People For the American Way’s recent report on David Barton was subtitled, “Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America.” Barton has really hit the big time this week, with a profile in the New York Times and an appearance on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart’s popular Comedy Central program. Anyone who questions Barton’s facility at manipulating and distorting history should watch him in action, denying reality with a straight face.
In the extended interview available online, Stewart did a good job getting Barton to admit that he doesn’t believe the First Amendment applies to the states, and that he thinks states and localities ought to be able to establish religion. (If you’re a Jewish kid forced to start the day with Christian prayers in your local public school, tough luck. If you don’t like it, move someplace with a Jewish majority.) The good-natured Stewart did not call Barton a liar even when Barton contradicted the facts that Stewart put before him.
RWW will be providing some detailed fact-checking on Barton’s interview, but here’s the big picture:
Barton dramatically downplayed his promotion of his “Christian nation” historical revisionism; he misrepresented his use of Jesus and the Bible to promote right-wing economic policies; and he asserted that he had never had to retract a single thing, which is demonstrably false. Barton also said his critics have never provided documentation of his manipulations, which is laughably untrue. Our recent report cited a number of historians critiquing his claims and linked to very detailed refutations, some of which Stewart asked him about directly. Barton has admitted
that a number of alleged quotations from the founders that he used to promote are inaccurate or non-confirmable from original documents.
Barton also distorted his use of the Bible to support right-wing economics. When Stewart questioned him about using the Bible that way, Barton suggested that in a particular speech he was simply citing historical documents referencing a 1765 sermon. In fact, Barton has repeatedly claimed a biblical basis for right-wing views on progressive taxation in speeches and broadcasts and on his own website
. Among his targets: the capital gains tax, the inheritance tax, minimum wages, and “socialist union kind of stuff.” His use of the Bible to promote his take on taxes and labor relations is no more trustworthy than his use of historical documents.
Perhaps the scariest claim Barton made, if it were true, is that he secretly edited the nation’s best selling public school textbook but kept his name off of it to avoid controversy. Let’s hope that claim is about as accurate as many others he made on Stewart’s show.
UPDATE: Chris Rodda, who challenges Barton’s scholarship by examining the historical documents he says support his claims, has responded to Barton’s latest distortions by offering her book, Liars for Jesus, for free as a download.