Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The compulsion to defend

One thing I will never understand is the desire to defend one's "political side" no matter what, as if the people on your side can never be wrong and the other side right.  And one reason I don't understand it is that it is so counter productive.  If you are trying to gain adherents you have to establish some level of credibility and making strained arguments in support of a person on your side of the political divide is a sure way to lose forever a reputation as being intellectualy honest. 

This comes to mind because a number of conservatives are claiming that on the Sunday shows Michelle Bachman was right and George Stephanoupolis wrong when the former argued that the founders worked tirelessly to end slavery and in support of this Bachman gave as an example John Quincy Adams.  National Review Online has a post on the matter http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/270727/history-lesson-george-stephanopoulos-andrew-c-mccarthy as does the American Spectator http://spectator.org/blog/2011/06/28/levin-stephanopoulos-is-foolis

Now first, I think it is pretty clear that "founders" is all inclusive so that to point to Madison or Hamilton as the posters due in support of Bachman is useful and balanced but hardly convincing to the point as stated.  Bachman isn't wrong if she put forth the idea that some of the founders worked and made important contributions to end slavery, but that isn't really what she said.   As stated, it's a bit of a historical white wash (no pun intended).

Second, "worked tirelessly" is ambiguous but I think a reasonable interpretation would be that it is for the person in question an issue of the highest priority.  John Brown worked tirelessly to end slavery.  I'm not sure even Hamilton could be described as working tirelessly to end slavery, admirable as his actions were, but clearly Thomas Jefferson did not.

And third, John Quincy Adams is an important figure in american history but it strains credulity to think that the posters here would really categorize him as one of the founders.  Yes, he was along for his father's diplomatic missions and he went to Russia by himself, but please.  He didn't sign the Declaration of Independence and he wasn't a representative at the Constitutional Convention, nor was he behind any of the founding documents such as the Federalist Papers.  "The founders" as most would interpret it includes John Adams, not his son.

This isn't of course a big deal.  Political speech is prone to flights of fancy and besides being a good politician isn't the same as being a good historian.  Which is all the more reason why the political commentary surrounding this surprises me.  She isn't a dunce and I would guess she knows more history than I do, but you have to conclude that she is more wrong here than right.  There, is that so hard?

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