The Past Is Never Dead. It's Not Even Past
Three recent events reinforce the wisdom of this remark by William Faulkner in Requiem for a Nun.
First, the New York Times is starting a series of pieces to be written by Adam Goodheart and Peter Manseau that will aim at correcting the historical statements, misstatements, and abuses of this political campaign season. Titled “History Corrected,” the series promises to subject to examination the claims of the principal presidential candidates, though I hope they do not neglect some of the daffier historical remarks of other political worthies.
In its first number, “History Corrected” steered a moderate and “balanced” course. It noted the weirdness of Governor Romney’s assertion that he would follow the wisdom of the Founders in pressing for repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The Founders, of course, would be baffled by the entire conversation about the Affordable Care Act, so invoking their support is fairly ridiculous, particularly when you don’t specify which Founders. They actually disagreed among themselves a good bit.
Then the posting took President Obama to task for invoking great national projects like the Hoover Dam and transcontinental railroad without noting the dark sides of those projects (many deaths in the dam construction and much corruption around the railroad). This complaint did not particularly resonate with me: are we not allowed to applaud the allied victory in World War II without expressing disapproval for the Japanese-American internment policies?
I look forward to more substantive complaints in future postings and add one more wish: that the authors do not feel that have to criticize both sides each time. If one side screws up big time, SAY SO! The point is catching errors and distortions, not pretending to a faux equivalency.
My own personal prediction: both sides will hideously misstate positions taken by Madison and Hamilton. Those two are just irresistible to politicians and speechwriters, and it’s easy to miss the context in which their comments were made.
Second, the History News Network is having a face-off among five books for the coveted title of Least Credible History Book in Print. The nominees are:
- The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson by David Barton
- The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War by Thomas DiLorenzo
- 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
- Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
You can vote here.
I nominated John F. Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage for this title, but it did not make the finals. Wait ’til next year. (It’s a really terrible book.)
At least none of my books are on this list! I also take pride in not having read any of the five nominees. (Well,okay, I skimmed the O’Reilly book because I was doing something on the Lincoln assassination, but I didn’t really read it.)
Is a turkey shoot allowing some payback against authors with big sales by academic historians and history writers with smaller sales? You bet. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.
Third, the recent heat wave through the nation reminded the health director of the City of St. Louis of — what else? — the Summer of 1787! She was reading my book, which usually wards off all discomforts from high temperatures, and was struck by the parallels between then and now, and how much worse things were then! You can listen to her 2-minute radio interview here.
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