A Conservative Wishtory of the United States

My friend Jack Hitt has a funny piece in The New Yorker listing misstatements about American history by conservative politicians, beginning with these doozies: 

1500s: The American Revolutionary War begins: “The reason we fought the revolution in the sixteenth century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown.”—Rick Perry

1607: First welfare state collapses: “Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow.”—Dick Armey

1619-1808: Africans set sail for America in search of freedom: “Other than Native Americans, who were here, all of us have the same story.”—Michele Bachmann

1775: Paul Revere “warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”—Sarah Palin

1775: New Hampshire starts the American Revolution: “What I love about New Hampshire… You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world.”—Michele Bachmann

[Ed. note: One of these claims seems much closer to being true: see page 1336-38 of Property in Land].

Freakonomics Nation: can we produce an analogous list of historical misstatements by liberal pols? We’ll give out some Freakonomics swag to a clear winner or two. 

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  1. Nate says:

    Joe Biden – FDR went on tv to reassure the American people after the Stock Market crash

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  2. Mike says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Steve Nations says:

      After touching down, the astronauts went through their post-landing checklist. So they both said several things before Armstrong finally said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here.” So Perry is wrong here, even though I would bet the vast majority of people would think he’s right.

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      • MikeM says:

        The first words spoken ON the moon would be whatever the astronauts uttered to each other in their post-landing checklists. But the first word FROM the moon would be the first word transmitted to Earth, or anywhere else, FROM the moon. That would be ‘Houston’ since it begins the first transmission, as I understand it.

        Not to mention the fact that the New Yorker piece alludes to Neil Armstrong making a historic utterance. The piece is not suggesting the first words were within the lander; it is clearly confusing the first word from the moon with the first word after stepping down from the lander.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        The radio was on when Eagle transmitted “Contact light.” CAPCOM responded to that set of comments with “We copy you down, Eagle.” The official transcript ( http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/mission_trans/AS11_PAO.PDF ) is pretty long, but you can find the relevant passage by searching for “Eagle has landed”, which only appears once.

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      • MikeM says:

        Alright, I stand corrected. But still, Jack Hitt implies Perry should have known the first word was Armstrong’s famous “that’s” instead of the far less famous “contact.” It’s quibbling over technical details, not failing to grasp history.

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      • Steve Nations says:

        I agree with MikeM, that although Perry is technically wrong, it’s not like he’s rewriting history to any significant degree, or making an egregious mistake that’s worthy of ridicule. A little perspective on this one would help.

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  3. Walter Wimberly says:

    The first part of Palin’s statement is also true. The British were coming to arrest several individuals (leaders) and seize the militia’s cache of arms.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Revere's_Ride#Modern – among others.

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    • James Curran says:

      But the important point here (and why Palin’s statement is wrong), is that by her wording, she’s saying that the *purpose* of Paul Revere’s ride was to warn (or taunt) the British, when it was actually to roust the Minutemen. That Revere may have told the British later that we were ready for them is largely irrelevant.

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  4. Brian says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Molly says:

      I think a very “anything” mindset leads to misstatements. That’s because if you have bought into any belief system, you naturally view everything through that lens. If your belief system is extreme — conservative, liberal, religious cult — you have to see real life as distorted, because in general, real life is not extreme.

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    • Kotter says:

      You’re joking, right? Why would a misstatement by a liberal pol be largely made-up but conservative misstatements be accurate? Explain how that is possible. The conservative mindset leads itself to historical dissonance? What tripe.

      I guess liberals have don’t suffer from historical dissonance –

      1. Keynesian stimulus spending always creates long-term economic growth.
      2. History has proven that taxing and spending is a good idea
      3. We shouldn’t provoke the Soviets by building up our defense because it will lead to world war
      4. Changes in tax policy has no impact on people’s behavior – if we increase taxes by 10%, that will absolutely lead to exactly 10% more tax revenue
      5. Che Guevera is a revolutionary hero, not a despicable mass-murderer
      6. More people are in prison and crime has gone way down, which means we should have fewer prisons and incarcerate fewer people

      There are plenty a lot of ill-informed politicians on both sides of the aisle, but for you to actually believe what you wrote the above means that you are not only ill-informed but delusional. Of course I could do the same thing – At least 75% of Liberals wet the bed/don’t wash their hands after they go to the bathroom/kick their dogs/make stupid statements on economics blogs.

      That has about as much validity as your ridiculous contention. But to your point, here are a few examples that show that idiotic proclamations are not confined to one side of the political aisle (and please don’t turn around and say ‘Oh yeah, well Bush was worse’ – as I said and as shown above, both sides say idiotic things, almost certainly in equal amounts):

      “There’s a lot of — I don’t know what the term is in Austrian — wheeling and dealing …”
      “And in Creole, Corpse-man Brossard responded…..”
      “I’ve now been in 57 states — I think one left to go.”
      “The notion that any job is better than no job no longer applies” (a bit of NY local idiocy)
      ”My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”
      ”Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”
      “We do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac, and particularly Fannie Mae, under the outstanding leadership of Frank Raines.”
      “You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

      I could go on, but I hope you get the point and stop saying such ludicrous things.

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      • rationalrevolution says:

        I’ve never heard a single person state any of those things…

        Provide quotes…

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      • Lawrence says:

        What are your sources for those quotes, and to whom are you attributing them?

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      • Molly says:

        Dude, folks, if you can’t find these quotes by using cut and paste and Google, well, I’m not sure what to say.

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      • Tom says:

        Thank GOD for this post. I’m starting to think everyone has gone crazy. Thanks, Kotter.

        I remember when Howard Dean told an ensemble of college students: “The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is ‘okay’ to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is”

        This struck me as the most egregious example ever because: 1.) the Kelo decision had JUST happened, it’s not like some revisionist history with a particularly ambitious drift had had years to teeter off course. 2.) Bush had not yet appointed a SINGLE supreme court justice, and there is no way Howard Dean didn’t know that. 3.) The dissenters were all conservative and the 5 vote majority had the whole liberal bloc.

        I vividly remember this because I was approached at a college party by someone unsure whether to become a drunk or a political activist and the thing he was really angry about was eminent domain laws and he blamed Bush. I went home and did a little research and realized that someone like Howard Dean peddled this nonsense to him. But the swiftness of the execution and the fact that 1.) Dean believed he could get away with saying this in public and 2.) people actually BELIEVED him in this age of instant information and 24 hours news was when I realized that there really are no limits to what people believe. Of course no one outside of a few fringe blogs actually reported on this – the media doesn’t eat their own.

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  5. BW says:

    “In our country during the ’50s and ’60s, black churches were burned to intimidate civil rights workers. I have vivid and painful memories of black churches being burned in my own state when I was a child.”

    President Bill Clinton

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  6. frankenduf says:

    of course one of the ironies here is that the repubs want to replace school children’s history books with ‘approved’ texts

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      When you argue for a side, you are seeking to represent that side. As such, it is vital to avoid embarrassing it. I’d suggest that the use of scare quotes is not helping your side. Furthermore, textbooks do generally need to be approved, and that much is reasonable and good. Confining yourself to complaints about the content of the textbooks that Texas approves would serve your cause far better. Doing it by referring to the terrible changes they’ve specifically requested in the past would be better still.

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  7. James says:

    While I don’t keep track of liberal politicians’ misstatements of fact (even if I paid attention, I haven’t the memory capacity), I do note a few statements in that article that are actually true. For instance, “September 11, 2001: Nothing happened: “We had no domestic attacks under Bush.”—Rudy Giuliani” is true: 9/11 was a FOREIGN attack. Likewise, a good many of the founders DID oppose slavery, there iIS a growing body of scientific evidence showing that moderate levels of radiation are not harmful, etc.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_terrorism_in_the_United_States contains 2 entries during Bush’s term; one is quite clear-cut. None of those founders “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States” unless you have an example of one surviving to 1865. Anne Coulter claimed radiation could “reduce cases of cancer” not merely fail to do substantive harm.

      If you want to snipe at the article, here’s some better material: It makes arbitrary extra claims, like saying the Constitution banned slavery, which is false like what Michelle Bachman said but still isn’t what she said. Also, it conflates errors in what occurred with momentary slips of the tongue no one would defend later, like the 16th century thing, which are embarrassing but entirely different.

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      • James says:

        I wasn’t claiming that Guiliani’s claim of no domestic terrorism was true, but rather that the article’s implication that 9/11 was a domestic attack is false.

        Likewise, the article implies that all the founders were supporters of slavery, which is false, and there is some evidence that higher than average background radiation is associated with lower cancer risk, for instance Colorado vs Massachusetts. See e.g. http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/C/CancerRisk.html

        Unfortunately for politicians and their critics, both left and right, we don’t live in a world of strict Boolean logic: sometimes (often, IMHO) both sides are wrong.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        I suppose I misread your sentence regarding Giuliani then; I don’t think it makes your intent very clear.

        The article doesn’t imply that all founders supported slavery anywhere that I see.

        It does seem to be true that there exists some evidence in favor of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_hormesis . It seems that two US research bodies and a UN one don’t think it’s enough or legitimate, although Ann Coulter is in the strange position of being backed by France (for non-humans in a laboratory environment).

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    • Enter your name... says:

      It depends on what you mean by “domestic attack”: is that “attack that hit a domestic target” or “attack perpetrated by a domestic person or organization”?

      Timothy McVeigh was a domestic person who hit a domestic target. Should Germany have considered the carpet-bombing of Dresden by the US and Britain to be a “domestic attack”? If not, then the US shouldn’t consider the 9/11 attacks to be domestic attacks. If so, then it should. I think reasonable people might have different definitions here.

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  8. Seminymous Coward says:

    He may not have actually said it, but I want the stuff enough to at least mention that Al Gore invented the Internet sometime in the 1977-1986-ish timeframe. Besides, some of the original article’s entries’ falsity rests on deliberately uncharitable interpretations, too.

    I’m sure some liberal has been caught publicly claiming stuff about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree, Vikings visiting Minnesota, Columbus discovering just about anything, Benjamin Franklin flying a kite, and the like. I don’t think those are very substantive, though; they don’t really represent a difference from conservatives, just a prevailing lack of fact checking.

    If you want serious answers, Politifact has some, but most aren’t very pithy. For example, President Obama said when President Franklin D. Roosevelt started Social Security, “it only affected widows and orphans” when in fact they were tied for the second category to be covered (after retired workers) starting about 4 years later.

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    • rationalrevolution says:

      Actually, All Gore never said that he invented the internet, that itself was conservative propaganda, and Al Gore was instrumental in the transformation of the internet into an open system available to the public. It was created as an academic and military system, and a lot fo conservatives wanted to keep it that way, but Al Gore pushed forward legislation making it possible for businesses to engage in e-commerce on it, etc.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        If you really want, you can substitute “He did not actually say it” for “He may not have actually said it” at the very beginning of my comment. I apologize if you found it unclear. I was not claiming he said it, as I’m familiar with the sourcing.

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