As a companion to Eric’s post below, Kevin Murphy offered a helpful survey of the recent efforts among conservatives to say exceedingly dumb things about the past. (He wrote it a week ago, but [insert several tedious excuses here on the subject of infants and toddlers and the howling nexus thereof, plus some stuff about grading and general existential lethargy] and so I’m just beginning to catch up on my rss feeds.)

I don’t know if there’s something qualitatively unique about the historical butchery that’s dominated right wing discourse during the first few months of the Obama administration.  As Eric and many others have been chronicling across the internets, the history of Great Depression and New Deal have been grotesquely misrepresented in a variety of venues — like cable news, the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal — that the young and/or the gullible continue to revere.  As a result, my US survey course this semester had to devote a non-trivial amount of time to refuting an array of wingnut talking points about the causes, consequences and cures of the Great Depression.  And yeah, I had to explain who Amity Shlaes is and why she’s properly regarded as a dishonest hack. In a way, though, it was a useful exercise, particularly to the degree that it allowed us to think about how historical knowledge matters to debates about public policy; to discuss historical methods in a preliminary way; and to raise questions about what historical study can and can’t teach us about the past. I was also able to make use of all the new economic history I’ve been trying to learn recently (e.g., Eric’s book, DeLong’s podcast), since that’s an area that’s been an enduring weak spot in my teaching.

But Murphy’s post covers material that isn’t even close to being serviceable. The Bush era took an especially awful toll on popular historical memory — a gentle casualty compared to all the rest — and perhaps their unreconstructed endorsement of the war on Iraq liberated a certain species of conservative to develop an entirely new, Rumsfeldian lifestyle oriented around the absence of evidence. It’s a remarkable thing, but they make people like Amity Shlaes seem like honest sparring partners.