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Revising Barton

» Tablet Magazine: History Lesson: Glenn Beck’s favorite ‘historian’ enlists the Founding Fathers in a battle against diversity (Michelle Goldberg)

Re-igniting the meme I'll be getting back too sooner or later, here's another backgrounder on David Barton.

In recent years, Barton has pioneered a new kind of historical revisionism, one that absolves conservative Republicans of any complicity in American racism, which he lays entirely at the feet of Democrats. He points out, correctly, that before 1964, many of the country’s most virulently racist politicians were Democrats. He neglects to mention that they fled to the GOP en masse after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Indeed, in one astonishing document, he attributes Strom Thurmond’s break with the Democrats to his “dramatic change of heart on civil rights issues,” as if the former Dixiecrat had turned Republican out of outrage at segregation. In an equally audacious reinterpretation of history, he paints the founding era as a golden age of racial comity, denying that racism was ever an essential part of America’s DNA.

Such rhetorical maneuvers have been particularly useful to Beck, obsessed as he is with secret histories and a prelapsarian version of the American past. Over the summer, Beck hosted a series of shows he called “Founders’ Fridays,” revisionist forays into American history guided by Barton. Under the guise of teaching black history, Founders’ Fridays argued against the idea that black people had been oppressed by the Revolutionary generation. On July 5, for example, Barton presented a newspaper from the late 18th century that featured the obituary of a black man who had fought in the Revolution. The obituaries, Barton pointed out, were “not broken out black and white. … It’s telling you who’s died, didn’t matter whether were you black or white or anything, you’re a citizen.”

Denying the racial sins of the Founding Fathers makes it easier to deify them—and, in turn, to promote faith in America’s Christian destiny. “In learning about the founders and seeing the heroes that were involved, it only strengthens my view that this was a divine document, the Declaration of Independence,” said Beck at the end of one show.

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