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. 


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


"Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." is a pretty famous phrase from American history. Or did the author think that the lander didn't confirm with mission control before the astronauts left the lander?

Walter Wimberly

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.


Can you also post a persentage of how many responses end up themselves being misstatements of history, that were in fact never said by any "liberal"? My hypothesis is that the very conservative mindset itself leads naturally to historical distortions, as a sort of defense against cognitive dissonance. If I were a betting man, I'd say that at least 75% of attempts to point out "historical misstatements by liberal pols" don't hold up under fact checking.


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.


"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


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

Seminymous Coward

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.


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.

Seminymous Coward

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.


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.

Seminymous Coward

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.


Dr. Van Nostrand

Using Michele Bachmann quotes should be considered cheating


Do misstatements about the recent past count?

"I've now been in 57 states..." by Barack Obama.


I think that was clearly intended as humorous exaggeration, and like unintended slips of the tongue, should be disallowed (for either side).


Well you can always start with president obama visiting 57 US States!


The Rick Perry example is an easy mistake to make, and implies nothing about his understanding of historical events. Most people know that the seventeen hundreds are *not* the seventeenth century, but most people also wouldn't be able to determine in the middle of a speech if they need to add one or subtract one from the first two digits of the year to get the century number.


Joe Biden: "When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed. He said, 'look, here's what happened.'"