Politico, which Charles Pierce hilariously and accurately calls “Tiger Beat on the Potomac,” has a fawning article about David Barton and his vast influence among social conservatives. The problem starts with the headline itself: “Evangelical historian remains key ally of right.” Barton is not a historian. In fact, among historians he is considered pretty much a complete fraud. To call him a historian is to give him credibility he not only has not earned but which is entirely contrary to reality.
The article did go into the problem of his last book being pulled by its publisher, but then quickly moved on to how admirably he’s bounced back.
Just last summer, that kind of role seemed unlikely. Barton’s reputation was in tatters. It appeared doubtful that an ambitious politician would stand next to him, much less turn to him for advice. But Barton has rebounded so completely that his appearance in the inner circle of the Cruz prayer huddle in Des Moines was deemed a smart move — for Cruz — by political analysts…
Barton’s abrupt, and short-lived, fall from grace began with the publication in April 2012 of his book “The Jefferson Lies,” which portrays Thomas Jefferson as an orthodox Christian who saw no need to separate church and state.
Secular critics had long denounced Barton as a fraud who manipulates and misrepresents history to serve political goals. With the publication of “The Jefferson Lies,” several dozen academics at Christian colleges stepped forward to join the chorus.
Led by Warren Throckmorton, a professor of psychology at Grove City College, the Christian scholars tore apart the new book, pointing out a bevy of errors and distortion. Several pastors picked up the thread, organizing a boycott of Barton’s publisher, the Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson. The critiques gained so much steam that Barton’s book was voted “the least credible history book in print” in an online poll by the History News Network.Barton rejected the barrage of criticism as mean-spirited, politically motivated and just plain wrong. But in August, his publisher withdrew “The Jefferson Lies.” A senior executive explained to NPR that Thomas Nelson couldn’t stand by the book because “basic truths just were not there.”
It was a stunning repudiation of Barton’s credibility.
But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.
Who, exactly, was “astonished” that Barton’s standing with the Christian right wasn’t budged by that “repudiation”? No one that I know. Not only am I not the least bit surprised by it, it was entirely predictable. Barton’s reputation and standing among theo-cons has nothing at all to do with his credibility as a historian and their blind acceptance of his lies has no relevance at all to his continued popularity or his status as a right-wing kingmaker.
Whether he’s telling the truth or not simply does not matter to them. The narrative he sells them is what they want to be true and — voila — it is therefore true. All he has to do is say “Oh, they’re just liberal atheist Muslim communists and all they’ve done is caught a couple of minor quibbles in my work” and his followers are inoculated against reality. They have the cognitive shortcut they need to ignore the evidence and continue to believe what they want to believe. This could only be surprising to someone who hasn’t been paying attention for a very long time.