The Past upon Its Throne

by Scott Korb

A look at Jill Lepore’s The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History

In her recent book, The Whites of Their Eyes, Harvard historian and regular New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore takes a close look at the Tea Party and calls it fundamentalist. The Whites of Their Eyes is a book almost entirely set in greater Boston: at Tea Party gatherings in Green Dragon Tavern, where in 1765 the Sons of Liberty themselves began gathering; at the Old South Meeting House, at re-stagings, by children, of the debates that led to the Boston Tea Party; on the field where the Battle of Lexington and Concord was fought, where on the morning of the annual reenactment Lepore’s family (and “some other sleepy-headed colonials”) wage their own little “battle on the green.”  (One thing to note about the book is how often the facts of Lepore’s own Cambridge life enter the story—in this case, the family’s annual failure to get out of bed early enough to make it to the actual reenactment; they’re there in time for the parade that follows.)

Tea Party fundamentalism—or what Lepore calls “historical fundamentalism”—is of a different kind than the religious fundamentalism The Revealer typically notes, though the two are not mutually exclusive, nor are either particularly wholesome. Continue Reading →

Q: Why Should the Intentions of the Founders Matter?

It’s the Fourth of July and while we celebrate the founding of our great nation, I’m amused by the dialogue of purity that surrounds our constitution.  Isn’t the literal interpretation of any document inherently subjective?  Times have undoubtedly changed the way Americans live.  Is the fight for constitutional purity in the benefit of a progressive nation?  One that strives to lead the world in human rights (whether you think they’re “natural,” God-given or constitutional), security and peace?  If the constitution wasn’t meant to be amended, wouldn’t the founders have left that governmental function out of it?  Instead of asking who’s more in line with the thinking of the founding fathers — who didn’t conceive of modern medicine, global economies, the internet — isn’t it more important that our contemporary government serve all its citizens instead of an ideal frozen in time?  Reihan Salam writes today (@reihansalam), “I’m a sentimental nationalist. But I can imagine better institutional arrangements than the 1776 Constitution.” Continue Reading →

Literal Interpretation of the Constitution

NPR’s Melissa Block interviewed Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, on a meeting held yesterday morning regarding President Obama’s selection of a new Supreme Court justice. Here’s the money quote that Block didn’t pursue:

I would like to see a nominee who is committed to faithfully following the Constitution as it is written and that understands that they are not empowered to consult polling data or social conditions as they interpret the existing words of our constitution.

Continue Reading →