Conservatives have a thing for historical celebrity-worship. They tend to pick out a few figures from history—usually, but not always, heterosexual white males—and establish them as their own cultural superheroes. There’s nothing wrong with having historical figures you look up to, but you know there’s a problem when the greatest heroes a movement are people who wouldn’t have approved of the movement at all. Here are some of the historical figures that today’s right-wingers tend to idolize… without knowing much about what these people really believed.
Certifiable sociopath Ayn Rand has been one of the gods of conservativism ever since the New York Times dubbed her the “novelist laureate of the Reagan administration” in 1987. After this point, conservative douchebags, including Alan Greenspan, Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and Paul Ryan, all unanimously decided that Ayn Rand was just awesome. Just to demonstrate that they’re independent thinkers, masses of high-school and college-age libertarians decided that they’d sound really smart if they called themselves objectivists and said that they adhered to Ayn Rand’s philosophy and formed a Cliff’s Notes-based cargo cult on her ideas.
Ayn Rand was atheist, pro-choice, and hated libertarians.
The funny thing is that, until at least the 1980s, Rand was pretty largely despised by the right because more people bothered to find out what she actually believed… Like that she idolized a serial killer, that she was pro-choice, and that she was staunchly opposed to religion.
Objectivism was all about cold, hard reasoning with no room for anything remotely spiritual or emotional. So Rand was not only openly atheist, but she considered religion to be an instrument for brainwashing people into obedience. In Philosophy: Who Needs It?, she wrote:
Faith and force… are corollaries: every period of history dominated by mysticism, was a period of statism, of dictatorship, of tyranny.In other words, ladies and gents, Ayn Rand’s world has no room for your religion. Or anyone else’s.
So what about the Unborn, those precious little souls terminated before birth, that conservatives use as poster children for the evils of liberalism? Ayn Rand didn’t care much for them, either, as she stated in The Voice of Reason:
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn). Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?Wait a sec,that sounds… That sounds a lot like what you hear from feminists, doesn’t it?
Conservatives who are willing to concede that Ayn Rand wouldn’t be a fan of the modern-day Republican party usually jump to the next conclusion. She would totally be on board with libertarians, right? Well, unlike many historical figures, Ayn Rand was actually alive along enough to see her beliefs being misappropriated and was quick to shoot that down. In 1971, she wrote in The Objectivist:
For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with, and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called “hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either.Burned.
How does a socialist become a teabagger? There’s not a punch line. It’s a serious question. Thomas Paine was a hardcore socialist who somehow became, in the minds of his oblivious “followers,” a gun-toting, God-fearing, tax-cutting, immigrant-hating conservative—to the point that right-wing lunatic Glenn Beck went so far as to rewrite Paine’s Revolutionary War pamphlet Common Sense for today’s audience, ad Paine is considered one of the most influential historical figureheads to conservatives.
Thomas Paine was a socialist and loathed organized religion.
We already know that Glenn Beck is off his rocker, but for the record, Paine was everything that the Tea Party is not. For one thing, he wasn’t a fan of church involvement in religion—or even church involvement in church. In his magnum opus, The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine wrote:
My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.Whoa, that sounds almost like something a radical liberal would say! But it doesn’t stop there. His pamphlet Agrarian Justice is essentially a socialist manifesto and full of the things that inhabit the nightmares of conservatives. Calling uncultivated land “the common property of the human race,” Paine stated that property is necessary in a society with buildings and agriculture, but that since all “improvements” take place on land that naturally belongs collectively to mankind, property-owners naturally have a debt to those who do not own property.
He outlines a system in which the wealthy pay taxes for all their income, and that those taxes are used to provide for the needy. Remarking that financial support for the elderly is “not the nature of a charity but of a right,” Paine suggested setting up a national fund that would pay the living expenses for everyone over age 50, as well as the “lame and the blind.” Adjusted for inflation and our pesky increasing life expectancy, that’s Social Security– invented by liberals and loathed by conservatives.
There’s more. Thomas Paine also suggested that poor families receive a credit every year to help support the cost of feeding and housing every child under they age of 14. This has existed since the Clinton era in the form of the Child Tax Credit, which Republicans staunchly opposed—because, hey, if you can’t feed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em, right?
Once those kids came of age, Paine stated that they were owed a one-time payment of 15 pounds to help them get a start in life, ensuring that even poor young adults would be given some opportunity at success. Instead, a couple-hundred years later, our young adults are saddled with five-digit student loan debt—if they’re privileged enough to go to college to begin with– by the time they reach their 21st birthdays.
Want to pick a different idol to worship, Glenn Beck?
Thomas Jefferson is one of those rare presidents who most people agree was pretty cool. Liberals and conservatives alike tend to like him — 89% of people say they view him “favorably” — despite the fact that he was totally okay with slavery and repeatedly raped his slave Sally Hemings, who mothered six of his children.
Thomas Jefferson was the guy who established separation of church and state
But in case that is not enough evidence that Jefferson wasn’t the guy we want to remember him as, there are his many letters and statements regarding religion—and they’re not what conservatives would want. As many an angry Republican has pointed out, the constitution itself does not actually contain the phrase “separation of church and state.”
Somebody else said that — Thomas Jefferson. The entirety of his >statement was:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.Yes, conservatives: Jefferson was the one who first and most openly suggested that you don’t get to use your religion to infringe on other people’s freedoms. Sorry, guys.
If there’s one historical figure who is deeply adored, and profoundly misunderstood, by conservatives, it’s Jesus of Nazareth. Now, we’re not going to argue with anyone over whether Jesus performed miracles or whether or not he was God, because these things are ultimately pretty irrelevant to what his political beliefs were. And whether you think Jesus of Nazareth was God, a prophet, a teacher, or just some Jew who lived 2000ish years ago, there are some things about the guy that are pretty clear.
Jesus of Nazareth was a political activist and a socialist.
For example, we know that Jesus was a political activist. You remember Reza Aslan, the Iranian-American who was the subject of the most humiliating interview Fox News has ever done? In his book Zealot, he—speaking as an educated historian, not the Big Bad Muslim out to get you—points out that, in Jesus’s time and place, crucifixion was a punishment reserved for political revolutionaries. Jesus was crucified for the crimes of sedition and treason. He was into the idea of overthrowing an unfair government way before it was cool.
Now, let’s take a look at what Biblical accounts of Jesus had to say about him. At one point, 5,000 people followed Jesus out into the desert wanting food. His disciples were worried because they had only five loaves of bread and two fish—not enough for 5,000 people—but he told them to distribute the food freely within the crowd, and somehow, everyone was fed.
Maybe the “miracle” here wasn’t that Jesus did a trick that made massive amounts of food from very little. Maybe the miracle was that he gave what he had even when it looked like wasn’t enough, and, seeing the example, those in the crowd who did have food began to share. The fish and loaves miracle wasn’t a magic trick: it was a way of showing that when people choose to share, they will be happy and well-fed.
The Bible gives plenty of other accounts of what most people would call “socialism” on Jesus’s behalf. In Matthew 25:31-46, he said that God will judge people by how they treated the “least” among themselves. He commanded that people serve him by caring for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned—yes, even those dirty, rotten criminals. There is no “unless they’re gay,” or “unless they really deserve to be in prison,” or “unless they’re just lazy and won’t get a job,” here. It’s unconditional. Those who don’t do as he says? It’s Hell for them, and Heaven for those who helped the needy.
He also said that the wealthy sell what they have and give it to the poor, and when some of them refused—screaming for a tax cut, we suppose– Jesus made it pretty clear that they’d just sold their tickets to Heaven. It is easier,” he said, “for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Well, since the chances of a camel walking through the eye of a needle are exactly zero, we’re going to assume that, if there’s a Heaven, there aren’t many one-percenters there.
We’re not sure why it is that Conservatives seem so Hell-bent on misinterpreting the political beliefs of their favorite icons, but it seems to be the norm, not the exception. Note to Conservatives: idolize whoever you want. Just make sure you do your research to find out what they actually believe before claiming to share their opinions.