Other people have said it. But it took a liberal Democrat to make it famous. Now I wish a right-wing Tea Partier would take it to heart.
New York's late Senator Daniel Moynihan once chided a fellow politician, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts." What an appropriate lesson for Sarah Palin and her followers to learn.
Last week, while touring Boston's historic Freedom Trail, a reporter lobbed Palin what could have been an easy home run by inviting her to recount the classic story of Paul Revere. You remember the guy: one of the much-heralded "Founding Fathers" Palin so devoutly worships.
Instead of either celebrating the story every American elementary school student should know, however, or even apologetically explaining that she's forgotten Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's classic poem, "Paul Revere's Ride," she babbled something about Revere ringing bells to warn the British not to take our guns.
Here's her exact interpretation of that night on April 18, 1775:
"He (Revere) who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells and making sure as he’s 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 and we were going to be armed." - Sarah Palin, June 2
Too Ignorant to Know It
Even news show host Chris Wallace, who, like Palin, is an employee of the conservative FOX Network, was incredulous. On Wallace's program, Fox News Sunday, he offered her an opportunity to admit or explain her mistake, but to his obvious disbelief, she refused. Instead of owning up to either her forgetfulness or error, Palin stubbornly claimed her version to be the truth:
“You know what, I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere. Here’s what Paul Revere did. He warned the Americans that ‘the British were coming, the British were coming’ and they were going to try to take our arms. . . . But remember, the British had already been there . . . part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there that, ‘hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms. You are not going to beat our own well-armed persons, individual, private militia that we have.’ He did warn the British. And in a shout-out, gotcha-type of question that was asked of me, I answered candidly. And I know my American history.” - Sarah Palin, June 5
At that point, one could have assumed Palin had dug her own grave, committing political suicide by proving unvarnished stupidity. But no, the bizarre circus train that is the Sarah Palin machine jumped tracks to the online information source Wikipedia, whose page on Paul Revere began to undergo a farcical chain of edits yesterday after Palin's interview on Fox. Suddenly, Revere's secret ride to warn the colonists that the British were coming (remember, "one if by land, two if by sea") turned into a Second Amendment romp on the Internet. Even though - oops! - the Declaration of Independence hadn't yet been written, let alone the Constitution, meaning the Second Amendment didn't even exist in 1775.
It's hard to tell which is the most troubling revelation from this pathetic scenario:
- that Palin either had never learned or couldn't recall such a basic story from America's history?
- that even if she had, she lacked the moral fiber to simply admit it? It probably wouldn't have been a news-worthy story if Palin had, upon being asked about Revere, simply shrugged her shoulders regretfully and chuckled that her last history class had been years ago. I mean, how many adults can stop and recite even parts of Longfellow's poem off the top of their heads?
- that she not only refused to admit her mistake, but insisted on lathering gun rights into a pre-Revolutionary-War farce?
- that she blamed the media for tricking her with a shout-out "gotcha!" question?
- or that her equally-ignorant minions thought taking to Wikipedia to change the historical facts would somehow make everything right?
Um... I'm going to take the equally-ignorant minions taking to Wikipedia for $500, Alex.
When Truth Hurts, Get Rid of It
First, I suppose we should all be impressed that Palin's supporters even know Wikipedia exists. The longer Tea Partiers talk, the more they create the illusion - and hopefully it's just an illusion - of being a clueless bunch of spoon-fed cliche-lovers. But I've been wrong before. Making the connection between Palin's errors, the location of recorded facts on the Internet, and the need to save their hero's reputation could be considered proof of remarkable brain activity on their part.
Except for that pesky little reality that time travel really doesn't exist. We really can't go back in history and re-create events as we suppose them to have happened. The ability to do that is called a "fantasy." Kind of like the belief that Palin is a credible Presidential candidate.
I realize that as an evangelical Christian, I'm supposed to be loving towards other people, even those with whom I don't agree, and especially those who also claim to share my faith. But honestly - I'm not sure who's worse for America: Nancy Pelosi, or Sarah Palin.
One "editor" of the hastily-revised content on Wikipedia claimed that Palin's notoriety as a former governor and running mate for John McCain provide sufficient justification for validating her views on Revere. Another person claimed that since Palin was quoted by all of the major news networks, what she said must have been legitimate.
Oh, doesn't your brain hurt? How is that type of thinking any better than what we've currently got inside the Washington Beltway?
Little Benefit of the Doubt
Now, in this age of elaborate political subterfuge, it is possible that a bunch of left-wing pranksters - not Palin acolytes - were the ones who actually hacked the facts on Wikipedia's Revere page. Perhaps liberals were trying to make it look like Palin's supporters were the ones blantantly re-imagining history. Maybe the Palin-backers who've blasted Wikipedia - a user-generated content provider - as a socialistic propaganda machine have reason to direct their vitriol at websites they can't control.
Unfortunately, I think the simpler explanation is far less nefarious. But nonetheless dangerous: Palin and her supporters have simply proven what many of us have suspected for years now:
- they have little respect for the true origins and history of the United States
- they have little knowledge of who the Founding Fathers were or what motivated them
- they refuse to educate themselves with facts, but rely on what right-wing talking heads tell them
- they have disdain for truth and ethics which don't fit their mindset
Political theater can be amusing, but not when it threatens to undermine the credibility of the world's lone superpower. At least Palin is not currently an elected official, she holds no office, nor can she create legislation or officially represent our government. Yet Palin by herself isn't even as much of a problem as the many Americans who support her and believe her. And if our political establishment - both Democrats and Republicans - was thoroughly abominable and corrupt, is the hubris and abdication of reality by Palin and her supporters the best way of righting our ship of state?
Doesn't the hatchet job she wreaks on American history undermine the very values she claims to want for our country? Can't our Colonial era stand on its own in civilization's pantheon? Let's face it: the real facts of Paul Revere's ride are even better than the tale Palin concocted. Showing disrespect for a respectable record like Revere's just so she can try to save face mocks the very heritage she claims to revere.
Many traditional conservatives have watched the Palin parade from the sidelines, bemused at her antics and smirking at her folksy incompetence. But at what stage does her incompetence start wreaking real damage on genuine conservative activism and the ability of Republicans to claim moral and principled credibility in the upcoming 2012 elections?
Some right-wingers have begun to assume that our tanking economy will ensure President Obama is a one-termer. But with Palin still able to draw a crowd, a Republican victory isn't in the bag yet.
It depends on how many Americans prefer financial poverty over intellectual poverty. And considering our country's recent track record with public education, that's too close to call.
In a democratic republic, we may be entitled to our own opinions, but we're simply not entitled to our own facts.