Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), after speaking on the Senate floor about surveillance legislation, speaks to reporters after exiting the Senate floor on Capitol Hill, May 31, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

The Founding Fathers really weren’t Tea Partiers

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) routinely incorporates quotes from the Founding Fathers into his campaign speeches, and BuzzFeed highlighted a good example of this the other day.
Speaking in Greenville, South Carolina last week, Rand Paul said, “Patrick Henry said this, Patrick Henry said the Constitution is about ‘restraining the government not the people.’”
Paul was summarizing this quote, often attributed to Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”
The problem, of course, is that both versions of the quote are fake. There’s no record of Patrick Henry ever having said or written such a thing. Someone made it up, it made the rounds, and Rand Paul appears to have repeated it.
This comes on the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) telling supporters that “Thomas Jefferson said it best” when the Founding Father said, “That government is best which governs least.”
In reality, Thomas Jefferson never said or wrote this. As with Paul, someone made up a quote, conservatives ran with it, and Walker ended up falling for it. (In an amusing coincidence, Rand Paul has repeated this bogus quote, too.)
To be sure, there are plenty of more notable and more substantive controversies surrounding the Republican presidential candidates, neither of whom wrote the fake quotes themselves. But I 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.”
Rand Paul and Scott 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 Paul and Walker fall for bogus quotes that were never uttered.