[note: part one in this series was In '05 and '08, Todd Akin Entered Christian Nationalist History Lies in the Congressional Record]
I knew Former U.S. Congressman Alan Grayson was running for a seat in Florida's newly-created 9th District, but I didn't know a thing about his Republican opponent in the race. However, I've just started a new series about how often, these days, Republicans promote falsified Christian nationalist versions of American history, the sort most notably promoted by discredited author David Barton. I had a hunch that, given the odds, I might find Grayson's opponent, Todd Long, promoting fake history too.
Obviously, my hunch panned out.
In 2010, Todd Long published a book called The Conservative Comeback: The Battle For The Soul of America and, if the contents are any indication, that battle, on the conservative side, is being powered by fake American history and incompetent or deliberately deceitful scholarship.
My introduction to Christian nationalist falsified American history came about most notably through the writings of Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History, who has contributed an impressive body of writing, on falsified history, on the website I co-founded with Frederick Clarkson in late 2005, Talk To Action. From Rodda's writings, I became familiar with the most common Christian nationalist American history myths, lies, fibs, mischaracterizations, distortions, and so on.
Learn the top ten or so of the history lies and you'll go far. While it would be a big project to survey them all, I think it's a fair guess that many of the books recently put out by Republicans running for national office this electoral cycle feature Barton-esque fake history; if I can pick one, more or less at random (in this case a book by Todd Long) and hit pay-dirt, my guess is that you, the reader, could probably ferret out such falsified history too (if you do choose to pick up this pastime, and find some good examples, please let me know.)
Moving along to Todd Long's book:
The most blaring example of falsified history in Long's book appears on page 12, with the setup on page 11, in which Long announces,
"Here is a little known fact: almost one half of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration [of Independence] were seminary graduates. God and the Bible were central to their belief system and lay at the heart of the laws that were enacted in those early days. One has only to consider the words of our earliest presidents to gain appreciation of the importance they attach to those values:"Now, there's a significant type of history lie, or wildly misleading characterization if you wish, in the first quoted sentence. At the time the founders were going to school, the word "seminary" was typically used to refer to what now are called colleges. While religion certainly would figure significantly in such institutions of the era, there was a difference between a seminary and a theological seminary.
Only four of the fifty six signers actually went to seminary to study theology, only two became ministers, and only one, John Witherspoon, stayed a minister for long (read more about it here.) This particular history lie seems to be unique to David Barton. Todd Long might have encountered it from reading Barton's books or (per the Chris Rodda story I've just linked to) by watching the (now cancelled) Glenn Beck show on the Fox network in 2010.
Moving along, after that history lie, or misrepresentation if you will, Long went on to provide, on page twelve, three alleged founding father "quotes", only one of which is, strictly speaking, accurate.
The first quote Long provided, which he identifies as a "paraphrase" from George Washington's 1796 Farewell Address, is ridiculously sloppy - not really a "quote" at all. What Washington really said was, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." In Scott Long's rendition that becomes, "Religion and morality [based on the teachings of the Bible] are indispensable supports of this self-government."
In the authentic Washington statement, religion and morality support political prosperity, in Long's version they support government. Some might say I'm nitpicking, some might say this is a substantial distortion. But as for Long's third "founding father" quote, allegedly from James Madison, well...
Here's the fake Madison that Long trots out, on page 12:
"We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments."Long attributed that quote to "James Madison, Fourth President, Principal Author of the U.S. Constitution", and went on to ask, immediately following the [fake] quote,
"Do politicians talk like this anymore? Certainly, no one in the Democratic Party, and far too few in its Republican counterpart, do. In fact, when President Barack Obama stopped in Turkey during his first European tour as President, he felt compelled to opine that the U.S. "is no longer a Christian nation," despite the fact that many of the founders stated just the opposite".
A decade and a half before Todd Long's book came out, University of Richmond historian Richard Alley set out to determine the source of this alleged Madison quote, which appeared most notably in David Barton's 1989 book The Myth of Separation. As a September 2006 Texas Monthly story on Barton, King of the Christocrats, described,
"In 1995 the historian Robert Alley attempted to trace the provenance of a quote that Rush Limbaugh had mistakenly attributed to James Madison, in which Madison purportedly called the Ten Commandments the foundation of American civilization. All roads led to David Barton... Barton cited two sources for the quote: a 1939 book by Harold K. Lane called Liberty! Cry Liberty! and Frederick Nyneyer's 1958 book First Principles in Morality and Economics: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association. Alley couldn't find the quote anywhere in Nyneyer's book, however, and eventually concluded that Barton had pulled it from an article in a journal with the unlikely title Progressive Calvinism, which, in turn, had attributed it to something called the "1958 calendar of Spiritual Mobilization." In any case, Alley reported, the editors of Madison's papers were unable to find anything in his writings that was even remotely similar. "In addition," they added, "the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government, which he expressed time and time again in public and in private.""Of course one can't prove a negative, but Alley's case was sufficiently persuasive that David Barton, who himself played a key role in popularizing the bogus Madison quote, subsequently stopped using the fake quote, and by 2000 Barton had relegated it to his list of "unconfirmed quotations". In other words, in 2010 Todd Long was promoting a fake Madison quote that David Barton himself had tossed on the trash heap ten years earlier.
Indeed, by 2009 unregenerate Christian Reconstructionists on the hard theocratic religious right were themselves denouncing the Madison quote as unsubstantiated, though Todd Long seems not to have gotten the memo.
Not that David Barton is especially reliable as a source to begin with - although Barton's writing has for years been debunked by secular critics, in 2012 a withering storm of criticism from conservative evangelical scholars convinced the evangelical publisher Thomas Nelson to take the nearly unprecedented step of pulling its published copies of Barton's book The Jefferson Lies, which had hit the New York Times bestseller list, off bookstore shelves - in effect unpublishing Barton's book - because of numerous factual errors.
That's almost all I have to say about history lies in Todd Long's book, at least from the limited text of Long's book I'm able to access via the Google Books "look inside this book" feature. But to finish up, Todd Long attached a footnote to the fake James Madison quote in his book, which references a May 30, 2005 article on the History New Network, by University of Dayton Professor Larry Schweikart, titled "Did You Know that Half the Declaration's Signers Had Divinity School Training?", in which Schweikart propagates the forementioned "56 signers" myth and several other classic history lies and distortions as well.
While Schweikart's 2005 book A Patriot's History of the United States seems to steers clear of the typical Christian nationalist history lies, the 2005 History News Network article promoted a number of egregious American history falsifications - including the claim about the founders' "divinity school" training, the assertion Thomas Jefferson was head of the American Bible Society, and the often-debunked myth that in its early period the U.S. Congress "authorized the purchase of 20,000 Bibles in 1777 from Holland---a fact that anti-religious websites deliberately misrepresent" (as Schweikart's HNN article put it.)
Schweikart's article concluded, with a histrionic and perhaps unintentionally ironic flourish,
"I’d wager that had they [the founders] seen the perversions of their intended protection of Christianity, more than a few would have uttered, “Oh, my God!” "
One might suppose that Todd Long, a lawyer by training, would have had at least a passing interest in maintaining factual accuracy, by determining the provenance of these claims, including the false Madison quote - especially because such claims seem to upend traditionally accepted historical assessments of America's founders.
But in the end Long would seem to be notably incurious, a history ignoramus even, or, as author Rodda might put it, a "liar for Jesus". How many more in the Grand Old Party will wear this inglorious appellation? It's an unfortunate fate that's overtaken the once-great party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Eisenhower.
In 2008, almost 1/3 of Republican representatives in Congress (and several Democrats as well), including the esteemed Republicans Todd Akin, Michele Bachmann, Paul Broun (himself author of a history lie-derived House resolution), and Ron Paul, signed on a cosponsors of the history lie-packed House Resolution 888, "Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our nation's founding" -- a measure sponsored by Republican Randy J. Forbes, co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, who reintroduced versions of the fake history-replete resolution in subsequent Congressional sessions as well. As a block, the Congressional Prayer Caucus members constituted the overwhelming bulk of endorsers of H.R. 888 and its subsequent clone resolutions.
Another of the original H.R. 888 cosponsors was Former Mississippi Republican Representative Charles "Chip" Pickering, who made an inadvertent appearance in the 2006 mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
In 2008 Pickering opted to not run again for his twelve-year congressional seat, and the following year Pickering's wife, with whom Chip Pickering had fathered and raised five sons, filed a lawsuit for alienation of affection which alleged that Pickering had carried on an adulterous affair while living at the infamous "C Street House" maintained by the Washington D.C. neo-evangelical network known as The Fellowship (or The Family), which sponsors the yearly National Prayer Breakfast.
Pickering's surprise retirement from national politics came shortly after cosponsoring legislation to declare 2008 "the National Year of the Bible".