Today, People For the American Way released a new report entitled “Barton’s Bunk: Religious Right ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America” written by PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery that exposes David Barton’s shoddy pseudo-history and why it matters:
Barton’s growing visibility and influence with members of Congress and other Republican Party officials is troubling for many reasons: he distorts history and the Constitution for political purposes; he encourages religious divisiveness and unequal treatment for religious minorities; and he feeds a toxic political climate in which one’s political opponents are not just wrong, but evil and anti-God.
Scholars have criticized Barton for presenting facts out of context or in misleading ways, but that hasn’t stopped him from promoting his theories through books, television, and, yes, the textbooks that will teach the next generation of Americans. He promotes conspiracy theories about elites hiding the truth from average Americans in order to undermine the nation from within. Last summer, he declared that liberal and media attacks on the Tea Party were just like attacks on Jesus. In February, Barton spoke at the Connect 2011 Pastors Conference, where he said that Christians needed to control the culture and media so that “guys that have a secular viewpoint cannot survive.” Said Barton, “If the press lacks moral discrimination, it’s because we haven’t been pushing our people to chop that kind of news off.”
Barton’s work is not just an academic exercise. It is meant to have a political impact. For Barton, “documenting” the divine origins of his interpretations of the Constitution gives him and his political allies a potent weapon. Barton promotes a false reality in which anyone who opposes any element of his political agenda stands in opposition to both the Founding Fathers and to God. He believes that everything in our society – government, the judiciary, the economy, the family – should be governed according to the Bible, and he promotes a view of the Bible and Jesus that many Christians would not recognize. Opponents, even Christians, who disagree with Barton about tax policy or the powers of Congress are not only wrong, they are un-American and anti-religious, enemies of America and of God.
President Obama is a particularly frequent target of Barton’s. In January, one of his WallBuilders Live radio shows was titled “Why is Obama Trying to Remove God from the United States?” In March, right-wing “news” service WND quoted Barton accusing Obama (falsely of course) of being “engaged in a pattern of ‘willfully, deliberately’ repudiating America’s Christian heritage.”
Those are the kind of accusations long favored by the Religious Right, and they are destructive. Claims that political opponents are evil and are actively trying to destroy Americans’ freedoms poison the public arena, make constructive civic discourse nearly impossible, and have the potential to incite acts of violence.
Elected officials who endorse Barton give his claims credibility they do not deserve. He in turn gives cover and a veneer of legitimacy to right-wing politicians interested in putting their notions of a nation created by and for Christians into public policy. Both Barton and his backers are undermining understanding of, and respect for, vital American values and constitutional principles like separation of church and state and equal treatment under the law.
And last night, Peter appeared on “The Last Word” with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss Barton and his influence: