Tag Archives: Tea Party

He Who Forgets History. . .

Paul_Reveres Ride

Paul_Reveres Ride

There is considerable irony in the fact that Tea Party groups have sought to legitimate their cause by choosing a name that evokes the Founding Fathers and the events that culminated in the writing of the Constitution and the birth of the Republic. For it is, in fact, these politicos who have conjured up and propagated a totally slipshod account of early American history. Of course, history is open to interpretation, and reinterpretation, but not to distortion of the facts. As Cass Sustein emphasizes in his book Republic.com 2.0, what’s alarming about today’s historical expediency is that, for many undiscerning people, it fills a gap in their historical knowledge, substituting fiction for fact.

Perhaps no one has gone further to link him or herself to the trappings of American history than Sarah Palin who, while coyly avoiding questions about her potential candidacy for President, undertook a bus tour of historical places as a means of educating Americans about their origins. (Presumably, if people understood American history, they would see the merits in Palin’s political positions) What hubris! The trip backfired, to say the least. Visiting the home of Paul Revere, Palin garbled the story of his ride, contending that Revere road to warn the British rather than the militia. When challenged by Fox News, Palin denied her gaffe, insisting that she “knew her American history.” So ended her tour, if not her presidential ambitions.

Palin is not alone in crafting historical events in accordance with her own political objectives. Speaking to the group Iowans for Tax Relief, Michele Bachmann claimed, for instance, that equality was not something that was contested and fought for, even at the expense of a civil war; rather, as she said, individuals, regardless of their origins, came to the United States and were treated as equals.

Slavery in America

Slavery in America

Acknowledging that slavery existed at the time, she contended that the Founding Fathers — especially John Quincy Adams–vowed to work for its elimination. No matter that a number of Founding Fathers–including Washington and Jefferson–were slave owners; that the Constitution counted slaves as three-quarters of a man; or that John Quincy Adams, a young boy at the time, was not a Founding Father.

Even more alarming than these individual cases is the formal rewriting of history, as in the recent case in Texas. Concerned that American textbooks veered too far to the left, the Texas Board of Education (comprised of ten Republicans and five Democrats) unabashedly voted to alter the American narrative to bolster a conservative perspective. Most outlandish of all, the Board voted to discount Thomas Jefferson’s role in providing the philosophical underpinnings of the new Republic, notwithstanding his authorship of the Declaration of Independence. As Fritz Fischer, national chairman of the National Council for History Education characterized it: This should not be a matter of partisanship, but rather of good history.

As George Santayana said, He who forgets history is doomed to repeat it. Might Santayana’s admonition provide a clue as to why Tea Party members, and others of their ilk, seek to distort it? I believe so. In fact, it would appear to me that today’s Conservatives would like nothing more than to return to a semi-mythical past when, according to their lights, life was much simpler, God prevailed, and Government was more circumspect. It’s time for a rereading, not a rewriting, of history.

Love Springs Forth in Springfield

Springfield, Colorado

Springfield, Colorado

I had never heard of Springfield, Colorado before. Springfield, Illinois: Yes. Springfield, Missouri: Yes. But Springfield, Colorado: Never. Have you? The sad fact is that we should all know about Springfield, Colorado. For Springfield is in the heart of the Dust Bowl. A terrifying, but also encouraging, lesson can be learned here–especially today–as we seek to deal with the recent oil spill off our Gulf Coast.

My introduction to Springfield Colorado proved to be a delightful affair–the wedding of my son Noah Evans to Sarah Moffett, a lovely young woman, who had grown up there.

Tea kettles were boiling; cultural wars raging; and this was Republican territory 

Although my husband Brock and I had already spent some time with Sarah’s parents–Joel and Sheila–as well as many other family members, we left Washington on the weekend of the wedding not knowing what to expect. After all, tea kettles were boiling; cultural wars were raging; and this was Republican territory. Along we came, east coast Democrats, and environmentalists to boot.

We were not the only ones who were somewhat tenuous about our final destination. Driving five hours from Denver, my husband stopped to ask a policeman for directions to Springfield. How were we to interpret his answer? The policeman had never heard of Springfield before! En route to the wedding from New Jersey, my son Stephen got similar vibes when the car rental representative at the airport advised him that there were far better places to visit in Colorado than Springfield.

And to be sure, from the perspective of a New Jersey girl, Springfield appeared somewhat stark, to say the least. Much of it seemed to live in the past. With many storefronts boarded up, there was not much to see. So, even arriving late at night, along a barren truck route that suddenly turned into Main Street, we found our destination–The Starlight Motel–straight away.

Haley, Ben & Sophie at Picture Canyon (courtesy Steve Garcia)

Haley, Ben & Sophie at Picture Canyon (courtesy Steve Garcia)

 A morning hike to, and exploration of, Picture Canyon provided a glimpse of the panoramic grasslands that make up part of the United States’ Eastern Plains. Accompanied by lots of wind and tumble weed, we climbed the rocks and eyed the delicate wildflowers pushing through the dry ground.

In Springfield, the ebullience and generosity of the Moffett clan pervaded the atmosphere, as we all gathered together in the backyard to witness the wedding of Sarah and Noah. A wonderful reception followed. Everyone–family, friends, young and old–pitched in. How else, one might ask, would it be possible to transform a large farm structure, on the family’s ranch property, into an elegant wedding ballroom, with delicious home-made food for all, where East met West, Red met Blue, and some–I am told–danced till three.

The Wedding of Sarah & Noah

The Wedding of Sarah & Noah

Back home, recovering from bronchitis (altitude + grasslands!), I sought to find out more about Springfield, Colorado, and its history as part of the Dust Bowl. Everyone recommended that I read The Worst Hard Times by Timothy Eagan. I am so glad I did! However, the book, which described how the people of the Plains not only helped to cause the great Dust Bowl, but also managed to survive it, haunts me still.  Now I understand, at a far greater depth, the long, lonely horizon that I saw on encountering Springfield. But I take hope knowing that the young people I met at the wedding are starting out with hopes anew, even as Sarah’s father, Joel, is working for the National Resources Conservation Service (established by President Roosevelt to deal with the crisis of the Thirties) to help restore and preserve the landscape’s future.  Perhaps there is hope for the Gulf as well.