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History has become a political weapon

In 2007, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons was taking a lot of heat for trying to remove a state gambling regulator who had been appointed by the previous governor. To make the case, a Gibbons spokesperson said the governor “feels that moving forward with Keith Munro’s politically motivated appointment would be undermining the tradition of the Gaming Control Board being apolitical. That would be moving back to the dark ages when politics and personal interests ruled the Gaming Control Board. This administration is not for sale.”

It was a subtle and sleazy way of saying there was something shady about Munro and his appointment. And as it happened, there were no “dark ages” in the history of Nevada’s Control Board. The state has been remarkably fortunate in its regulators. I can remember only one or two serious claims against the dozens who have served.

Ed Pearce, one of the state’s most experienced journalists who grew up in the state, responded to the governor, “But on the other hand, we have the governor’s press secretary saying, ‘Hey, listen, that was a very political appointment, and it hearkens back to the dark ages, the bad old days of state gaming control.’ I was searching my brain to try to remember what those bad old days were because the Gaming Control Board from the beginning has, I think, been where Nevada’s reputation for good gaming control has (been).”

It was amazing that Gibbons didn’t get away with his little ploy. Nevada has such terrific population turnover that it’s rare when a reporter in the state has the institutional memory to correct an elected official’s claim about something that happened in the 1960s or ’70s.

Moreover, it’s not like journalists, much less the populace, knows U.S. history all that well, which is why so many politicians get away with misrepresenting history. Indeed, distortion of history has become a principal political weapon in today’s polarized politics.

Want an example? Here’s one that both Republicans and Democrats like to rewrite — the Wall Street meltdown. It happened in 2008, in the last months of the W. (George W. Bush) administration.

The meltdown was caused in large part by Congress’s enactment of a law called the Gramm­-Leach-­Bliley Act and the repeal of a law called the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. During the meltdown, U.S. Senate Democratic floor leader Harry Reid of Nevada attacked the Republicans for pushing these measures through.

What Reid didn’t mention was that Democratic President Bill Clinton had demanded the bill and most Senate Democrats, including Reid, voted for it.

OK, jump forward a year or so. Right-wing sources like Lawrence Kudlow, Lou Dobbs and Fox News have begun blaming the 2008 meltdown on President Barack Obama, who didn’t take office until 2009. They’re rewriting history, too.

Recently, investigative journalist Robert Parry reported on the way “many Americans have been sold on a false recounting of the nation’s founding narrative. They have bought the Right’s made­up story line about the Constitution’s framers detesting a strong federal government and favoring states’ rights.”

A few days ago, an opinion survey indicated that Louisiana Republicans blame the federal response to Hurricane Katrina on Obama, who took office three years after the event. I don’t know if Louisiana Republican leaders have been spreading that notion, but it doesn’t matter. That’s one case in which the public should be smart enough to sort out the truth for themselves.

Dennis Myers is a veteran and Nevada journalist.

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