Historians blast GOP candidates for their appropriation of the Founding Fathers





The Republican presidential campaign is breathing new life into the Founding Fathers.

In recent months, Republican candidates have invoked these original American statesmen to provide powerful political precedents on issues as diverse as the “Me Generation,” inequality, the legalization of marijuana, the policies of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, foreign military intervention, same-sex marriage and religion in public life. And although in real life they often bitterly disagreed with one another, the newly imagined Founding Fathers have reached a surprising degree of harmony in the minds of the GOP presidential candidates on these contemporary matters — many of which were unimaginable in an era of horse-drawn carriages, kerosene lamps and powdered wigs....

Many historians say, however, that the GOP candidates’ portrait of the past misrepresents it.

“You can’t ask what the framers would do without giving them the same information we have,” says Stanford University history professor Jack Rakove. “You can’t pluck them out of the past and put them down in the present. They were deeply empirical in their political thinking.”...

Historians say ... that the Founders had divergent views on religion. “What Santorum and Gingrich are doing is typical: using history as civic religion, creating a mythology of the Founding Fathers in order to rationalize their present-day political beliefs,” George Mason University history professor Rosemarie Zagarri wrote in an e-mail. “By wrenching a quote out of context (Santorum) or making wild assertions based on uncorroborated speculation (Gingrich) the Founding Fathers can be used for almost any purpose.”

“Neither one of them is really interested in history. Because it gets much harder and more complicated when you are,” she added....



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