David Barton is a terrible liar, but he’s still a very popular DM

David Barton is a terrible liar, but he’s still a very popular DM December 10, 2013

Hemant Mehta, Warren  Throckmorton and Kyle Mantyla all reported last week on the latest outrageous lie from outrageous liar David Barton. Their posts reminded me that I haven’t mentioned this after the fact. I discussed this lie before Barton told it, posting this late last month:

I try to make a habit here of highlighting these things as a kind of prophylactic against the lies habitually told by some of my fellow Christians who seem to think it’s their religious duty — or their vocation — to lie about black presidents. Here, then, is President Barack Obama’s 2013 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation. And here’s his Thanksgiving-themed weekly address. That’s a public statement from the White House, so it’s not secret or obscure. And that’s Obama saying:

No matter our differences, we’re all part of one American family.  We are each other’s keeper.  We are one nation, under God.  That core tenet of our American experience has guided us from the earliest days of our founding – and it will guide us to a future that’s even brighter than today.

Thank you, God bless you, and from my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

Feel free to bookmark that page so you can refer back to it later when Mike Huckabee or The Liar Tony Perkins or Bryan Fischer or some other purportedly pious white dude says, yet again, that Obama never says such things.

And then, like clockwork, along came David Barton. Here, via Mantyla, is Barton’s exchange with right-wing Christianist radio host Andrew Wommack:

Barton: One of the unfortunate things, this is in the past several years, the Thanksgiving message out of the White House no longer even mentions God. When we give thanks, God’s not part of that.

Wommack: Part of that’s because of who is in the White House.

Barton: That’s a real problem. You check Thanksgiving proclamations of this president with the previous ones and it’s not the same.

The really audacious aspect of this lie is that last bit, where Barton tells listeners out in fundie-land to “check Thanksgiving proclamations of this president with the previous ones.” That’s really easy to do.

Click that Let Me Google That for You link and the first page of results is comical. The top link is to the text of Obama’s proclamation, quoted above. The fourth link down is to a Fox News article titled “Obama Leaves God Out of Thanksgiving Address.” The seventh and ninth links are to earlier iterations of that same lie by other right-wing “news” outlets — one from the National Review last year and one from the American Spectator in 2010. The sixth link also discusses Obama’s 2010 proclamation. It’s to a CNN Belief blog post on “Obama’s faithy Thanksgiving proclamation,” criticizing the president for overdoing the God-talk that year.

Mantyla and Mehta both include excerpts from all of Obama’s previous Thanksgiving proclamations, demonstrating that this lie is as obviously false as it is perennially irresistible to right-wing critics of the president. Warren Throckmorton only quotes from the 2013 proclamation in his post, but he also links back to his 2012 post responding to last year’s crop of this nonsense, in which he also cites some of the other “faithy” proclamations that are both: A) an indisputable matter of very public record, and B) still claimed not to exist by a vast array of white male Christianist critics of the president. Here’s Throckmorton last year:

In addition to his Thanksgiving proclamations, Obama issued three prayer related proclamations each year he has been president.  From 2009 through the present, Obama officially recognized the National Day of Prayer, the Memorial Day Prayer for Peace and the National Days of Prayers and Remembrance in September. His language in these proclamations is enough to make atheists cringe.

It seems silly and perverse, then, for David Barton to think he’s fooling anybody by repeating such blatant and easily refuted lies.

But here’s the very very important thing to understand: David Barton doesn’t think he is fooling anybody. He tells lies, but those lies are not intended to deceive his audience or to trick his fans into believing that something false is actually true. They all know it’s a lie.

Creative Commons photo by Moroboshi via Wikimedia.

The point of lies like this one is not to deceive others, but to invite them to participate in a deception — to support one another in the mutual indulgence of a flattering fantasy.

Here’s how this works. You’re a little kid and it’s the summer between third and fourth grade. It’s not even July yet, but already you’re bored. You and a friend are hanging out at the park, near the far end by the scraggly little span of trees that all the area kids call “The Woods.”

“What do you want to do?” your friend asks.

“I dunno,” you say. There’s nothing to do.

Your friend picks up a stick and says, “We could pretend these sticks are swords, and, I don’t know, pretend that willow tree is, like, a dragon or something.”

That’s not a bad idea for a game. It’s got potential. But your friend did a lousy job in selling it and now it just seems kind of pathetic. The sticks are just sticks and the tree is just a tree. Neither one of you seems capable of supplying the one thing this game needs to make it work: conviction.

So rewind a bit. You and your friend are slouching through the park, a pair of bored and disgruntled not-yet fourth-graders. And then suddenly that weird, new kid Bobby comes bursting out of The Woods. He’s got the red vinyl cape from an old Superman costume around his neck and he’s waving a stick around in the air. “Hey Bobby,” you’re about to say, but before you can speak he bellows: “Ho there, travelers. I am Sir Robert, and I seek the aid of brave knights and adventurers to help me hunt and slay the dragon that has been carrying off the children of our kingdom!”

And now you’re in. You quickly find yourselves a couple of swords to lend to the cause and you’re off on a grand adventure with brave Sir Robert. The sticks are no longer just sticks and the willow tree will never again be just a willow tree. You don’t step back to analyze and fact-check the claims being made by your new friend the knight errant. That would just spoil the excitement of the game and you needed this game and this excitement.

Bobby is still the weirdest kid you know, but years later that will also make him the best Dungeon Master you ever met — after the same great game has moved indoors, trading the park and The Woods for a card table in the basement covered with hexagonal graph-paper, die-cast figurines and multi-sided dice. As a DM, Bobby never fails to conjure up new fantastic adventures and to present them with such conviction that you believe them — or, at least, that you want to believe them, which amounts to the same thing.

That’s the service that David Barton provides for his fans. He’s a charlatan and something of a con artist, yes, but most of his audience knows that. They’re not looking to him to provide them with truths that can withstand fact-checking, they’re turning to him for excitement — for a fantasy that makes them feel like heroes, bravely slaying monsters in a dangerous world.

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