Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dick Armey's Idiocy and How Americans Have Always Used the Founders For Their Own Purposes

Dana Milbank picks up this pretty hilarious gaffe from Dick Armey:

First, he said that Jamestown nearly failed in 1607 because it was "socialist."

But it actually gets better:

A member of the audience passed a question to the moderator, who read it to Armey: How can the Federalist Papers be an inspiration for the tea party, when their principal author, Alexander Hamilton, "was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government"?

Historian Armey was flummoxed by this new information. "Widely regarded by whom?" he challenged, suspiciously. "Today's modern ill-informed political science professors? . . . I just doubt that was the case in fact about Hamilton." 

But of course, Armey knows nothing about Hamilton. Milbank:

Alas, for Armey, it was the case. Hamilton favored a national bank, presidents and senators who served for life and state governors appointed by the president. 

While this is unusually stupid, even for the modern Republican Party, the reality is that Americans have long used the Founders for whatever political aims they want. Progressive masculinity worriers constantly invoked the Founders as masculine specimens that current city boys could never match. Cold Warriors used the Founders to invoke right-wing patriotism. Even Jacksonian Democrats used distorted images of these men, and some of them weren't even dead yet. Both the Civil Rights movement and segregationists harnessed Thomas Jefferson to their purposes.

Of course, Armey is exceptionally dimwitted here. After all, I can see how one might use Jefferson to support or attack segregation, but all you have to do to know what Hamilton thought about government is to read anything he ever wrote.