By Bruce Wilson
Talk to Action, July 2, 2011
As covered by Media Matters, in The Making of America Skousen claimed that slave owners were the true "victims" of the institution of slavery:
Skousen is the author of several controversial works, including The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, which presented as "the story of slavery in America" a passage from a book that attacked abolitionists for delaying emancipation; cast slave owners as "the worst victims of the system"; claimed white schoolchildren "were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates"; and claimed that "[s]lavery did not make white labor unrespectable, but merely inefficient," because "the slave had a deliberateness of motion which no amount of supervision could quicken."
The Washington Independent's Dave Weigel was one of several media commenters who back in 2009 picked up this remarkable but now largely forgotten story, in a post noting that Texas governor Rick Perry had cited Skousen's book The 5,000 Year Leap while speaking at the 2009 Family Research Council 'Voter Values Summit' in Washington DC. Wondering why Cleon Skousen, recently exhumed from obscurity by Glenn Beck, had suddenly become so popular among leading GOP politicians, Weigel wrote,
"Perry's comments reminded me of a forgotten moment from the 2008 campaign, when Mitt Romney got into a heated exchange with a radio host who had theological objections to Mormonism. A grainy video of that exchange is here.
"Cleon Skousen has a book called `A Thousand Years,'" said Romney, arguing against the rumor that he believed the Second Coming would happen in Missouri. "Christ appears, it's throughout the Bible, Christ appears in Jerusalem, splits the Mount of Olives to stop the war that's coming to kill all the Jews. Our church believes that."
It's strange to hear prominent national Republicans telling people to read Skousen."
The incident, from a 2008 Romney appearance on an Iowa radio show, was also discussed by Mark Hemingway of National Review Online, who described,
"You and I share a common affection for the late Cleon Skousen," the radio host says. The former governor agrees, affirming Skousen was his professor and when the radio host professes his fondness for Skousen's book The Making of America, while he acknowledges he hasn't read it, Mitt quickly says "That's worth reading."
Hemingway provides some useful background on how fringe, in ideological terms, Cleon Skousen truly was:
Later in the 70s, Skousen accused the Council on Foreign Relations and the Rockefellers of puppeteering the election of Jimmy Carter to pave the way for One World Government, his new favorite topic. Things got so bad that the Mormon Church eventually issued an official communiqué distancing itself from Skousen's organization, the Freemen Institute."
But what does it mean? How much weight should we give Romney's endorsement of Skousen's writing? Hemingway opines,
"...in the video Governor Romney demonstrates more than a passing familiarity with Skousen's work...
I sincerely doubt that Mitt Romney believes anything near as outlandish as many of the things Cleon Skousen espoused, and to be fair Skousen wrote on numerous topics with wildly varying degrees of intellectual sobriety. In fact, as the radio host in the YouTube video notes, Skousen's writings on original intent and the U.S. Constitution in The Making of America are compellingly argued, and to this day are often cited by conservatives unaware of Skousen's more checkered writings."
Hemingway seems, however, to be unaware of Skousen's virulent views on slavery evinced in The Makings of America, and his treatment elides the context of Romney's plug for Skousen--the Second Coming which, as we well know, drags in the battle of Armageddon. Skousen's eschatological views don't get much notice, but Mitt Romney would seem to hold them in high regard.
But there's another side to the story. As Talk To Action co-founder Frederick Clarkson noted back in 2007, Mitt Romney drags some troublesome liberal baggage along with his penchant for Cleon Skousen:
He has not received as much support from the religious right as he had hoped. He has sought to be acceptable to conservatives and at the same time not-too-scary to moderates. He has also emphasized his recent conversion from being prochoice to being prolife, and sought to obscure his past support for gay and lesbian civil rights while emphasizing his position opposing marriage equality. During the recent GOP candidate debate in Florida, he refused to say, as he once did, that he looks forward to the day when gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military. Many -- especially many of us who live in Massachusetts -- take him as having few, if any, deep convictions. And (as far as I know) with the exception of Paul Weyrich, no major religious right leader is supporting him."
It's easy to envision Romney, as a candidate, pandering to the ideological fanaticism that has gripped the Republican Party and, were he to win the nomination, picking a true believer such as Michele Bachmann as a running mate, to shore up his evangelical base. And, in that context, Romney's penchant for Cleon Skousen might not be such a liability; it might even get him onto the Glenn Beck show.