The first hint of trouble came about a month ago, when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) told supporters that “Thomas Jefferson said it best” when the Founding Father said, “That government is best which governs least.”
Thomas Jefferson never said this. Walker fell for a fake quote.
Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told an audience, “Patrick Henry said this, Patrick Henry said the Constitution is about ‘restraining the government not the people.’” In reality, Patrick Henry said no such thing.
Soon, the examples really started piling up. Ben Carson pushed a bogus quote from Alexis de Tocqueville and another bogus quote from Thomas Jefferson. Then this week, BuzzFeed lowered the boom.
Many of the quotes attributed to the Founding Fathers in two of Rand Paul’s books are either fake, misquoted, or taken entirely out of context, BuzzFeed News has found. […]A heavy theme in Paul’s books is that the tea party movement is the intellectual heir to the Founding Fathers, with Paul often arguing he knows what position our country’s earliest leaders would have had on certain issues.
That latter point, I’d argue, helps explain why so many Republicans end up using – or in this case, misusing – quotes from Founding Fathers that simply don’t exist.
My suspicion is that these are honest mistakes. I rather doubt that any of these GOP presidential candidates are knowingly pushing bogus quotes and/or had anything to do with the original fabrication. It’s far more likely the candidates and their aides stumbled upon false information online and didn’t realize their mistake.
But as we talked about last week, I still think there’s a larger takeaway from this that matters.
Last summer, not long after Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) was found to have disseminated all kinds of bogus quotes from prominent historical figures, Jon Chait noted, “A longstanding conceit of conservative thought, which has returned with new force during the Obama years, is that conservatism is the authentic heir to the vision of the Founders. (See, for example, Paul Ryan’s recent op-ed, which offhandedly describes his own polices, in contrast with President Obama’s, as consistent with ‘the Founders’ vision.’)”
The fact remains, however, that “the Founders were not Tea Partiers.”
Paul, Carson, and Walker unknowingly repeating made-up quotes isn’t terribly important, but it is important that the far-right is under a mistaken impression – that they’re the rightful heirs of the framers’ great legacy. It’s today’s conservatives, the argument goes, that are the direct descendants of the likes of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison.
It’s nonsense, of course, but it helps explain why Republican fall for bogus quotes in the first place.