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. Scott J says:

    The first quote from Rick Perry is not inaccurate. The years 1501 to 1600 are referred to as the sixteenth century.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Century#Start_and_end_in_the_Gregorian_Calendar

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    • ann n mouse says:

      I’ve never posted here, cuz everyone knows economics better than me… But come on! You are correct Scott, but why don’t you use that Wikipedia to also find out when the American Revolution started.

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  2. tmeier says:

    Found these without much digging.

    “we find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we’re all created equal.”

    Barack Obama

    “What does the Constitution say? To provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.”

    Senator Roland Burris

    “For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96%.”

    Barbara Walters

    “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

    Attributed to M. L. King Jr. on White House rug.

    Tell them (Jews) to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land. [after being asked where their home was:] Poland, Germany… and America and everywhere else.

    Helen Thomas

    “Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich.”

    Harry Belafonte

    “Go through the history of time. During the Salem witch hunt, the liberals thought there was no such thing as witches, and the conservative view was ‘They’re witches and they all have to die.’ ”

    George Clooney

    ”The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries.”

    Barack Obama

    “Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and Confederate swastika flying side by side.”

    Julian Bond

    “A nation (the United States) that continues, year after year, to spend more money on defense than social programs is nearing spiritual death.”

    Danny Glover

    “I do believe that it’s the first time in history (the World Trade Center collapse) that fire has ever melted steel.”

    Rosie O’Donnell

    ” I want to talk about a terrorist called Christopher Columbus. I want to talk about a terrorist called George Washington. I want to talk about a terrorist called Rudy Giuliani. The real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America.”

    Malik Zulu Shabazz

    ” It isn’t happening now, but I will tell you – there has never been an army as violent and murderous as our army has been in Iraq. ”

    Seymour Hersh

    “We’re seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point – they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn’t ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there’s a lot of tundra that’s being held down by that ice cap.”

    Henry Waxman

    “I am clearly more popular than Reagan. I am in my third term. Where’s Reagan? Gone after two! Defeated by George Bush and Michael Dukakis no less.”

    Marion Barry

    “A zebra does not change its spots.” (I suppose this is true as far as it goes)

    Al Gore

    And last, not really a fit but I find it amusing.

    “Most Americans, in their heart, are liberal and progressive.”
    ”They (Americans) are possibly the dumbest people on the planet.”

    Michael Moore

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 6
    • Gervase Markham says:

      ““For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96%.”

      The second sentence of that is certainly true. See the Wikipedia article on Cuba, and its references.

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      • tmeier says:

        In a society where information is controlled by the state, cannot be independently checked in any way, how can you know?

        Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1
    • Seminymous Coward says:

      “we find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution: the notion that we’re all created equal.”
      Barack Obama
      A promise can be enshrined in the Constitution (as amended) without those words being present.

      “What does the Constitution say? To provide for the health, welfare and the defense of the country.”
      Senator Roland Burris
      The preamble says two of those three things outright. The first word in Google’s definition of welfare is “health.”

      “For Castro, freedom starts with education. And if literacy alone were the yardstick, Cuba would rank as one of the freest nations on Earth. The literacy rate is 96%.”
      Barbara Walters
      You know that disliking the part of the sentence in an “if” doesn’t make the whole sentence false, right?

      “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
      Attributed to M. L. King Jr. on White House rug.
      This is not a statement of fact; therefore, it is not falsifiable.

      Tell them (Jews) to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land. [after being asked where their home was:] Poland, Germany… and America and everywhere else.
      Helen Thomas
      This is not a statement of fact; therefore, it is not falsifiable.

      “Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich.”
      Harry Belafonte
      Mr. Belafonte is not a politician.

      “Go through the history of time. During the Salem witch hunt, the liberals thought there was no such thing as witches, and the conservative view was ‘They’re witches and they all have to die.’ ”
      George Clooney
      Mr. Clooney is not a politician.

      ”The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries.”
      Barack Obama
      “The Middle East” here is quite clearly being used as a shorthand for the conflicts, both historical and ongoing, there. This is a pretty common idiomatic usage, and this raises the possibility of an intentional misreading.

      “Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and Confederate swastika flying side by side.”
      Julian Bond
      This is not a statement of fact; therefore, it is not falsifiable.

      “A nation (the United States) that continues, year after year, to spend more money on defense than social programs is nearing spiritual death.”
      Danny Glover
      This is not a statement of fact; therefore, it is not falsifiable.

      “I do believe that it’s the first time in history (the World Trade Center collapse) that fire has ever melted steel.”
      Rosie O’Donnell
      Mrs. O’Donnell is not a politician.

      ” I want to talk about a terrorist called Christopher Columbus. I want to talk about a terrorist called George Washington. I want to talk about a terrorist called Rudy Giuliani. The real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America.”
      Malik Zulu Shabazz
      These are not “historical misstatements” so much as nonsensical rhetoric; they don’t relate to any event or date, just name calling. I’d also note that Mr. Shabazz is a member of the Black Panther Party.

      ” It isn’t happening now, but I will tell you – there has never been an army as violent and murderous as our army has been in Iraq. ”
      Seymour Hersh
      Mr. Hersh is not a politician.

      “We’re seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point – they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn’t ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there’s a lot of tundra that’s being held down by that ice cap.”
      Henry Waxman
      This is a scientific misstatement, not an historical one.

      “I am clearly more popular than Reagan. I am in my third term. Where’s Reagan? Gone after two! Defeated by George Bush and Michael Dukakis no less.”
      Marion Barry
      I suppose you get credit for this one, even if it sounds more like crazed ranting than claimed history to me.

      “A zebra does not change its spots.” (I suppose this is true as far as it goes)
      Al Gore
      Like you said, that’s just flat-out true. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuous_truth

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      • tmeier says:

        Hey, that’s fun! Let me try.

        “The reason we fought the revolution in the sixteenth century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown.”—Rick Perry

        Since who ‘we’ refers to is not defined and ‘crown’ has several meanings the statement is not falsifiable.

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

        ‘Socialism’ is an idea which can be manifested in an organization without that word being present.

        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

        Since it can not be proved that at least two Africans did not set sail for America in search of freedom the statement is not falsifiable.

        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

        Actually this is true, Paul Revere was captured by British soldiers and told them what he was doing and the British were of course trying to seize a cache of arms.

        According to Revere’s own account under interrogation by the British he said:

        “I know what you are after and have alarmed the country all the way up.”

        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

        If you put the emphasis on ‘you’re’ you can see this is nonsensical rhetoric, she is saying ‘you (the people of New Hampshire) really started the revolution.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        You seem to assume that because I don’t agree with most of your entries I think the original article is fine; as I have already pointed out, I do not. It is clearly intentionally misreading some of the source quotations to make them false.

        Rick Perry’s “we” antecedent and “crown” reference are perfectly clear in the context of the original speech. The statement is, in fact, both falsifiable and false. It’s also a silly slip, not an intentional position on what happened.

        Armey’s quote is probably fine.

        You responded to the original article’s mocking interpretation of Bachmann’s “Other than Native Americans” quote and not her words. All the same, I can’t find a full transcript of the speech easily, so I won’t be backing the claim that it makes a historical misstatement, since for all I know the next sentence was “Our ancestors were all immigrants, willing or otherwise, to a foreign land.”

        Regarding Palin’s quote, I don’t think Paul Revere actually personally rang any bells or fired any shots, alarm, warning, or otherwise. If you have a strong citation, I could be persuaded otherwise.

        If’ you’re going to defend Bachmann’s NH “shot heard round the world” quote, I’d suggest an argument based on distinguishing between where something occurs and where it is heard instead. I honestly don’t think that quote is all that bad; that entry seems more like an intentional misinterpretation to me.

        On a broader note, historical claims are falsifiable under a standard of reasonable evidence. Opinions are not falsifiable because they are not claims of fact. For example, “We should kill all the [ethnic group]” is a terrible, morally evil opinion; it is not, however, falsifiable, as it is not stating a “fact.”

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      • tmeier says:

        It’s the bald sophistry, not the motive behind it I find risible.

        A few highlights:

        You insist on parsing the definition of ‘welfare’ despite the context and obvious intent yet don’t bother to turn to the definition of ‘pol’ (a person active in party politics) or even ‘politician’ (one who is actively involved in politics, especially party politics.) and so dismiss most of my citations out of hand, again despite the intent of the exercise.

        You are sweeping and forgiving in treating remarks by the favored as “idiomatic” or “rhetoric” yet demand literal and exact interpretations of common phrases coming from less favored mouths.

        You dismiss remarks which obviously show confusion, misapprehension and/or ignorance as ’not falsifiable’ again despite the obvious intent of the exercise which is to show there is no demonstrable preponderance of these qualities on either side of the liberal/conservative argument. In other words the point of the quotations is not whether they can be ‘falsified’ according to some logical or mathematical stricture but whether they show confusion, misapprehension or ignorance.

        What you have done, in short, is to selectively apply standards and ignore the point. You aren’t a lawyer by any chance?

        I would not have bothered to join in but for my distaste for these playground taunts which pass for discourse, “my dad (the people who agree with me) is smarter than your dad”, it would be hilarious were it not so tragic. Still you have to laugh or cry.

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      • Seminymous Coward says:

        The point was to “produce an analogous list of historical misstatements by liberal pols” not to list a bunch of things that liberal public figures of any kind have said with which you disagree. The items have to relate to history, be false (requiring they be claims of facts), be made by liberals, and be made by politicians. Someone saying something staggeringly stupid does not automatically qualify.

        We may have different definitions of politician. If you sincerely think they’re politicians, then the quotes from Belafonte, Clooney, O’Donnell, and Hersh qualify.

        Your claim regarding differing standards falls apart in detail, so I’ll let my comments on the quotes I’ve discussed stand as a defense.

        You flat-out made up the “intent of the exercise” being to “show confusion, misapprehension or ignorance.” I suppose you succeeded at it, but you can hardly blame me for judging your efforts by the rules of the actual question.

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    • Mark says:

      In reply to the below: These are correct statements.
      It is possible that non-scientists quoting this statement cannot figure out where the water goes when the ice caps melt. The majority of it ends up as cloud cover. The process of melting ice to water and turning it into clouds is evaporation.
      The statement of the tundra being held down by the ice caps is referring to the increased rate of earth quakes in places where there are no tektonic rift zones due to the release of tension. You can google this by checking on earth quakes in eastern maritime provinces in Canada.
      The statement of tipping point refers to the evidence that much of the carbon dioxide generated in history is currently dissolved in sea water. The process of dissolution of gases in liquids is a very fast process.

      Henry Waxman’s statement is scientifically correct and is all the more impressive because I don’t believe he truly grasps the science he was quoting.

      “We’re seeing the reality of a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and we could get to a tipping point. Because if it evaporates to a certain point – they have lanes now where ships can go that couldn’t ever sail through before. And if it gets to a point where it evaporates too much, there’s a lot of tundra that’s being held down by that ice cap.”
      Henry Waxman
      This is a scientific misstatement, not an historical one.”

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      • James says:

        Sorry, but no. Mr. Waxman’s statement is ludicrously incorrect. The North Pole is not going to evaporate. (For one thing, the North Pole is a geographical/geometric fiction: there’s no actual pole there :-) It’s perfectly correct that human-caused global warming is causing a lot of the Arctic ice to melt, &c, but melting and evaporation are two quite different things.

        Like Mitt Romney’s recent remark about non-opening aircraft windows, it makes me wonder how some of these politicians (irrespective of party) manage to cope with life outside sheltered housing.

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      • Molly says:

        James, Romney’s comment was A JOKE! Geez, read something beyond the liberal bloggers! He was making a JOKE about the smoke that filled his airplane.

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      • James Curran says:

        Molly — The problem with that interpretation is that a) he didn’t say it like a joke, and b) as he was talking about his wife nearly dying, it would be an odd time to make a joke. It’s more likely he meant it as “Instead of having emergency exits by just a couple of seats, why don’t they have them by every seat in the place of the windows”

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      • James says:

        “Romney’s comment was A JOKE!”

        Was it? How do you know? Doesn’t seem like he was joking, in the context, but with Romney, it can be hard to tell.

        BTW, my source was mainstream news, not a liberal blog (I try to keep my reading of those at the same near-zero level as conservative blogs), and my source at least made it clear that it was not his airplane, but one on which his wife was travelling.

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  3. J1 says:

    Sen Patty Murray on Osama Bin Laden:

    (Bin Laden was) “building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health-care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We have not done that.”

    http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2002072029_murray25m.html

    For Brian, here’s the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGbmT5Rlwc

    As you note, Armey’s statement is correct. Palin’s is mostly correct too, though Revere himself was not the one ringing bells and firing guns.

    It might be more interesting to do a post on cases in which one side criticizes the ignorance of the other side when the critic is the one who’s wrong.

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  4. Brandon says:

    The Coulter 2011 quote is a description of radiation hormesis. I believe the science is still out on whether it’s a real phenomenon, but it’s not just something she made up.

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  5. Joshua Macy says:

    “When we kicked — along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don’t know — if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.” – Joe Biden

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ’0 which is not a hashcash value.

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  6. Cory says:

    During Colbert’s recent “Better Know a District” segment, Yvette Clark talked about slavery still existing in 1898.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/congresswoman-yvette-clarke-claims-slavery-still-around-1898-colbert-report_n_1857969.html

    “If you could get in a time machine and go back to 1898, what would you say to those Brooklynites?” Colbert asked in the segment.

    “I would say to them, ‘Set me free,’” Clarke responded.

    Gamely pressing on, Colbert inquired from what would the Congresswoman wish to be free from. “Slavery,” Clarke replied.

    “Slavery. Really? I didn’t realize there was slavery in Brooklyn in 1898,” Colbert said, perhaps in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to give the native Brooklyner a do-over.

    “I’m pretty sure there was,” Clarke responded.

    “It sounds like a horrible part of the United States that kept slavery going until 1898,” Colbert commented, struggling to keep a straight face.

    “Who would be enslaving you in 1898 in New York?” Colbert pressed. According to Clarke, none other than the Dutch.

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  7. Dave says:

    “We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad.” — Barack Obama, Cincinnati, OH, Sept. 22, 2011

    “In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died — an entire town destroyed.” — Barack Obama, on a Kansas tornado that killed 12 people

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