As some of you know, I have been blogging about David Barton’s appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
After reading “The Daily Show’s Limits” by Chris Beneke and Randall Stephens, I realized that my need to blog critically about Barton’s appearance on the show may just be related to the fact that Stewart failed to deliver a knockout blow.
Beneke and Stephens remind us that this ongoing debate over whether or not the United States is a Christian nation requires more than just an exchange of anecdotes in a ten minute television interview.
Here is a taste of their excellent piece:
Conservatives who go on the Daily Show usually end up looking the fool. But Stewart met his match in Barton, an ideological warrior revered by Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee. Stewart’s razor wit and trademark blue index cards were no match for Barton’s prodigious memory and unwavering insistence that America’s Christian founding has been erased by secular elites.
The show’s staff probably thought Barton could be caricatured as a half-crazed ideologue, unconcerned with larger inconvenient truths. Perhaps they figured that a few well-chosen facts that don’t fit his God-and-country narrative would render him speechless, that he would crumble under the relentless ironic jabs. But if it were just a matter of enumerating quotations and dates, members of Congress wouldn’t be calling Barton to provide them with the founders’ views on deficits, stem cell research and stimulus programs. Barton offers his listeners something much more alluring.
One thing we learned from Stewart’s tête-à-tête with Barton is that anecdote-ridden claims can’t be countered with more anecdotes. What Stewart never articulated was the essential function of history–using the preponderance of evidence to provide a credible context for understanding the past and the present. Barton presents himself as the high priest of founding texts and the arbiter of honest truth. He’s not, of course. But it’s going to take patient, gritty work to convince folks otherwise.
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