In light of Sarah Palin’s, well, “interesting” interpretation of American history — which describes Paul Revere galloping down the causeway, ringing bells and firing wildly into the air, to attract as much British attention as possible — Andrew Sullivan argues that history, to the Republicans, is just another creation myth to be manipulated for social purposes.
For once, I don’t think this is entirely fair. Sure, Palin’s third-grade understanding of American history is hilarious, especially in light of how proudly her followers proclaim themselves to be the direct and exclusive heirs to the colonial tradition. And the halting, confused explanation is especially stunning in light of the simple question that preceded it:
What have you seen so far today, and what are you going to take away from your visit?
I would pay a lot of money to see this woman in a presidential debate.
But we all co-opt, mythologize, and exploit history. It’s practically a Western tradition, at least as old as Rome, where personal histories were wildly distorted to serve as useful morality plays. American democracy is founded on a similar premise: that Rome republicanism — which actually masked a brutal, unequal, and authoritarian society — could form the model for a government where all men are actually equal before the law. It’s a conceit that most of the Founders candidly acknowledged to each other as false. Jefferson especially was well-versed in the classics, and knew what he was doing, but the image was (and remains) valuable.
This is to say, if we’re to upbraid Sarah for this latest catastrophe, we should focus on the ineptitude of her historical appropriation, not the fact of the appropriation. Query, for example, whether Paul Revere riding a horse to protect the militia’s stockpiled arms from the invading British is in any way analogous to Sarah Palin riding a hideously tacky bus to protect your right to unnecessarily shoot animals with AK-47s.