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Answers the Question: What do the modern Tea Party movements have to do with American history? Not much.
on October 20, 2010
The ad hominem attacks on Lepore and this book are as absurd as they are predictable. This is not intended to be a comprehensive book on American history or the revolutionary period. It sets out simply to record the ad nauseam remarks that have been made articulating the motivation of the so-called Tea Party, though Lepore in no way characterizes it as monolithic, and to cast it against what we know of the period being invoked to demonstrate how even a cursory knowledge of the people and events of that time necessarily problematizes the narrative they present, and thus raises doubts about its tidy simplicity. This does not really take much, for any expressed desire to "return to the intent of the founders" necessarily runs afoul of modern sensibilities on race, gender and class equality, given that the government they set up disenfranchised blacks, women and often those who did not own property. And in also analyzing Rifkin's leftist TEA (Tax Equity for All) Party of the early 1970s, Lepore makes clear that this distortion of history to serve a political narrative is nothing new nor is it the sole province of the Right. Thus her criticism over the (mis)use of history is aimed at both the Left and the Right, and also at the complacent scholars who have let it happen, notwithstanding the name-calling in negative reviews.
There is opinion in the work, to be sure, but there is also argument and evidence, two things that seem lacking in every ideological critique I have seen so far of this book (those that stop simply at "this is not conservative, ergo it's liberal, ergo don't read it"). As Lepore repeats several times over, this is what history is: a combative, contentious, argument (like all academic disciplines) over how best to read the evidence, not a simplistic narrative reflecting (conveniently) the ideological purposes of its espousers, and couched in little more complexity than is found in an elementary-school play. Even less so, as her heart-tugging description of school children learning about the Revolution at the close of the book (which begs comparison to many of her Tea Party interviews even if she does not expressly offer it as such) so neatly illustrates.
History (like all other scholarly pursuits) is complex and messy, and requires critical research to uncover a past that is remote from us. This is not some new, radical, theorem; it is the bedrock of all academic pursuits. That does indeed frustrate ideological, political narratives, but then, that's what stubborn facts usually do.