Not all of history is open to interpretation

Earlier this month, former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin (R) offered her amusing-but-wrong take on Paul Revere, arguing that he “warned the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms,” and by “ringin’ those bells” and making “warning shots,” Revere made clear “we were gonna be secure.”

Obviously, none of this was true. But conservative activists weren’t quite satisfied with history as it was, so they strenuously argued that Palin’s recollection was kinda sorta true if you tilt your head, read every other word, and looked between the lines. It was a sad display, and a reminder that much of the political world has entered a post-truth era.

This dynamic was apparent again this morning. Michele Bachmann was asked to explain her contention that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly to end slavery,” which didn’t happen. Bachmann responded her observation is “absolutely true” if you “look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams.” She added that Adams “most certainly was a part of the Revolutionary War era. He was a young boy but he was actively involved.”

I noted that John Quincy Adams was a nine-year-old boy when the Declaration of Independence was signed, making Bachmann’s argument foolish.

This, of course, led the right to do just as it did with Palin and Paul Revere — make an effort to spin falsehoods into reality.

One conservative told me Bachmann’s comments were “100% accurate,” and pointed to Adams’ work as a diplomatic envoy as teenager. Another made a similar case:

Does Steve Benen know that 1783 found John Quincy Adams on a US diplomatic mission to Russia? Doesn’t look like it.

As much as I appreciate this review of Adams history — I’ve always been a John Quincy Adams fan; he was something of a liberal — the effort to defend Bachmann this way is terribly silly.

She argued the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly to end slavery.” This is plainly false. Bachmann argued that John Quincy Adams was a Founding Father. This is plainly false, too. Pointing to Adams’ accomplishments as a youngster doesn’t change the fact that Bachmann keeps saying things that aren’t true.

Her defenders can argue that Bachmann merely misspoke. They can also argue these errors aren’t especially important, and that the candidate’s beliefs on public policy (which also happen to be wrong) are far more relevant than her historical errors. Both of these are reasonable responses.

But changing history to suit a partisan worldview is always a mistake. Conservatives used to understand this, and I hope they can do so again someday.