Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Purple State Of Mind News
Tracking Purple State of Mind across America…
by JOHN MARKS
Who is David Barton and why should every American know his name?
One answer would be Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who last Monday night declared her candidacy for the White House onstage at the New Hampshire debate. If the past is any indication, Bachmann would like to see Barton shaping the educational curriculum for millions of American children, molding the constitutional knowledge of incoming members of Congress and organizing the homeland defense against same-sex marriage.
To a large extent, Barton, an amateur historian, consummate political activist and profoundly divisive figure from Texas, already does all of the above, but a serious Bachmann candidacy would give him unprecedented clout.
In announcing her candidacy, Bachmann managed to be superfluous and extremely canny at the same time. She has made her intentions clear for a while, so no one could have been surprised. As a candidate, she’s already highly exposed. Her political stances are well-known. She’s a definitive anti-government Tea Party figure with a real connection to conservative Christians, who don’t have an acceptable horse in the race yet.
No scandal yet attaches to Bachmann’s name. Compared to potential female candidates of her political stripe, she comes off as the grown-up in the bunch. She has more substance and charisma than Christine O’Donnell, far more organizational vigor than Sarah Palin. Bill Maher may call her Crazy Michele, but in her world, among those who subscribe to her brand of politics, she’s big picture and serious business.
Given the state of the economy, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Michele Bachmann wouldn’t run for president next year, yet her choice of venue for the announcement had enough flair to give her cred with media pundits; she generated the only news in a fairly predictable night. Moreover, the timing and manner of her official declaration of intent suggest that she might wage a clever and damaging fight against even an accomplished opponent like Obama.
Like Barack Obama, if she makes it through the primary season, she will have the history card in her pocket, though most Democrats, conservative, liberal or progressive, and no doubt a fair number of Republicans will shudder at the mere notion of Bachmann as the first woman to sit in the Oval Office. Her fans are impassioned. Her enemies will be ferocious.
Leaving aside the question of whether she can survive the Republican primary process to secure her party’s nomination–it’s not inconceivable, given the range of options open to the electoral base that determines such things–and avoiding entirely for the moment the matter of the general election, it seems an appropriate moment to ask a relevant question about Bachmann’s core beliefs.
How exactly does this candidate understand the history of the country she wants to govern?
That’s where David Barton comes in. As it happens, I’m slightly more qualified to comment on this aspect of her candidacy than your average reader of blogs and newspapers for the simple reason that I’ve spent hours interviewing and numerous published pages writing about Barton, a resident of Aledo, Texas who has become the history guru for the most conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Barton states openly that he wants to transform the United States into a god-centered democracy. He resists the suggestion that he wants an American theocracy, but his critics say it’s just a matter of semantics.
“I call it historical creationism,” Rob Boston, senior policy analyst with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told the Huffington Post recently. “All I can tell you is everything that Barton does is to promote ultra conservative politics and to persuade people to vote for extreme conservative Republicans.”
Anyone who watched the Glenn Beck show last night can judge for themselves. Barton, like Bachmann, is a frequent guest in the Beck universe.
Bachmann and Barton have made common cause for years, ever since she was a state senator. His work informed her efforts to change history standards in textbooks, and his influence shaped her early efforts to ban same-sex marriage. She has taken part in Barton’s extremely popular spiritual tours of Washington D.C., during which he takes pastors, politicians and others on an alternative walk through the American past, emphasizing Christian heritage.
If you want to get a quick read on Barton and his concerns, check out the website for Wallbuilders, the public face of his organization. There you will find–among items on the Treaty of Tripoli and its implications for separation of church and state, a newly acquired document written by one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence Samuel Chase and the Aitken Bible–the following statement of purpose, briefly excerpted here:
WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined. In accord with what was so accurately stated by George Washington, we believe that “the propitious [favorable] smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation which disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained.”
Why the name “WallBuilders”?
In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and thus restore stability, safety, and a promising future to that great city. We have chosen this historical concept of “rebuilding the walls” to represent allegorically the call for citizen involvement in rebuilding our nation’s foundations. As Psalm 11:3 reminds us, “If the foundations be destroyed, what shall the righteous do?”
WallBuilders’ goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena.
For a far more complete assessment of Bachmann’s personal history, beliefs and politics, don’t miss Michelle Goldberg’s recent Newsweek piece, but for a quick detour into the implications of Barton’s influence on her views about the nation’s past (with implications for its present and future), the following might be worth a few minutes of your time.
There was a time when American history 101 didn’t matter so much to conservative Christians. Even in the 1970’s, when evangelicals began to mobilize politically against the social, cultural and political changes of the previous decade, history took a back seat to social issues. Abortion topped the list of concerns, but the overall response to the sea changes of the era had its roots in theology rather than history.
The enemy was secular humanism, which had replaced Christianity with a doctrine brewed of science, social studies, popular culture and western philosophy. Among the transformed disciplines, of course, was history, but the subject lay dormant yet as the engine for a new conservative political philosophy.
Barton’s own journey began with prayer in school. In my book, Reasons To Believe: One Man’s Journey Among The Evangelicals, published by Ecco in 2008, I write about his conviction that student test scores declined after the Supreme Court banned state-sponsored school prayer in the early 1960’s. That decline, which he proved to his own satisfaction, led him slowly but surely to the conclusion that America’s general abandonment of its Christian religious heritage caused degeneration across the board.
He began to fight back. In 1987, he founded Specialty Research Associates, which specializes in “”focuses on the historical research of issues relating to America’s constitutional, moral, and religious heritage.” As part of the effort, he began to collect documents relating to the faith of the Founders; his follow-up organization Wall Builders is now in possession of more than 70,000 such documents, which he takes with him on tours around the country.
Here’s what Barton told me in June 2005 about the range of his campaign: “There’s a good scripture in Ecclesiastes. Cast your bread on many waters. That’s what I do. I work the immediate, the short-term, the long-term. On the one hand, I’m going to bust my tail to get good judges appointed now. In the middle term, I’m going to work my tail off in Senate elections, to make a difference in the kind of people we get.”
“At the same time,” he said, “part of what we do every summer, we handpick about 120 kids out of law school that some day want to be federal judges…and we’ll intern them for twelve weeks over the summer. We’ll say, look, here’s what you get in law school, we know–we teach there–but here’s what the Constitution says, here’s what history says, here’s what precedent has been. You need to know this as well as what you’re getting taught in law school. And so now that’s twenty year’s down the road. Even if they graduate this year, it’s going to take twenty years experience before they get put on a federal bench, and that’s assuming you get the right president and everything else. At the same time, if we’re turning out 120 of these kids every year for the next twenty years, you’re going to have a bigger pool to pull from, and that’s part of the judicial solution.”
That’s Barton in a nutshell. He strives for cultural and governmental transformation at the local, state and national level, and he tirelessly seeds every available piece of ground.
His voyage of self-discovery, for that’s what it was in his case, coincided with a general political and historical awakening among conservative Christians in the 1980’s and1990’s. Seeing what they considered to be the eradication of their religious view of the country from the national political, cultural and social scene, organizations like the Moral Majority and figures like Pat Robertson began to insist publicly on the Christian identities of the Founders of the country.
Theology no longer had any status as ground for an argument; history might prove to be the last available battleground for taking the country back.
Originally, the claim of Christian identity for the nation had little or no direction or content. A relatively small sect within the faith, known as Reconstructionists, had argued since the 1970’s that their god had dominion over government as well as creation. They based their philosophy upon scripture: “And God blessed [ Adam and Eve ] and God said unto them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” —Genesis 1:28 (KJV)”
Until recently, for a majority of conservative Christians, dominionism, as this belief is more commonly known, had an exotic flavor. The Christian elements in the American past, which are real enough and insufficiently understood, mostly existed as matters of unexamined fact, but were never really advanced as an argument. If they were, they could be briskly enough met by a long-established body of law regarding the separation of church and state going back to Thomas Jefferson and his letter to the Danbury Baptists. For decades, in mainstream legal thought, that separation has been deemed unimpeachable, and throughout most of the last two or three decades, conservative Christians never seriously took it on.
Barton, a direct influence on Glenn Beck, does. Removing that separation is the centerpiece of his effort to change the country. Barton points out that dozens of the Founders, signers of the Declaration of Independence and others, were devout Christians. Many were seminary trained. The drafters of the Constitution relied heavily on the Bible and Biblical quotation in formulating their doctrine. The Capitol itself served as a church until the 1870’s.
Barton goes further. History itself has become tainted with the plague of secularism. At the Kings College in Manhattan, in the basement of the Empire State Building in 2006, I saw him attack the teaching of what he calls the “economic view” of history. His words were essentially a broadside against the work of statistician historians like Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel, who revolutionized the discipline by introducing an almost atomistic view of the past.
Rather than focus on the deeds of great men–and women–on battles, treaties, dates and deaths, this brand of history relies more on databases, on the rise and fall of economies, on the records left by ship manifests, census reports, ancient sewer systems and linguistic analysis.
In Barton’s view, this version of history leaves no room for lessons of right and wrong, for heroic tales that might serve as a model for citizens. More to the point, it reserves no particular place for god; believers may be observed, like anything else, based on the statistical record they’ve left behind, but their god vanishes in the dust of analysis.
To what extent does Bachmann share Barton’s views on history, particularly the American brand? This week, she reportedly sold her political and personal memoir to Sentinel Press, which will publish the book in the fall. After Labor Day, we’ll know more.
In the meantime, though she herself doesn’t seem to be much of a student of history, mistakenly asserting in the debate that the first shots of the American Revolution were fired in Massachusetts (an echo of her incorrect statements about the Founders and slavery made last January in Iowa), there is enough evidence in the public record that she has adopted the history guru’s central tenet, i.e. that the country needs to go back to god, and not just metaphorically.
As Goldberg writes in her Newsweek piece: “No other candidate in the race is so completely a product of the evangelical right as Bachmann; she could easily become the Christian conservative alternative to the comparatively moderate Mormon Mitt Romney. “Michele Bachmann’s a complete package,” says Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition wunderkind who now runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “She’s got charisma, she’s got an authentic faith testimony, she’s a proven fighter for conservative values, and she’s well known.”
This weekend, when Bachmann addresses the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, she may not mention Barton by name, but you can bet her history guru’s vision of America will be in the mix. Thanks to Bachmann, Barton seems likely to become a god-centered, guiding spirit of the 2012 GOP race against Barack Obama.
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