Living in the Past

Eagle Forum — whose founder, Phyllis Schlafly, the Texas State Board of Education added to curriculum standards for public school social studies classes this year — doesn’t orbit the fringes of the right just on issues like opposition to evolutionary science and gay rights. No, the group is also still fighting the Cold War, which ended nearly two decades ago. And Cathie Adams, the former Texas Republican Party chair and former Texas Eagle Forum president, is leading the group’s march back to the past.

An e-mail to Eagle Forum activists from Adams, who apparently now serves as the group’s national “Sovereignty & Security Chairman,” screams that a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons is a “tremendous threat to U.S. national security.” The e-mail urges activists to demand that senators reject ratification of the New START, or New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

President Obama and Russian President Medvedev signed the treaty earlier this year. The agreement requires the United States and Russia to make significant reductions (by nearly a third) in their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. That seems to make sense even to conservative Republican senators like Richard Lugar of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who voted in committee for ratification. But Adams and other extremists at Eagle Forum hate the treaty.

Our point isn’t to support or oppose ratification of the treaty, an issue that is outside TFN’s mission. We simply mean to point out that the far right in this country continues to live in the past, whether that means pushing education policies based on ideology rather than modern scholarship, promoting legalized discrimination against gay people, limiting reproductive rights for women and sex education for students, or trying to revive Cold War hysteria. And Eagle Forum (along with its Texas chapter) is one of the leading pressure groups pushing this backward-looking agenda.

6 thoughts on “Living in the Past

  1. Recently, I had a far right extremist actually tell me that the “little precious” of their movement is to return the United States, its society, and its culture to the 1950s. They appear to agree that this decade was the ideal American decade—the litmus test—the blue light indicator—or whatever you want to call it—of the ideal American state of mind and being.

    Personally, I wonder what 1950s they are talking about—the fantasy ones on the “Happy Days” television show or the ones I grew up in. Here is what I remember of the real 1950s:

    1) The United States and the Soviet Union were in a frightful death match with nuclear weapons, and we were all just a few seconds away from being incinerated in the nuclear fire. It was the properly tilled ground that begat the term “Age of Anxiety.” It was like living under a dark shadow that bled a little more joy out of life than would have been otherwise possible.

    2) The religious life of the United States was dominated by the Catholic Church and the mainline protestant denominations. Even the Southern Baptist Convention was arguably a mainstream church in that day. Most Christian fundamentalists and ultra-conservative evangelicals were still shivering in depression and detachment under their moist rocks. Contrary to any lies you might have heard, it was not a time when EVERYONE went to church on Sunday. I lived down south in a small town at the very buckle of the Bible Belt, and lots of people in my neighborhood did not go to church—lots of people. They want to go back to that!!!

    3) Black people had a very difficult life under what could only be described as social tyranny. People in my all-white neighborhood even used the n-word when talking to and around black people in nice casual conversation. We had a black peddler who drove through the neighborhoods of our town selling vegetables from the back of his old pick-up truck. He was the nicest guy you would ever want to meet. You would have been proud to know him. Nonetheless, a person like him could be known all over town as “Old N-Word John.” A prominent black businessman—still an n-word—and all the absence of rights and Christian love appertaining thereto. They probably do want to go back to that.

    4) And I really don’t get this one. Rock ‘n Roll was invented and became widespread in the 1950s. Conservatives and the people living under moist rocks viewed it as the spawn of Satan. It pervaded the radios of the time and colored the world like that nuclear shadow—but they want to go back to it!!!

    5) Then there was the wild and sinful dancing (pronounce that “dainsin”) that went with the devil rock ‘n roll. They want to go back to that!!!

    6) Some apparently believe the 1950s were a time of “less sin.” I do not think so. My Bible tells me that sin is in the human heart first before it ever becomes actions. Because humans have been pretty much the same for the past 30,000 years, I figure sin has been pretty much at about the same levels year-to-year at its origin point in the collective human heart. Therefore, it is more accurate to call the 1950s the “Decade of Well-Hidden Sins.” You see. In the right wing conservative mind, sin was not the problem—not really. The problem was public knowledge of the rampant sin. One had to put on airs and keep up a certain false mask of personal decorum and wholesomeness. In other words, one was required to live their entire life out as one HUGE lie. In the 1950s, a gay person could pack fudge all day long and no one cared—as long as they kept it quiet. You could beat the snot out of your wife every Saturday, as long as you were quiet about it. Not only did few people care. No one even wanted to hear about it, not even the police.

    7) Then there was teacher-led prayer in the public schools. It made everything better and brought millions of 1950s children to a saving knowledge of Jesus, as well as cutting down on crime in society. It most certainly did not!!! I was there first hand, participated in it, and observed it in a model southern classroom right in the very buckle of the Bible Belt.

    The school teachers of that time were mean-spirited and treated children with a degree of cruelty that would not be accepted by any current-day parent. The disparity between the teacher’s sociopathic behavior in the classroom and the Christian words of love in the prayer was rather obvious. There was also a certain routine and rote quality about it that made it seem rather meaningless. Morning prayers over the school intercom became more of a yeah-yeah-yeah, yada-yada-yada—let’s get on to spelling moment, rather than any meaningful form of religious experience. The mean kids I saw stayed mean. The stupid kids I saw stayed stupid. The kids with criminal tendencies stayed criminal. The kids who would steal from you would still steal. The kids who would punch your lights out for lunch money still threatened. In fact, best I could tell, nothing much changed at all.

    Oh, by the way, there seems to be this current-day fantasy that the 1950s religious environment in the public schools was practiced in such a way as to make sure nonbelieving students and students from other faith traditions would turn Christian fundamentalist under the weight of relentless pressure applied by teachers to convert. I saw nothing in any of my small town classes (K-12) where any nonbelieving child or child of another religion was pressured into converting to Christianity. We had two Jewish students. Their parents requested that they opt out of anything that even smacked of Christian, and the school authorities gladly accommodated. Not one time—not a single time in 18 years—did any fellow student turn to me and say, “I came closer to Jesus in my life or converted as a result of the morning religious activities here at school.” Not even one time.

    I could go on and on but will stop here. You get the idea. The 1950s were really just another decade in the long historical line of human failures—just like all of the decades that came before it. The Tea Party view of an ideal America is a pipe dream about a mentally imagined world that never even existed in the 1950s.

  2. The Fifties has the reputation as the age of conformity and stability which the Sisties were a rebellion against said conformity, stability, etc. That reputation is well deserved except that the Fifties were a grab at some form of stability after the instab ility of the Roaring Twenties, Depression Thirties, and World War 2. It was a brief grasp before the natural instability and strife consistent with the rest of American history reasserted itself.

    Before that was WW1, the Gay Nineties, the Industrial Revolution, the Wobblies, Molly McGuires, the Klan, and the Wild West.

    Break is over, back to the rat race.

  3. By Jove, I believe Gordon just hit the nail right on the head—and he is no flaming liberal. Keying just slightly off what he said and what I said before, the 1950s were not just a time of living lies and hiding sins. It was perceived as stable simply by virtue of the fact that people who were severely oppressed and hurting did not complain about it in public—not because they were stable and happy—but because they were afraid to say anything—to upset the apple cart—to put the lie to the living of lies and the hidden iniquities.

    Hidden Iniquity. Some people put those signs down on the road in front of their mansions. You know. “Albemarle House” and stuff like that. How about “Hidden Iniquities Plantation”?

  4. Much has been written connecting the Tea Party with the John Birch Society and other right-wingnuts of the 1950’s.

    In addition to Charles’ list, I would add:

    The 1950’s was a sexist time where women were expected to fill pre-designated roles, the variety of which was limited. Those who did not conform suffered; suffered in the sense of career options and glass ceilings. Women of color had it even worse. Women of all colors were expected to carry to term all fetuses, whether conceived in love or by means other than love. Those who opted for abortion paid a heavy price and often suffered injury or death at the hands of back-alley illegal unsafe abortionists. Those who idolize the 1950’s want to go back to that!!!

    I was a kid in the 1950’s so I wouldn’t know this for sure, but I’m fairly certain women could not get credit in the 1950’s.

    Bullying (especially boys bullying girls) was an accepted part of childhood. Girls who were bullied by boys – even assaulted by boys – were expected to be “good sports.” After all, “boys will be boys,” and “kids will be kids.” If you were having a rough time of it, just tough it out. You probably egged on those boys anyway so the bullying you got was probably deserved. If you complained, you were a SNITCH. If you fought back against your bullies, teachers NEVER EVER saw the first strike. They only witnessed the retaliatory strike and believed it to be the first strike. And teachers were ALWAYS RIGHT. Those who idolize the 1950’s want to go back to that!!!

    On a positive note, the tax system of the 1950’s was far more equable than that of today. There was a more equal distribution of wealth. An American with a high school diploma and maybe some technical training had a good chance to reach near middle class level. How fascinating that those who idolize the 1950’s do NOT want to go back to that!!! They want all the above – except the tax structure. Fair tax structure = marxism. (Er, is it socialism? I’m not sure. Whatever, it’s one of those bad “isms” that conservatives despise).

  5. The Tea Party movment has a very long pedigree. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 would fit nicely in the SBOE.

    The Fifties, like the Twenties, were supposed to be a “return to normalcy” after World Wars 1 and 2. But, after the Womens Christian Temperence Union got Prohibition in place, the Twenties roared.

    The veterans returning from war service expected that now that they were back, things would return to normal. This post war perception did not take into account that women had taken a bug chunk of the jobs during the war. This created a couple of problems either for the guy that wanted his job/a job held by a woman, and/or the wife had learned to fend for hereself and family during stressful and rationed times.

    Today’s returning vets are getting advice concerning expectations which are like assumptions.