Nov 10, 2008

A "Know-Nothing" Historian [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe, in response to an op-ed comparing Sarah Palin to 19th-century nativists:

Perhaps I would take Timothy Gay's criticism of Palin's "wink-wink" innuendos about un-Americanism more seriously if the entire article didn't itself consist of innuendo about what Palin believes. Palin would supposedly "deny scientific evolution," "eviscerate the separation of church and state," "impose ideological litmus tests," and "conduct witch hunts to weed out non-believers." As far as I can tell, Gay's complaint is about Palin's reference to Obama's former colleague Bill Ayers. If leading a violent effort to replace our system of government with a Maoist regime isn't un-American, then it's hard to imagine what is.

Gay's historical analysis is also inept. He says Fillmore presided over "two rudderless years that brought the country closer to chaos." Perhaps true, but then so did Franklin Pierce and the appalling James Buchanan, who succeeded Fillmore. (Of course, one can then argue that Abraham Lincoln's presidency brought the nation squarely "to chaos.") There's no mention of Fillmore's strong advocacy, in conjunction with legislative geniuses such as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, of the Compromise of 1850. With all its flaws and ultimate fragility, the Compromise did in fact lessen tensions between North and South, and would have been impossible had his predecessor Zachary Taylor, a southern opponent, survived his term.

If this is to be the level of discourse in the next few years of Democratic triumphalism, I have no doubt the GOP will stage a strong comeback in short order.

Of course strictly speaking, anything that happened prior to 1861 brought the nation "closer to chaos." With equal validity you might say the Clinton administration was a failure because it "brought the country closer" to Sept. 11 or anything you might ordinarily blame on President Bush.

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