Tuesday, December 27, 2011
At a Rotary Club meeting several years ago, we found ourselves listening to a self-proclaimed expert on the dangers of fluoride in the water supply, who painted a vivid and horrific picture of a demon chemical that clearly qualified as God’s biggest mistake. It was compelling stuff, as long as you didn’t stop to think that plenty of large American cities have had a fluoridated water supply for years, with no apparent major problems.
While the speaker droned on, one of the club liberals (in Rotary a Nixon Republican qualifies as a liberal) leaned over and whispered to me, “I thought this issue was settled 40 years ago.”
That was what I thought, too, at the time. But lately, so many things that seemed to have been settled issues keep resurfacing, like the serial killer in a series of slasher films, that I am beginning to wonder if there is ever an end to anything.
It has been nearly a century and a half since the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a document purporting to prove a Jewish conspiracy against the world, was conclusively proven to be a hoax. And yet, it still keeps coming up as part of some public figure’s belief system. You could argue, I suppose, that the belief systems are largely those of Middle Eastern strongmen, rather than American industrialists, but that’s a cold comfort.
Even the time frame on these things seems to be shrinking. It used to be that when one of these old chestnuts resurfaced, it was debunked yet again, then faded into obscurity for at least another decade. Now, it seems, when an issue like President Obama’s birth certificate is put to rest, it’s back before us again in a matter of months.
In my newspaper days there was one that popped up every few years: that the federal government was going to ban religious radio programming. Nothing at all to it, but every time it came back to the surface, we would get a rash of phone calls from anxious and angry people who demanded to know why we had never run a story about it. I don’t recall anyone ever believing me when I told them there was nothing to it.
The resurfacing of long-settled issues isn’t limited to hoaxes. For the better part of a century, there has been a bipartisan understanding that the tax system should be more or less progressive — requiring those who benefit most from society to pay more for its upkeep — and that corporations should be regulated in the public interest. Debate used to be over the details, but the current Republican Party catechism is that taxes and regulations are inherently bad, which precludes all debate and compromise.
Some of the bad ideas resurface connected to a revival in popularity of people one would have hoped had been discredited forever. W. Cleon Skousen — a Red-hunter of the fifties and sixties who was so far out there that William F. Buckley, Jr., considered him the type of extremist who discredited conservatism — has re-emerged as one of the intellectual luminaries behind Glenn Beck’s world view. That view posits an American decline (which ignores rising prosperity, longevity and international influence) dating back to the implementation of Progressive politics beginning in the early 20th Century.
It makes you wonder what’s next. Will we soon be seeing serious arguments for the restoration of the 60-hour workweek with no minimum wage? How about a public relations campaign in favor of the Jim Crow laws and slavery? The divine right of kings? I once thought all those things had been relegated to the dustbin of history, but I’m not so sure of anything any more.