A surprisingly large number of American conservatives are now attempting to rewrite history in order to make their ideology look perfect. One tactic that these unscrupulous individuals utilize is taking a revered historical figure, and claiming, sans evidence, that he or she was a member of the right-wing. To intellectuals, such efforts look ridiculous and amateurish. However, millions of people are beginning to believe these fabrications simply because they are repeated so often.
One of the biggest offenders is Conservapedia, a supposed online "encyclopedia" that caters to reactionaries and other right-wing extremists. One of its more glaring entries is the one on George Orwell. This British writer was harshly critical of the Soviet Union. This fact made him a hero to many conservatives. Like many right-wing publications, Conservapedia expresses an admiration for Orwell. It goes too far, however. The article describes the writer as a conservative. This is yet another fantastic claim advanced by the American Right. Virtually all reputable historians record that he was a committed democratic socialist. He didn't necessarily oppose a pro-active central government that regulated private businesses (often, he was critical of industrialism and unrestricted capitalism as well). What he did truly loathe, however, were police states, whether they were brutal communist dictatorships like Stalinist Russia or equally tyrannical right-wing regimes like Nazi Germany. To assert that Orwell was conservative simply because he opposed the Soviet Union is an absurd oversimplification of a complex man with complex ideas.
It's actually been suggested by more-than-a-few observers that some conservatives sincerely believe this misguided notion. This seems to be a common problem among contemporary conservatives. They think simplistically, and in terms of black-and-white. Because Orwell was opposed to Stalinist Russia, in their minds at least, that means that he must have been a conservative. To them, there exist no shades of gray. Ultimately, though, their sincerity (or lack of sincerity) is irrelevant. They are actively spreading misconceptions, and because they repeat them so often, scores of people come to believe these misconceptions.
Present-day conservatives are even more cynical in their treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr. As CNN reported on January 13, 2013, the American Right is now viewing the mythic King as a "conservative icon." To its members, his "message of self-help, patriotism and a colorblind America" was "fundamentally conservative." Conservatives tend to fixate on the fact that he was a Baptist minister (never mind that there are many diverse philosophical strains within the Baptist movement). In their minds, since he was a Baptist, that means that he had to have been a conservative.
Again, they are guilty of oversimplifying a complicated historical
figure. As the CNN article further notes, the truth about King is much
murkier. As a Southern Christian, he did
indeed hold some traditional beliefs (like self-reliance). However, as the years passed, his belief system
turned radical, largely in response to the Vietnam War and the grinding poverty
that he witnessed in the American cities.
Repeatedly, he condemned American involvement in the Vietnamese
conflict. He also advocated for the
nationalization of some American industries.
His Occupy Movement was quite similar to today's "occupy" protests. He supported affirmative-action
programs. As a Baptist minister, King
had some conservative attitudes, but to label him as being a conservative is
wrong-headed. King was too complicated
Conservative stances on George Orwell are annoying, but conservatism's newfound fixation on King possesses an unsavory, exploitative edge to it. As virtually every political observer in the United States knows, conservatives fare dismally with African-Americans. They fared poorly with blacks even before the rise of Barack Obama. It would be a tremendous coup, then, if right-wingers could convince black voters that, politically, he "was one of them," that he himself was conservative. Why, with heavy African-American support, perhaps Republicans could start winning national elections again. Their "love" for King appears awfully contrived and calculated, and at least slightly deceitful.
Of course, every once in a while, one of the clumsier conservatives will inadvertently give away the game. As The Huffington Post reported on January 20, 2014, Sarah Palin celebrated the King holiday by urging President Obama to stop "playing the race card." Thus, Palin let the proverbial cat out the bag. There's little true affection for this American hero among Palin and her ilk: they praise King to score political points and votes.
These underhanded, misleading tactics may work for a while, but it looks inevitable that they will backfire before long: the American people are a smart bunch, after all. Furthermore, the backlash could be disastrous for right-wing politicians. Americans will tolerate a great deal in their politicians, but they find serial liars and misguided fools almost impossible to stomach. These antics could cause the conservative movement to decline even more.