stand with anyone to defend that right. But we are not entitled to our own facts. Eleanor Rigby did not live in a tree. And just because we want our country to be the happiest place on earth, founded by men whose beliefs precisely mirror our own, does not always make it so. To alter or deny the facts of history, with all their warts and glories, is a dangerous thing that too often trivializes, or worse, ignores, the experiences of our fellow citizens. Not only does it strip us of the opportunity to build on the good and remedy the bad, it can eventually render our political speech, and perhaps even our textbooks, as nothing more than propaganda.