Wrong in the small things

September 5, 2008

21“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21 NIV

As I’ve listened to the Republican speeches this week, I’ve noticed a nasty trend:  They get small things wrong, usually just for a good line.  Good Hollywood writing, but snarky, and missing historical context.  Good speeches, but a preface to bad policy, I fear.

Two examples.

First, I listened to the smarm from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee Wednesday night. It’s always a struggle to listen to Huckabee because of the way he mangles facts.  He had a great laugh line:

In fact, I don’t know if you realize this, but Sarah Palin got more votes running for mayor in Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden did in two quests for the presidency — that oughta tell you something.

Well, yeah, it tells me Mike Huckabee can’t count.

I remember looking at vote totals, and Biden’s were not great, compared to others like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  But I would have sworn Biden got a couple thousand votes in Texas, or some other race after he’d dropped out.  That should be approximately equal to a winning candidate in a town like Wasilla, which has 9,000 residents if you count the sled dogs and every moose that’s ever wandered through (slight exaggeration — the population is officially listed at under 6,000).

Sure enough, it turns out that Biden got almost 80,000 votes in the Democratic primaries this campaign.  Palin would have had to have gotten every man, woman, child and dog in Wassilla to vote for her, nine times each, to equal that vote. Huckabee was off by a factor of 9.   Huckabee can’t count.

What else in Huckabee’s speech was off by a factor of 9?

Then, Thursday night, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge said that 230 years ago this nation was founded by men who were called mavericks themselves:

More than 230-plus years ago, a group of leaders – some people called them mavericks – dared to think differently, dared to act boldly and dared to believe its future leaders would preserve, honor and protect the great land of the free.

Oh, really?  Who called them mavericks?  That would have been very prescient of them — the phrase didn’t come into use until cattle became big business in Texas, more than 100 years after the founding.  The word comes from a Texas cattleman, Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870), who used to leave his stock unbranded, and then claim all unbranded cattle on a range as his.  It was a semi-legal way to steal cattle from his neighbors.

Critically, Maverick’s having been born in the year of the Louisiana Purchase, it’s highly unlikely that anyone in Philadelphia in 1776, the event Ridge was obviously referring to, would have called themselves after his actions 75 or 100 years or more in the future.

David Barton, the King of the Misquote and Mangled Quote, was a Texas delegate — surely he could have corrected these minor historical errors — had Barton any idea about what really happened in history.

Should we dismiss this errors as one-liner jokes, or do Republicans really deserve criticism for failing to know history?  It’s astounding that they’d get wrong the well-known history of our founding, don’t you think?

Coupled with Sarah Palin’s defense of the Pledge of Allegiance — “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me” (the pledge was written by a socialist minister in 1892, more than a century after the Constitution) — one could make a case that ignorance is a value the Republicans value, in their audiences.

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