The XX Factor

Sarah Palin Has Her Own American History

So, Sarah Palin claimed that Paul Revere was a Revolutionary-era NRA member whose famous ride was for a British audience, to let them know Americans were going to win the war because they believed in gun rights.  Which carries with it, by the way, the implication that the British had stringent gun control laws in 1775, which they did not, not that it would matter when you’re talking about British soldiers, who are still permitted, nay, expected , to carry arms to this day.  When Chris Wallace corrected her on-air , correctly explaining that Revere was a night watchman who warned the American troops of the approach of the British invaders (the soldiers, not the Beatles), Palin doubled down:

“You know what? I didn’t mess up about Paul Revere,” she said. “Here is what Paul Revere did. He warned the Americans that the British were coming, the British were coming, and they were going to try take our arms and we got to make sure that we were protecting ourselves and shoring up all of ammunitions and our firearms so that they couldn’t take it.”

She did not explain how she imagined Americans in 1775 were able to hear Revere, wake up, “shore up” their ammunition and firearms, and organize their resistance before the troops actually got there.  Since the revolutionaries were all Tea Partiers, I guess they popped over to the 24-hour Wal-Mart in Lexington and loaded up on as many semi-automatics as they could carry.  They didn’t have the Brady Bill back then, you know.

Palin also grumbled that the question was a “gotcha” question, one of her favorite complaints, which she probably hopes will appeal to every American who suspects that their teachers were laughing at some of the ignorant things they wrote in essay tests in their youth.  ( You suspect correctly .) But honestly, the problem here is less that Palin and all the other Tea Party fools who say blatantly incorrect things don’t know their history.  It’s that they don’t know their  history while wrapping themselves up in the cloak of it, and claiming to be the sole inheritors of the legacy of the American Revolution.  When you do that, you should understand why the people you exclude from this inheritance are going to point it out when they actually know history better than you do.

But I think it helps to understand that, for right-wing populists, this thing we call “history” is less about real people who did real things in the real world, and more like just the Bible Part II.  It’s a myth that can be manipulated to suit their purpose, which is usually to establish themselves as the only Real Americans.  When Palin says she got it right, I believe she believes that, because her story wasn’t really about Paul Revere.  Her story was a thinly veiled allegory of the Tea Party worldview, and in it, Tea Partiers are Paul Revere and the British stand in for Obama, the foreign usurper who is out to take their guns.  (That Obama is a gun-snatcher is also a lie worth noting, and of course there’s a bit of Birtherism going on here, too.)  In a sense, Palin’s mangling of history is minor compared with some of the major whoppers that have percolated through Tea Party lore, with the big ones being that the main demand of the revolutionaries was an end to taxation (in fact, the main concern was lack of representation in the government, and frankly a larger desire for independence), and that the Founding Fathers were interested in establishing a government based on Christian principles, instead of those pesky secular ones they accidentally wrote into the Constitution.

Photograph of Sarah Palin by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images.