It’s not that they don’t know their history, it’s that it doesn’t fit their narrative

As I noted a few posts ago, Tea Party favorite, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, mentioned in a speech this past weekend that our founding fathers had worked tirelessly to end slavery in America. Her exact words, as she was going on about the sanctity of the Constitution, were, “(W)e also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.” Which, of course, we know from first grade history class, is not even remotely true. Many of the founding fathers in fact owned slaves, and Americans would continue to own slaves through the Civil War, many decades after the death of our last remaining founding father. My initial thought was to chalk it up to Bachmnn being stupid, but right now I’m watching Chris Mathews interview Tea Party Express co-founder Sal Russo, and I’m having second thoughts. Russo, if you can believe it, refuses to contradict Bachmann, and I have to think there’s a reason. Here’s the video:

Anyway, now that I watch this, I don’t think that it’s an accident. I think it’s very likely that Bachman purposely misrepresents American history in order to paint a more positive portrait of our country at its founding, which, given the Tea Party’s insistence on getting our country back to those simpler, happier, pre-antibiotic times, only makes sense. Here, on those happier times, is a quote from Bachmann.

…How unique in all of the world, that one nation that was the resting point from people groups all across the world. It didn’t matter the color of their skin, it didn’t matter their language, it didn’t matter their economic status. Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn’t that remarkable?…

Chris Mathews, it would seem, agrees with me. Here’s a quote taken from his interview with Russo.

…You’re trying to teach some new religion of America that has to do with the infallibility of our founding fathers – some sort of new, almost scriptural, notion of American history that somehow goes back to some perfection time that we’re trying to recover. You guys are trying to sell that everything was perfect back in the Federalist period, back in the late 18th Century, so that you can keep saying that we’ve got to go back to that – where everybody has got a musket, and everybody has got a small farm, and everything was perfect. That’s what you’re trying to sell. But you’ve scrubbed our history of slavery. I think it’s a desecration…

And this isn’t new. We saw this same thing just a few weeks ago when the Republicans in Congress decided to start the new legislative session with a complete reading of the Constitution…. conveniently leaving out, of course, that part about the “three-fifths compromise” under which slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of determining representation. That, it would seem, didn’t fit so well with the “good ol’ days” narrative that the teapartified Republican party was pushing.

But what should we expect from a country that would accept teen mother Bristol Palin as a spokesperson for abstinence?

We’re through the looking glass here.

This isn’t about reality any more. The sooner we get that through our heads, the better off we’ll be. This is about a sizable and growing segment of the American population opting out of the complicated and stressful real world we find ourselves in, and choosing instead to believe that there was once a time when things were easy, and, unburdened by the constraints of “big government,” men reached their full potential as rugged individuals. It’s about selling narratives that make us feel good about ourselves, and, right now, the Tea Partiers have us beat. I say it’s time for us to come up with a ridiculous fantasy vision of the future that’s even more compelling than theirs of the past. I think it should involve, among other things, free buffets and zero-g sex with promiscuous Star Fleet recruits.

[Tonight’s post was brought to you by Lady Gaga’s blood and semen perfume.]

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  1. Josh
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    look at the unreasonable bullshit bachman quote – a nice, crisp 4 lines – and then compare with the reasonable, truthful one. more than double that! no wonder people don’t listen to sense. it’s way harder!

    first liberal politician to adopt the tried-and-true “catchphrasing” technique wins 1,000,000 internet bucks.

  2. Posted January 27, 2011 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    This isn’t new. The right in just about every country I know of takes a selective view of history, whitewashing and rewriting the parts they don’t like and using their revisionist tools to maintain power.

    Lefties do it, too, but not to the same extent and not with the same goals. On the left, I would just chock it up to ignorance and gross oversimplification.

    People don’t care whether it’s true or not. They just want somebody to tell them what to think.

    It’s sad that Bachmann, Flea Baggers and Constitutionalists have set up the Founding Fathers as this mythical, unfailing, monolithic entity. They fail to realize that it was through their disagreements and failings as people that the Constitution was born.

    By whitewashing early American politics, we fail to get a sense of what challenges they faced, the complexities of setting up an early democracy and how far we’ve come since then, particularly in regards to human rights and slavery. We have much work to do, but this constant erasing will only set us back.

  3. Knox
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    It had never occurred to me that Bachmann might not be stupid. The thought is kind of terrifying.

  4. lorie thom
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    be afraid, be very afraid

  5. Tommy
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    How Minnesota can elect a guy like Wellstone and someone like Bachman is really hard to figure out.

    I still cannot stand the way that Mathews ‘interviews’ people. Asking a question then interrupting a guy twenty times while he tries to hang himself is incredibly annoying

  6. Edward
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of when Republicans make the claim, as they often do, that there were no domestic terrorist attacks when Bush was president. They create their own reality.

  7. TeacherPatti
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    As I drove into school yesterday, I had the Hair Band channel on Sirius and a song by Tesla came on. It got me to thinking about how the real Tesla was all but left out of history books and how interesting his story is. This got me thinking about how the people that write the history books really have a lot of power. Now your post makes me fear that somehow these f’in people are gonig to end up on school boards or as history book editors and, in 20 years, I’ll have kids in Detroit correcting me to tell me that slavery never existed in the United States. And then I will go on a rant that will make the clouds fall from the skies.

  8. Mr. X
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Sorry, Patti, but it’s already happening.

  9. Posted January 27, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    School officials in the South already tell kids that slavery didn’t happen,

    or that Africans wanted to come and be bought and sold because life in Africa was so god awful,

    or that Europeans were not wrong to enslave people since Africans sold other Africans,

    or that slaves were treated well because they were property and owners had to protect their investments,

    or that black people were better off under slavery because they can’t take care of themselves,

    or that the Civil wasn’t about slavery,

    or that it was dying out when the Civil War happened

    or that it just never happened at all.

    Already happening.

    My opinion is that they should make all those fucking huge ante-bellum Mississippi homes that white people love so much into museums about the horrors of slavery and how sick and wrong it is to buy and sell other humans.

    If they can’t do that, they should just burn them the fuck down.

  10. Tommy
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    God how I wish someone with the balls, intelligence, and verbal skills of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X were around today to set the record straight, put these fools in their place, and fuck the tea Party’s shit up. All of us should be ashamed, but that seems to be lost in today’s lexicon.

  11. Kim
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    It’s not a coincidence that both of those men you mentioned were gunned down.

  12. Oliva
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    A while back I left a comment (wrong time for it, though–was just after the horrible shooting in Tucson, was out of place and a litle mixed-up). I had heard a discussion by the people who over many years have re-created the Pennsylvania White House, had stopped renovation of Liberty Bell building because it would have covered the slave quarters used when George Washington brought nine (maybe) slaves to Pennsylvania from Virginia. I had thought Pennsylvania had already outlawed slavery by then, and he did sneak them there, but after all i think it wasn’t strictly illegal. But Pennsylvania was working on making it illegal. So it was still eye-opening to me that, despite many impressive qualities, our first president, who begrudgingly served anyway so we could cut him some slack and be grateful for the good, it wasn’t on the up-and-up that he brought slaves for about six years when he lived at the Pennsylvania White House. I’d better go relisten and learn more. But it’s intriguing. And Bachmann is abhorrent, whether uninformed or lying on purpose. And it is so scary about some school boards’ choices and some of the lying textbooks ordered for too my schools.

    And then there was a piece the other day about both Adams and Jefferson having wanted government-run health care: Tea Partiers, bah humbug (to put it gently–the damagers of American lives, is what they represent to me).

    And then there is the excellent book, to become a PBS film (will appear in 2012,–-fall-2011/), by Douglas Blackmon Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II (I sent Chris Matthews the title, in case he doesn’t know the book, hope he’ll invite the author on–wish Bachmann would have to watch the film publicly, for us all). Here’s a tiny excerpt from the book’s synopsis, c/o Blackmon’s book’s site,

    The [roughly hundred-year-long] neoslavery system exploited legal loopholes and federal policies which discouraged prosecution of whites for continuing to hold black workers against their wills. As it poured millions of dollars into southern government treasuries, the new slavery also became a key instrument in the terrorization of African Americans seeking full participation in the U.S. political system.

    Blackmon is a WSJ journalist. Thank goodness for his strong standards and spirit and abilities because that paper is not necessarily a nurturing context from which to produce this fine, important book.

  13. Oliva
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Just saw at the film production’s web site ( that there will be an educational outreach element when the film is released, also a web-based interactive piece in cooperation with StoryCorps. But I thought these opening lines were interesting–here this Pulitzer Prize-winning book seeks to illuminate the long stubborn hold of slavery for a hundred years following its formal end, and one can imagine great resistance to that assertion, despite meticulous scholarship and documentation. But now we have a member of Congress deliberately (or not) trying to mislead Americans about what we know is true and what the site calls one of our country’s “most cherished assumptions.”

    Anyway, from the site:

    National Productions is developing Slavery by Another Name, a multi-part PBS project based upon the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journal writer Douglas Blackmon. Slavery by Another Name challenges one of our country’s most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The documentary recounts how in the years following the Civil War, insidious new forms of forced labor emerged in the American South, keeping hundreds of thousands of African Americans in bondage, trapping them in a brutal system that would persist until the onset of World War II. [Boldface added]

  14. Oliva
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Pardon several typos, btw.

  15. Kim
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Oliva. You’re the best.

    Here’s something else to consider. It’s a quote from an Alternet piece by Andrew Belonsky.

    Tea Party leaders are fusing a notion of Christian superiority with revisionist American history to create a new exceptionalist narrative. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who led the Tea Party insurgency in the midterm elections for U.S. Senate, proclaimed the Tea Party movement to be a “spiritual renewal” in an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. And in a November 2010, speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Mike Pence of Indiana, who is said to be exploring a White House bid, made an explicit connection between American free enterprise, exceptionalism and Christianity.

    “The free market is what made America’s economy the greatest in the world,” Pence declared. “To renew American exceptionalism, we must recognize that our present crisis is not merely economic, but moral in nature… As we seek to build national wealth, we must renew our commitment to the institutions that nurture the character of our people — traditional family and religion.”

    DeMint, meanwhile, offered his own take on the same idea: “You cannot be a real fiscal conservative if you do not understand the value of a culture that’s based on values,” DeMint said in his speech at the Values Voter Summit in September. “When you have a big government, you’re going to have a little God. You’re going to have fewer values and morals….”

    You’ll find the rest of the article here.

  16. Art
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Speaking of history, I learned from Sarah Palin last night that the Soviet Union went bankrupt because of their investment in the Sputnik program.

  17. Mike Shecket
    Posted January 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    As I’ve said before, it doesn’t matter what the truth is; just be the first one to tell people what to believe and generally they’ll believe it. Most people don’t want to have to bother to think for themselves.

    Also, three important strategies for today’s political environment:

    1. Accuse your opponent of being or doing EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what they actually do or are.

    2. Think of your own greatest weakness. Then, ACCUSE YOUR OPPONENT of having that weakness.

    3. Think of your opponent’s greatest strength. Make up a reason that it’s actually a bad thing and then LAMBASTE THEM FOR IT.

  18. Meta
    Posted January 28, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    If they love the constitution so much why do they want to change the 4th amendment?

  19. Kim
    Posted January 28, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    A little good news. Washington University is backing out of the deal to have Bristol Palin speak about abstinence for $20K.

  20. James Madison
    Posted January 29, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    The idea that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly, one and all, to end slavery is absurd on the face of it. The constitution we wrote greatly enhanced the power of the slaveholding class in the South — and in fact, doing so was the price required for keeping the South Carolinians in the United States. And this Minnesota congress woman seem to think John Quincy Adams was one of the Founding Fathers. He wasn’t. He was an important leader in the early years of the Republic, but his dad, not himself, was one of the Founding Fathers; and even Mr. John Adams, while of the founding generation, had nothing to do with writing the constitution in 1787. He wasn’t there, but I was. John Quincy Adams was of course a true anti-slavery leader in Congress in his long, distinguished career as a congressman, in the years after he was turned out of the White House in the election of 1828; and he’d not have lost that election without the benefit that the 3/5 compromise provided to the slaveholding candidate Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, in the electoral college. Likewise, Mr Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in 1800 as a result of that very same 3/5 clause; it worked precisely as the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia meant it to work: It enhanced the slaveholders’ political power.

    Back in 1787, I was all for giving the slaveholding class what no such class had ever held in modern Western history: the domination of a national government. As a ghost, watching the events of 1861-65, I came to doubt retrospectively, the wisdom of that choice in 1787. We founding fathers weren’t saints, and we weren’t even particularly farsighted, and our decisions were the result of compromise, not of eternal wisdom.

  21. Posted January 29, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    Forget it James. In 2011, the “Founding Fathers” are a homogeneous group with single mind and purpose, stripped of everything that made them in the least bit interesting.

  22. Oliva
    Posted January 29, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Excellent BookTV (C-SPAN2) offering tonight, re-airing tomorrow afternoon, 30 Jan., Sun., at 2 pm and on 7 Feb., Mon., at . . . 4 am (that one not such an optimal time). Might be available to watch online? Chris Hedges speaking at Powell’s Books in Portland on 1 Dec. 2010:

    Not all grim, his talk–even some laughter. He tells a deeply moving story during the Q&A about a Muslim Serb he met when he was covering the Bosnian war. Some yummy stuff about 1950s public intellectuals too–excellent reading suggestions. I’ve heard radio interviews, but seeing him talk really adds a lot–displays his compassion and all-embracing humanity, his earnestness and humility, which sometimes get hidden in the books and radio shows.

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