I find myself in the unusual position of defending Sarah Palin – sort of. Ever since she visited Boston, comedians and commentators have poked fun at her apparent mangling of Paul Revere’s activities of April 18-19, 1775. (By the way, the finest account of that event is Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer). Here’s what Palin said:
He who warned uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.
There is a kernel of factual accuracy in what Palin said. While Revere certainly wasn’t warning the British of anything – he took extreme measures to avoid the British that night – the warning he brought to Middlesex County was that the British were coming to take away their arms; specifically, a large quantity of munitions stockpiled at Concord.
Palin undoubtedly knows the basics of the Paul Revere story. Her repackaging of that story was her attempt to twist the broadly accepted factual account to fit her ideology. In her interpretation of this slice of American history, Paul Revere became a Second Amendment zealot even before there was a Second Amendment.
Watch Palin’s speeches and remarks going forward. They’ll be sprinkled with such re-interpretations of US history that twist broadly agreed upon accounts of past events to fit her ideology. Commentators might ridicule her apparent verbal missteps, but I see a deliberate strategy to co-opt American history to promote a political agenda. Given the sad state of historic education in America today, it’s a strategy that stands a substantial chance of success.