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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dear GOP: Thomas Paine Wouldn't Like You

Over at his excellent blog, historian J.L. Bell takes Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to task for a recent (and fake) quote he used during his Nevada Caucus speech. Here is the video:



This is a stirring quote and Romney supporters gobbled it up like there was no tomorrow. Only one problem: it's bogus. As J.L. Bell points out via Buzzfeed:


The quote is widely attributed to Paine online, but searching through his works [also easily done online] revealed that the quote doesn't appear in any of them. Fred Shapiro, editor of the authoritative Yale Book of Quotations published by Yale University Press, told BuzzFeed that "the notion that Thomas Paine said this is extremely ridiculous."
Apparently Mitt Romney got the message...kinda...sorta. A couple days after making the historical faux pas, Romney abandoned referencing Thomas Paine but not the quote:


Sorry, Governor. Thanks for trying. You still failed.

But in fairness to Governor Romney (and I personally have no problem with the man or his candidacy), this is not the first time that a GOP figure has misused Thomas Paine. I am reminded of a few years ago when radio nut-job Glenn Beck kept invoking the legacy of Thomas Paine to support his conservative talking points. Heck, Beck even went so far as to write a book entitled "Common Sense" (just like Paine's), which he claimed was written in part to honor one of his favorite revolutionary characters. Beck also invoked Thomas Paine on his television and radio programs on numerous occasions. For example:


Yes, it is fair to say that Glenn Beck once had a deep love affair with one Thomas Paine, and GOP activists surely gobbled up this bogus actor's intense portrayal of a modern day, Tea Party-loving Thomas Paine, who not only just happened to agree with everything they believe, but also presents himself as a creepy Dracula figure.

But, sadly, Glenn Beck has given up on Thomas Paine in recent years. Why is that, you ask? Because Beck eventually learned the painful truth that Thomas Paine had almost nothing in common with modern day conservatism. I guess this is what happens when you try to preach history at the same time that you are learning it. Things can get a bit messy, a lesson Glenn Beck has learned first-hand as he came to the realization that the REAL Thomas Paine stood for almost everything Beck hates. For example:

1.) Beck believes that America is a "Christian Nation" and that religion in America is under attack. Thomas Paine believed that religion was a fraud and a plague in society. As Paine stated, "The Bible is such a book of lies and contradictions there is no knowing which part to believe or whether any” and " “We must be compelled to hold this doctrine to be false, and the old and new law called the Old and New Testament, to be impositions, fables and forgeries.”

2.) Beck believes that progressive taxation is unconstitutional and destructive of American society. Thomas Paine believed strongly in progressive taxation. Paine wanted estate taxes, land taxes, revenue taxes, taxes on the rich, etc.

3.) Beck believes that America was never meant to be a welfare nation. Thomas Paine believed that it was one of the duties of the new republic to provide welfare for the needy.

Thomas Paine also favored feminism, large government, government programs, animal rights, restrictions on religion, and a number of other things that Glenn Beck believes are "evil." In short, Thomas Paine and Glenn Beck are about as far apart from one another as you can get. Perhaps this is why Glenn Beck has moved on to hijacking and pretending to be a different founder these days?

So what is the deal with modern day conservatives invoking the legacy of arguably our most liberal founding father? Are they just stupid?

I believe it is because Thomas Paine is such a quotable founder and his rhetoric appeals to virtually everyone these days (as it did back in his day). Paine was a FANTASTIC writer. His words cut as deep to the 21st century reader as they did to the 18th century citizen. For this reason, Paine is a desirable man to have in your corner. But the fact remains that Thomas Paine was not supportive of the type of government/politics that Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck and most of today's GOP proclaim as gospel. And I am not criticizing those political views. There is much in modern day conservatism that I find valuable. With that said, this bizarre GOP love affair with all things Thomas Paine needs to stop. Thomas Paine was NOT a conservative, and I believe he would detest today's Republican candidates, windbag talk radio hosts and Tea Party protesters.

Sorry folks, Paine was an evil "progressive."

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