Saturday, August 13, 2011

Neutralizing Barton et al

In my time as an op-ed campaigner and, hopefully, truth teller, I would go after the usual suspects with all the energy, passion and bravado I could muster. My only regret was that I never had the opportunity to go one on one with any of the heavy hitters on the other side. But now that I’m more of a spectator I’ve begun to see how difficult it really is to pin these holy barbarians down. They may be loony and dangerous, but they ain’t dumb. They’ve mastered the art of rhetorical rope-a-dope to the point where no amount of logic, reason and scholarship, no matter how well presented, can score any significant points - except, of course, with our own choir.
So taking these people on head to head has become a no-win situation simply because they’re playing not to lose. All they need do is to stick obstinately to their absurd presumptions or toss out a veritable blizzard of cut and paste “history”, leaving us grinding our teeth in frustration as we try to extricate ourselves from their revisionist tar baby. Case in point, to me anyway, was how David Barton toyed with Jon Stewart last spring and never conceded a thing.
So I’m thinking maybe it’s time we stepped outside the box, pull a Kobayashi Maru and just rewrite the script. Why must we always feel that in order to gain the moral high ground with this lot we must thoroughly repudiate their nonsense point by point in order to be successful? How ‘bout instead we apply a little rhetorical jujitsu and force them off point for a change by turning their vaunted message discipline against them and getting them to play in our sandbox.
Forget about a frontal assault with the truth. Gets you absolutely nowhere. Perhaps it could be as simple as conceding their basic premise, hypothetically of course, and then hit whomever with something like: All right let’s imagine for a moment that you’re right and America is a Christian nation according to your criteria. Fine. Now what does that really mean? Why is it so important to you? How would this affect our day-to-day lives?
What, if anything, would change the way we the people view the five essential institutions of society - family, religion, education, economics and government? What changes in law and custom would need to be made in order to fulfill our Christian destiny? What would be the fate of dissenters or religious outsiders in this new Christian order?
Now they’re stuck to our tar baby because we’re not challenging their essential contention but rather the implications of what they’re proposing. They can no longer hide behind how many times George Washington may have uttered the word God in 1791 because now it’s totally immaterial to the discussion. People like David Barton don’t make it their life’s work to spuriously re-form the template of American history without a reason. Maybe it’s time we pull back the curtain and expose these charlatans not for what they’re saying but why they’re saying it.
At this juncture it should be said that we wouldn’t be able to pull this off without the dedicated efforts of all the right-minded historians and truth tellers who are steadfastly shoring up the firm foundation of what it really means to to be American. It is these people who keep reminding us that true history is not something that can be invented out of whole cloth at the whim of anyone who would promulgate the Big Lie for their own nefarious purposes.
As an old history teacher I find myself just now channeling Henry V when he snookered the French at Agincourt. Instead of playing by the established rules King Hal introduced a whole new set of weapons and tactics that decimated their more traditional enemy. Perhaps this is one history lesson we could all benefit from. Just a thought, folks.