The Legend of 1900

by J.A. Myerson

Ron Paul thinks that Irene, which has already killed three people, is not a job for the government, but for the people because, says he, that’s how things were in the good old days, as in 1900.

“We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960,” Paul said. “I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district.”

Alex Pareene at Salon has a brief response to this remark, by way of pointing out what disaster relief was really like in those days. But this nostalgia for the early 20th Century is hardly limited to an aversion to FEMA, as Rick Perry’s recent inveighing against 1913’s passage of the 16th Amendment suggests.

Taxation policy, disaster relief, &c. What the conservatives actually want to do is return the country to the way it was run before the progressive era. They’re happy to announce publicly their aversion to progressive taxation and the welfare state, but they keep a lot of what 1900 was like under wraps. Their 1900 is just a legend, bearing little resemblance to the real thing.

The death of Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan, should serve to remind us that, in 1900, an entire region of the country was controlled with impunity by a religious fundamentalist terrorist organization that perpetrated untold murders. Additionally, women were deprived of individual rights and held to the chattel position to which the Bible conscripts them. Children worked in factories, for crying out loud.

The era of progressive government changed these dynamics, and any nostalgia for the time before that era is implicitly a nostalgia for those dynamics. Which conservative will be the first to admit it?

Gov. Perry? Rep. Paul? Speak up.

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