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The Unbearable Lightness of Bachmann
By Doug Kendall, President
Talking Points Memo wonderfully recounts the factual errors in a recent speech by Rep. Michele Bachmann about our nation’s founding:
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) had an interesting take this weekend on America's first European settlers, who she said "had different cultures, different backgrounds, different traditions." "How unique in all of the world, that one nation that was the resting point from people groups all across the world," she said. "It didn't matter the color of their skin, it didn't matter their language, it didn't matter their economic status." "Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn't that remarkable?" she asked. Speaking at an Iowans For Tax Relief event, Bachmann (R-MN) also noted how slavery was a "scourge" on American history, but added that "we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States." "And," she continued, "I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly -- men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country." It's true -- Adams became a vocal opponent of slavery, especially during his time in the House of Representatives. But Adams was not one of the founders, nor did he live to see the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1863 (he died in 1848).
Bachmann's story has more shameful errors than one can recount, but the most disturbing thing about her speech is that these errors appear deliberate, in service of a whitewashed, Tea Party vision of the American founding, where the Founders could do no wrong.
Bachmann makes no mention of the Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who owned and sold slaves throughout their lives. Nor does she bring up those stinging phrases from the Constitution such as "three-fifths of all other persons" that enshrined the institution of the slavery in our Nation's charter until it was amended after the Civil War. Rather, she, like her colleagues on the House floor recently, left these portions out, and she ended her story about John Quincy Adams (age 8 when his father, John Adams, signed the Declaration of Independence) with the admonition that "Instead of continuously going back and looking at the weaknesses and stains of America, let's look at the greatness of America . . ."
America is great and so were our Founders, but America's Founders were not perfect. By deifying the founding moment, Bachmann and the Tea Party ignore the great and enduring accomplishments of successive generations of Americans -- the Reconstruction Republicans (Amendments 13-15), the Progressives (Amendments 16 -17), the Women's Suffrage Movement (Amendment 19), the Civil Rights Movement (Amendment 24) -- who fought tirelessly to make our Constitution and this country the "more perfect union" we live in today.
The lightness of Michele Bachmann's historical account isn't unbearable because of its inaccuracies: it's unbearable because it misrepresents the arc of historical progress that makes America great.