Friday, January 14, 2011

Harvard's Jill Lepore Ties Jared Loughner to Tea Party 'Constitution Worship'

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History and Chair of the History and Literature Program at Harvard University. She's also the author of The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History, a book that "offers a wry and bemused look at American history according to the far right" (published by Princeton University Press). And she's a staff writer at The New Yorker as well, where she's just published an intriguing article on the tea party's "worship" of the U.S. Constitution: "The Commandments."

It's an important article, to be fair, both reasonable and informative. While reading it I thought it might be a useful addition to the first week's readings on my syllabus for Introduction to American Government. (And, interestingly, others had roughly the same thoughts.) That said, I couldn't help noticing the graphic artwork accompanying the piece. I read this in hard copy while out for coffee, and the full 8 ½ by 11 image is quite dramatic. Notice the placement of the American eagle above "We the People." The wings are spread wide and at the breast is a coat-of-arms replicating the colors of the American flag. This isn't an image that's commonly seen at tea parties. In fact, it more closely resembles the Reichsadler, the national insignia of Nazi Germany. This makes sense if we keep in mind the far-left sensibilities of The New Yorker's elitist mindset and readership. That doesn't make it any less disingenuous and reprehensible.

But it gets worse. Noticing that the timing of her publication coincides with the shooting massacre in Tuscon, Lepore posted
a blog entry at The New Yorker tying Jared Loughner's ravings on the Constitution to her thesis of the far-right's "cult of the Constitution." And the editors have illustrated the post with the same artistic misrepresentation of the tea parties (screencap here). Lepore of course offers the obligatory disclaimer, twice, that Jared Lee Loughner was clinically insane. And with that task complete, she deploys the same despicable blood libel to smear conservatives and the tea party movement, "Jared Lee Loughner and the Constitution":
Loughner had lost his mind. Early reports have it that he had also posted on his MySpace page a photograph of a U.S. history textbook with a gun on top of it. In September police had to remove him from a classroom at Pima Community College, after he called the syllabus “unconstitutional” and delivered what his professor called “a rant about the Constitution.” In December he posted on YouTube a statement reading, “The majority of citizens in the United States of America have never read the United States of America’s Constitution.”

Reading the Constitution, and especially the Second Amendment, is what I happen to have
written about in this week’s magazine. I started writing this essay in September, and finished it in December, because I was struck, all fall, by how American political rhetoric had been shifting from a battle over the memory of the Revolution to a contest over the Constitution.

No one knows why Jared Lee Loughner did what he did. Maybe no one will ever know. No one can explain madmen with guns. There’s a corridor at the John F. Kennedy Library where the walls are painted black and where television monitors play, night and day, a single scene: Walter Cronkite announcing Kennedy’s death. He takes his glasses off; he looks at the clock; he puts his glasses back on. He takes them off. He says not a word. And then, he puts his glasses back on.

Again, notice the rank dishonesty. "No one knows why" Loughner did what he did, but despite that Lepore and The New Yorker have gone above and beyond the left's call of duty to firmly place him within the ranks of the alleged tea party "cult of the Constitution."

And there's some additional background. It turns out that Lepore spoke at a panel discussion on the "Tea Party" at the 2010
New Yorker Festival at DGA Theater in October. The festival was cited at the Toronto Star in November, where Lepore is interviewed: "The U.S. Constitution as Celebrity." The piece shines additional light on the thinking of the progressives elites:

“What we're seeing at the Tea Party rallies is a comic-book, American heritage version of the past that comes in defiance of historical analysis,” says Jill Lepore, an award-winning Harvard University history professor and staff writer with The New Yorker.

“It is in some ways a religious revival for an America that simply never was. The founders, the framers of the Constitution, believed in skepticism and reason and inquiry, working with a set of ideas that came from the Enlightenment. It was reason against passion. And so to just sort of revere the Constitution with religious fervour, waving it around like a talisman, is antithetical to the document itself.”

Lepore tackles the issue head-on in her new book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History, and comes away with considerable nuance. Combining interviews with Tea Partiers and her own scholarly study of America's founding era, she traces the Tea Party's roots to the bicentennial of the 1970s, when few Americans could agree on how to tell the messy story of the country's beginnings.

Then, as now, the U.S. roiled with divisions that Lepore believes are driving today's Tea Party movement.

“Vietnam, Kent Sate, Watergate, all those assassinations — it was a time when it felt really bad to be American, and a portion of our population never really got to the other side of the crisis,” Lepore told the Toronto Star in an interview this week.

“They've been looking all this time for a way to feel good about it again. And I find it heartbreaking that there are these people who felt they lost touch with the meaning of American until they found it in the Tea Party movement. It's sad because, as an historian, I do have a narrative of the meaning of America that I find very powerful — but I guess I and my colleagues haven't done a good enough job of sharing it.”

We've long seen how tea party envy has been a common theme for the Obama era (the "coffee party," for example), and in Lepore's interview we see the lament that academic elites have failed to tap the tea party's populist vibrancy. And so, when people and movements find themselves failing to be on the right side of history (like the progressives), they lash out. They attack and disparage. And they engage in libelous accusations that work to destroy any efforts at civil debate they purportedly claim to champion. All of this is hardly surprisingly, although it's certainly dispiriting, in one way after another.

Anyway, William Jacobson's got related thoughts, "The False Narrative Of Tea Party Violence Attempts Suicide." And Instapundit on "heated rhetoric." Plus, at American Spectator, "Mark Levin's $100,000 Challenge to Chris Matthews." (via Memeorandum).

Finally, at The Other McCain, "
How to Talk to a Follower of the Zeitgeist Cult (If You Must)."

19 comments:

paul a'barge said...

Take a good look at the face of evil: Jill Lepore

paul a'barge said...

Take a good look at the face of evil: Jill Lepore

^^^ click here.

dave in boca said...

Very good post. I read the New Yorker article by LePore and her insinuations are very seductive while her intellectual dishonesty is very much in evidence all through the piece. Good catch on the Reichsadler logo, TNY is riddled with all sorts of hidden clues for mindless lefties to dig out---Hertzberg and others are beneath contempt as is the Bolshie David Remnick, who wants to turn the USA into the USSR whose downfall he chronicled. How soon the worm turns, eh?

Roxeanne de Luca said...

“They've been looking all this time for a way to feel good about it again. And I find it heartbreaking that there are these people who felt they lost touch with the meaning of American until they found it in the Tea Party movement. It's sad because, as an historian, I do have a narrative of the meaning of America that I find very powerful — but I guess I and my colleagues haven't done a good enough job of sharing it.”

What always confounds me - perhaps because I've been trained to be rational - is the way that Leftists continuously turn this into a discussion about feelings. We talk about the debt, compound interest, the ratio of the federal budget to the GDP, and that somehow, in the mind of a progressive, translates into "feelings". I mean, we talk about objective data, numbers, the CBO, textualism, and they start talking about our need to tap feelings of being happy to be American.

Not only is Lepore not on the same page as the Tea Party, she's off reading Cosmo's tips on nails while we're reading Adam Smith, Milton Freidman, and Ayn Rand.

I know that she's a professor of history, but I can't help but think, "Babycakes, it's not about feelings; it's about big scary economics and math topics."

Anonymous said...

That eagle with the American flag shield is part of the official Great Seal of the United States, dating back to the late 1700s, and appears in many other images such as the Eagle Scout badge. I don't think most Americans see anything sinister about it or anything that evokes Nazi Germany.

elaine said...

I guess the alleged "Constitution worship" of the right is so frightening to the left because they haven't read or understood the document in question. They can't argue the merits of agreeing with the Constitution or not, since they haven't a clue what's in it. So all they can do is bleat about the "unnatural" fascination tea partiers have for the Constitution.

It's sad that their criticisms point out their own ignorance. We should really all feel terribly sorry for them...

daddyquatro said...

I actually wasted 20 minutes of my life reading that codswollop.
I would respectfully ask Ms.Lepore; why is it that our military officers, Congresscritters, and even the President! do not give an oath to America, but to THE CONSTITUTION?

Yeah, it matters.

AmPowerBlog said...

@ Anonymous: "That eagle with the American flag shield is part of the official Great Seal of the United States..."

Actually, not. The the wings of the Great Seal project upwards. The New Yorker's image is identical to the Nazis' Reichsadler.

bigmike said...

So Jill Lepore is "concerned" about Tea Partiers, for their own good ,no doubt. She just has our "best interests", in her heart. She's a kind and caring person, and I hope her heart will be broken (metaphorically of course) if Palin beats Obama in Nov. 2012 like a rented mule,(again, metaphorically of course) I will at that time be busy ROTFLMAO.

Bill Dalasio said...

Aside from her silly attempts to tie Loughner in with the Tea Parties, I'd note Lepore seems to have a serious misunderstanding of the American Revolution and the Constitution. Specifically, she seems to be conflating the American and French revolutions. As Burke noted over two hundred years ago, the two were wildly different in character and outlook. As much as America's founding fathers were guided by reason and Enlightenment ideals, they were under no illusions of man's perfectability and made no attempt to remake society on rationalistic lines. By and large, the founders would have been much more comfortable with Hayek than Keynes or the Fabians.

rashomon said...

Interesting, too, that Loughner's fetishism of the constitution seemed to arise from his disdain of the Iraq war and George Bush, the politician whose name he could not hear without ranting. He apparently had Bush derangement syndrome as much as any New Yorker editor. Not exactly typical for a Tea Party supporter.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, not. The the wings of the Great Seal project upwards. The New Yorker's image is identical to the Nazis' Reichsadler."

I look at that eagle and instead of a Nazi symbol I see the rank insignia of a colonel, or of a captain in the Navy and Coast Guard. Its use pre-dates by decades, if not a century or more, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany.

Michael K said...

My daughter took a course on "American History Since 1877" as a freshman at U of Arizona. Her course materials, handouts from the professor as a study guide for the final exam, had many misrepresentations of history. One was that the "Silent Majority," a 1960s version of the tea party perhaps, was made up of white people who objected to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and who wanted to return to Laissez Faire policies from before the New Deal. That is not true and I'm sure the professor knew it. I wonder what the good professor would have to say about it. College kids are getting propaganda, not history, at these leftist institutions.

AmPowerBlog said...

@ McGehee:

"I look at that eagle and instead of a Nazi symbol I see the rank insignia of a colonel, or of a captain in the Navy and Coast Guard ..."

Okay, I'm really sure the editors at The New Yorker were all about comparing the tea party ideology to the Navy and the Coast Guard. Think man, and click the image for the Reichsadler.

Anonymous said...

“They've been looking all this time for a way to feel good about it again.

Ms. Lepore, you're quite wrong. It's the left that has felt bad about America - see our First Lady's comment about how her husband's nomination to the Presidency was the first time she'd felt proud of America. The right has always felt good about America. What the Tea Party has done is to give them a vehicle to make those good things important in the political arena again.

Anonymous said...

Might also want to check out the legs of the kneeling Uncle Sam which, along with the odd positioning of the arms, make up a reasonable representation of a swastika.

Bob said...

As someone who spent a few years at Harvard for grad school, the thing to remember about the place is that it's completely conservative, establishment, and un-creative (all with small letters). In the year 2011 there is nothing more "establishment" than warmed-over 1960's leftism, and that's what the dottering baby boomers who now run Harvard idolize. It is safe, stale, unoriginal, and totally establishment. The original, creative, imaginative, dangerous thinking on the American left was all taking place 40 or more years ago -- you may completely disagree with it, but that was the period of intellectual vitality. Harvard waits until a movement gets totally safe and stale, and then buys famous celebrity representatives (cf. Skip Gates). I guarantee Harvard will embrace Tea Party ideas, too -- in about 40 years.

tom swift said...

Tea Party envy, indeed. Probably the key concept here.

The public is becoming enthused about the idea that the Constitution worked before and it can work again, no matter what dishonest leftist propagandists at Harvard may say; and this enthusiasm leaves the Harvard types mystified.

Good.

SH said...

“Vietnam, Kent Sate, Watergate”

Hmmm, Vietnam [re: we were loosing], Ken State [peaceful demonstration], the Pentagon Papers [said what the left claimed vs not saying it], we caused the Cambodian genocide, Dallas hate caused the Kennedy assignation, this loon was influenced by the Tea Party… heck, even that the US right has ties to the Euro right…

The left is just projecting here… their view of history is based on nonsensical founding myths… and also airbrushes out their own flaws and times of being on the wrong side (re: see progressive racism of the 20-30’s).

Most adult conservatives know about the US’s flaws. They just don’t want to throw the constitution out due to them. Can't say I think the left knows their own flaws.