Last week, Mother Jones took a hard look at the words and influence of pseudo-historian David Barton, a Republican activist and minister who's devoted his life to bringing religion into politics. The separation of church and state, Barton claims, is a perversion of the Founding Fathers' intention to create a Christian nation.
As we reported, Barton's enduring popularity among the evangelical community is the secret sauce that endears him to the Republican Party's heavy hitters, including possible presidential contenders Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. But Barton's message (among other things, he has said that Jesus would oppose the capital gains tax and the minimum wage; that global warming is "self-correcting"; and that the nation's homeland security apparatus has been infiltrated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood) is built on a foundation of distortions. Barton is not a student of history, but a manipulator of it.
But today's front page story on Barton by Erick Eckholm in The New York Times almost makes it sound like there's a legitimate debate over his view of history. Eckholm makes only fleeting mention of the fact that Barton has zero formal training in history, referring to him only as "self-taught," and his "research" as merely "disputed" and considered "flawed" by historians.
In lieu of any careful examination of Barton's record are laudatory passages about Barton's drive. "Keeping an exhaustive schedule, he is also immersed in the nuts and bolts of politics and maintains a network of 700 anti-abortion state legislators," Eckholm writes. And there's this:
It is hard to know when Mr. Barton finds the time to pore over documents and write, let alone ride the horses he keeps on a small ranch. Beyond his hundreds of speeches, he tapes a daily radio program, manages a staff of 25 and keeps in touch with his national network.
"He doesn’t sleep much," said his wife, Cheryl, who stayed near through an interview and helped him recall key dates in his improbable career.
Meanwhile, Barton's no spring chicken in the conservative crackpot coop; he's a formidable political player, the man picked by George W. Bush to sell his message to pastors around the country in 2004. Eckholm notes some of this history, but fails to explore how, as Barton's political influence has deepened, he has increasingly distorted history (and the bible) to fit GOP talking points.
If The New York Times isn't going to take Barton to task, at least Jon Stewart is. Barton appeared on the show last night. Watch a clip below:
And check out Right Wing Watch's point-by-point take down of the arguments Barton made last night.