Yesterday, I sat in mouth-agape wonder as I watched a troupe of plucky, poorly animated children travel back in time and learn first-hand about how Ronald Reagan, with godlike virtue and unparalleled moral clarity, saved America from the twin scourges of communism and Jimmy Carter. This bluntly propagandistic vision of yesteryear was the “Reagan Revolution” installment of Mike Huckabee's series of children's cartoons called Learn Our History, which are less about getting children engaged with American history than they are indoctrinating them in right-wing mythology.
(Talking Points Memo last week dismantled Learn Our History's 9-11 cartoon, which suggests that George W. Bush killed Osama bin Laden.)
Here's the scenario: a culturally and geographically diverse collection of schoolchildren must do a report on the “Reagan Revolution,” so they fire up their time machine (designed, of course, by the math- and science-savvy Asian character) and head to the late 1970s to see the devastation of the Carter administration first-hand. Arriving in Washington, DC, they are immediately confronted by a mugger of undetermined ethnicity but unmistakable musical preference:
After failing to placate the mugger with offers of a free car ( “With gas prices today, what people need them cars for?” the mugger explains, hilariously) the kids manage to escape and learn some hard lessons about Jimmy Carter's economic and foreign policy weakness. While spying on a high-level diplomatic meeting, the kids hear a foreign dignitary explain: “Zis is why [Carter] gets no respect from ze Soviet Union! Zey respect ze fist, and laugh at ze veakness of ze outstretched hand!”
Several minutes of Carter-bashing later, the children travel to New Hampshire in 1980. And the undiluted Reagan propaganda begins in earnest:
The real highlight of the video, however, is the sequence on the Reagan assassination attempt, which -- well, you have to see it to believe it:
Remember: This video is being marketed as “history.” It's the version of history in which Ronald Reagan leaped out of his convalescence bed two days after being shot (still wearing the suit he was shot in, apparently) to boldly proclaim his vision for America's economic and foreign policy. Not surprisingly, the Reaganomics-for-kids lesson on the genius of tax cuts left out all the times Reagan raised taxes.
As the video comes to a close, the children travel back to the same DC street where the gas price-conscious disco mugger attacked them, only to discover that tax cuts have turned the entire community into an urban paradise. This leads to one of the cartoon's stranger moments. Speaking to an African American man who expounds on the genius of Reagan's tax cutting, one of the kids asks: “But didn't the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?” The man responds: “Actually, no. In fact, income for blacks is growing faster than it is for whites!” Okay... but the question was actually about poor people. Interesting conflation, though!
And, as a matter of fact, the Reagan years saw a tremendous spike in income inequality.
As creepy and over-the-top as the pro-Reagan propaganda is, the strangest parts of the cartoon are the subtle jabs at President Obama -- attacks that would make sense to the average consumer of right-wing talking points but would sail over the heads of the intended audience of young viewers.
Early in the video, the teacher asks her students to “imagine a world where America gets pushed around by other countries, the economy is in turmoil, people are losing their jobs, and the government is telling us what we can and can't do,” to which one of students responds: “Sounds a lot like today!”
And you may have noticed in the video above the paean to “American Exceptionalism” and the young girl's skeptical question: “But don't the British believe in British Exceptionalism? And the Greeks in Greek Exceptionalism?” Compare that to this 2009 Obama statement, which (taken out of context) has been the crux of many right-wing attacks on the president's patriotism: “I believe in American Exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British Exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek Exceptionalism.”
So the takeaway message from Huckabee's “Reagan Revolution” cartoon is that Jimmy Carter really sucks, Ronald Reagan was a tax-cutting demigod who descended from Olympus to trickle prosperity down on the American people, and minority groups were the clear winners of the Reagan sweepstakes. And that, we're asking our children to believe, is “history.”