That’s the question that greets visitors to the Tuttle Twins website, which sells libertarian children’s books. The books, written by Connor Boyack, are intended to protect children from “socialism and awakening” that, according to the website, American educational and cultural institutions are “pushing into the minds of our children.” A cartoon on the site shows a mother wielding a Tuttle Twins shield as she shields her frightened children from her, soaking up the arrows of socialism, Marxism, collectivism and “media lies.”
The Tuttle Twins books, regularly promoted by right-wing radio host Glenn Beck, range from board books to graphic novels to economics study guides. They join a growing array of conservative children’s literature and programming that coincides with current right-wing attacks on children’s schools and entertainment that conservatives say are sites of political and sexual indoctrination.
Add in the Daily Wire’s promise to spend $100 million on conservative children’s shows to oppose Disney in its conflict with Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Glenn Beck’s secretive new Project Florida, launched to counter the so-called gay” from Disney. and you have the rise of a complete entertainment complex for children right. Their only mission: fight what the right wing sees as liberal indoctrination with some indoctrination of their own.
That idea of indoctrination has been a central part of the conservative project for decades, justified by the argument that the mainstream media and educational institutions were already indoctrinating consumers, whether students, readers or audiences, with liberal values. When William F. Buckley Jr., who would later found the conservative National Review, argued against liberal orthodoxy at Yale University in his 1951 book “God and Man at Yale,” he was not advocating free politics. Politics. education, but he insisted that Yale apply a conservative economic and political orthodoxy.
Similarly, Fox News, despite claims of being “fair and balanced,” was created decades later to be the conservative alternative in a news environment that its founders insisted was hopelessly liberal. The same could be said for PragerU, developed as a right-wing alternative to the rest of higher education.
It is surprising, then, that the right has taken so long to bet on entertainment and children’s literature. That’s partly because children’s literature has been full of moral lessons and social values for a long time. In colonial-era America, books like New England Primer instructed children while teaching them the alphabet, warning against idleness and lack of faith. Well into the 20th century, children’s books instilled conservative values, such as the 1945 children’s book “Tootle,” a story about an adventurous train whose final message was a warning against straying from the approved path.
Those were, of course, not the only message contained in children’s books. Dr. Seuss books taught children the dangers of discrimination, the benefits of environmentalism, and the dangers of war. And in the 1980s and 1990s, new books like “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Growing Up Gay” introduced children to families and identities that most conservatives rejected.
By the 1990s, a backlash was mounting against this more expansive, Disney-centric children’s literature and entertainment. In addition to owning the publisher behind “Heather Has Two Mommies,” the company extended health care coverage to partners of LGBTQ employees. That led to the Southern Baptist Convention’s unsuccessful boycott of Disney in the mid-1990s.
But it also led to a series of conspiracies about Disney: that the company was incorporating subliminal messages about sex and sexuality into its movies in an effort to brainwash children. Then-radio host Mike Pence expressed that view when he argued in a 1999 op-ed that the animated movie “Mulan” was liberal propaganda aimed at destroying traditional gender roles: “I suspect some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that the story from Mulan will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude towards women in combat and they may be right.”
Such hand-wringing sparked the first wave of openly right-wing children’s literature, a phenomenon English professor Michelle Ann Abate tracks in her book “Raising Your Kids Right: Children’s Literature and American Political Conservatism.” Abate argues that while children’s books had long contained moral and political messages, the 1990s saw the rise of a right-wing children’s literature that was more overtly political, closely tied to the culture wars and political biases that are found in conservative media and politics.
Some of these new books were humorous satires aimed more at parents than at children. The 1994 book “Politically Correct Bedtime Stories” was a trap for adults who worried about political correctness, but would have been unnerving for kids looking for a bedtime story. Similarly, a book like Truax, a Lorax-friendly response to logging sponsored by the Environmental Committee of the National Association of Wood Flooring Manufacturers, is so densely written and terrifyingly illustrated that it probably never made it into the book. dearest to any child.
By the 2000s, right-wing pundits were slowly beginning to make inroads into the children’s book space. Bill O’Reilly published two embarrassing advice books for teenagers, “The O’Reilly Factor for Kids” and “Kids Are Americans Too.” A few years later, Rush Limbaugh followed up with his Rush Revere series, time travel stories about the founding era of the United States.
Such books were extensions of the brands of the experts. Today’s right-wing media aimed at children is something different: an effort to develop a completely independent and complete entertainment industry to supplant everything from Dr. Seuss (with a few exceptions) to the Disney Channel. The goal is to seal off the children of conservatives from the larger culture, to protect them from so-called liberal indoctrination in anticipation of conservative indoctrination.
In addition to this political project, there is also an economic one. Right-wing radio host Dan Bongino regularly exhorts his listeners and supporters to build “a parallel media economy,” and this new right-wing children’s entertainment industry is part of that. Which means we can expect to see more fights over schools and cartoons and board books for little kids and also more invocations of “brainwashing” and “grooming.” Because many on the right know that it is not only good for their politics, but also for their pocketbooks.