Monday, June 06, 2011

Sarah Palin on Paul Revere: Did Paul Revere Warn the British?

Americans love a good laugh. And picking on public figures is often a source of great laughs. Not surprisingly, when a public figure serves up a delicious gaffe, we are all too eager to pounce on it. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin provided such an opportunity for amusement when she said recently that Paul Revere "warned the British" and implied that he rang some bells as part of his warning. Here is a video excerpt of Palin's gaffe...

First, let's all agree that Palin's off-the-cuff remarks demonstrated she had only a vague understanding of the events surrounding Boston in April of 1775. She had only a very shallow understanding of Paul Revere and what he did. Then again, this could be said of the vast majority of Americans today. It can also be said of the vast majority of American politicians today. I shudder to think how many of our elected officials (be they at the national or state level) would pass a basic American history test.

With that in mind, let's get some perspective on this. All politicians say dumb things from time to time. Unfortunately, certain public figures have been branded in the media and, as a result, the public consciousness as especially dim-witted and their misstatements tend to get the most press. Sarah Palin is in this category. As is former Vice-President Dan Quayle and, to some extent, former President George W. Bush. (That all three of these individuals are Republicans should give the reader a hint as to the bias of the mainstream news media. Obviously, Fox News stands as a huge exception to that bias). In reality, virtually all public figures (Republicans and Democrats) have verbally blundered in the course of their time in the limelight. Here are three examples from Barack Obama....
  • "The reforms we seek would bring greater competition, choice, savings and inefficiencies to our health care system." –President Obama at a Health Care Roundtable, Washington, D.C., July 20, 2009
  • "I've now been in 57 states — I think one left to go." -Then Senator Barack Obama on the 2008 presidential campaign trail
  • "On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes -- and I see many of them in the audience here today -- our sense of patriotism is particularly strong." -Then Senator Obama at a Memorial Day campaign stop in 2008
I don't share that list to pick on Obama. My point is that Obama has largely escaped public ridicule for these gaffes. It's hard to imagine the media being nearly as generous with Palin, had she made statements along these lines. So, let's agree on two things...1) All public figures make gaffes, and 2) Certain public figures, such as Palin, get unfairly disproportionate news coverage for their gaffes.

That being said, Palin's comments on Revere were indeed a blunder. And she has only compounded the mistake by trying to defend it...

Joel Miller, author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere, probably sums up this entire episode best by saying Palin "should have been humble and admitted she got the story wrong." She truly has only herself to blame for the ridicule she is now receiving. Yet Miller's assessment also holds the mirror up to our own culture. That we invest so much time and pleasure in the mistakes of others is not something for which we should be proud. According to Miller, it's "unattractive" and "prideful" that we engage in such typical "high-vaulting and jumping down [the] throats" of those who make mistakes. Yet such is the culture we have become. And we have only ourselves to blame. And there aren't many Paul Reveres out there today to warn us of the consequences coming down the road.


Brian said...

I think the reason why Palin and conservatives are attacked more about American History is because they brand themselves as bringing America back to the "Founding" principles. If they get the history wrong, how can they possibly claim that they hold the truth of what these principles are? Basically, the principles they ascribe to the founding is merely a particular political theory that they agree with that may have existed at that period of time all the while ignoring popular oppositions to those ideas.

Anonymous said...

The problem is too many of our politicians want to act as if they now what they are talking about and then when they are caught in an inaccuracy they spin a bigger lie believing the American public will simply believe them. We should learn from our founding fathers and exercise our most important right, the right to question authority, to challenge our leaders when we disagree, and to demand the truth and accountability from our leaders.

James Stripes said...

I've seen plenty of efforts to ridicule Obama for his remark, which quite clearly is incomplete rather than wrong: his teleprompter likely said "states and territories" and he left off "and territories". If you count only occupies territories in addition to states, 58 is close, far closer than Palin's remarks about Paul Revere.

Brian's comment is one the mark: Republicans get more scorn for their errors concerning history because they brand their policies more significantly as grounded in history while the history upon which they ground their ideas is far more selective, far more simplistic, far more often not only wrong, but wrong in a manner that reveals astounding ignorance.

Obama's gaffes reflect the sort of error that anyone in front of a camera day after day will fall prey to. Palin's "gaffes" reflect her systemic misunderstanding of the American past.