Last fall I took a class with Niall Ferguson, the historian who is easily the most prominent proponent of the use of counterfactual history. Counterfactuals are “what if”s: what if the British had spent the same amount of money fighting the American Revolution as the French (never mind Napoleon), what if the Federal Reserve had performed open market operations in 1929 – questions such as that. Ferguson’s argument is that, by asking these questions, we can better understand what actually happened. I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic about the value of counterfactuals; they’re certainly fun, and can be useful, but it always seemed to me that Ferguson took them too far. But we all ask them. And much as we like to ask “what if” questions about history, we do it even more with our political process.
A few minutes ago I noticed this blog post in my Facebook news feed. Lynne Lupien from Left in Lowell had reposted it from a friend. I had never heard of the blog or its author, but it was about a counterfactual and I couldn’t resist. What followed was one of the most poignant pieces of political commentary I’ve read in recent months. The “what if” concerns the Tea Party. And unfortunately, I think the author is right.
The blog post can be found here. It’s worth reading if you have the time.