Author: Jill Lepore
Title: The Whites of Their Eyes: the Tea Party’s revolution and the battle over American history
Publication Info: Princeton : Princeton University Press, c2010.
Summary/Review: Harvard historian Jill Lepore investigates the rhetoric of the Tea Party particularly the claim by many right-wing politicians to speak to the original intent of the Revolutionary generation and the framers of the Constitution. Lepore meets with Tea Party activists in the Boston area and respectfully reports their views while not leaving them unchallenged. Lepore also writes about the historical figures of the Revolution and how their memory is claimed and interpreted throughout American political history (particularly by left-wing activists during the Bicentennial celebration). The book skips around a bit – especially distracting in the later pages – but it is a good, brief journalistic take on the politics of cultural memory.
The founders were not prophets. Nor did they hope to be worshiped. They believed that to defer without examination to what your forefathers believed is to become a slave to the tyranny of the past. – p. 113
Citizens and their elected officials have all sorts of reasons to support or oppose all sorts of legislation and government action, including constitutionality, precedence and the weight of history. But it’s possible to cherish the stability of the law and the durability of the Constitution, as amended over two and a half centuries of change and one civil war, and tested in the courts, without dragging the Founding Fathers from their graves. To point this out neither dishonors the past nor relieves anyone of the obligation to study it. The the contrary.
“What would the founders do?” is, from the point of view of historical analysis, an ill-considered and unanswerable question, and pointless, too. Jurists and legislators need to investigate what the framers meant, and some Christians make moral decisions by wondering what Jesus would do, but no NASA scientist decides what to do about the Hubble by asking what Isaac Newton would make of it. People who ask what the founders would do quite commonly declare that they know, they know, they just know what the founders would do and, mostly it comes to this: if only the could see us now, they would be rolling over in their graves. …
That’s not history. It’s not civil religion, the faith in democracy that binds Americans together. It’s not original ism or even constitutionalism. That’s fundamentalism. – p. 124-25
This, I guess, was the belly of the beast, the alarming left-wing lunacy, the godless irreverence, the socialist political indocrination taught in the public schools of the People’s Republic of Cambridge: an assignment that requires research, that raises questions about perspective, that demands distinctions between fact and opinion, that bears an audience in mind — an assignment that teaches the art of historical writing. – p. 161
Recommended books: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman, The Purpose of the Past by Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove, and The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution by Alfred F. Young