Making fake history every day
You can’t expect a culture that conveniently fabricates history to restrict that practice to the distant past. So it’s not surprising to see conservative opinion leaders arguing, contra history, that Nazism is a liberal ideology (Extra!, 3/10) or that government spending made the Great Depression worse.

Nor is it surprising to see such commentators ignoring facts to distort current events. Witness the trend among conservatives who dismiss global warming science, fantasize imaginary “death panels” in healthcare legislation, or declare Barack Obama to be a Kenyan, a Muslim or maybe even the Antichrist (CNN, 8/15/08).

Indeed, the ascendance of a black, Democratic president seems to have sent irrational conservative tendencies into overdrive. Commentators Rush Limbaugh (10/23/09) and Michael Ledeen (Pajamas Media, 10/21/09) heatedly pointed to a socialist thesis they said was written by Barack Obama while a student at Columbia University. Like one of the the fake Lincoln or Jefferson quotes, the thesis was a hoax (St. Petersburg Times, 10/26/09), but it met the contemporary conservative standard: If  it makes your point, run with it.

Putting the Founders to Work
When widely syndicated columnist Cal Thomas posted a commentary on his website (1/15/09) opposing federal bailouts, he cited quotes from Thomas Jefferson to bolster his argument:

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not”; It is incumbent on every generation to pay off its own debts as it goes. A principle, which, if acted on would save us one-half of the wars of the world”; “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them”; and, “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

Thomas described these quotes as “ancient wisdom,” which, he said, “is almost always better than what people come up with today. Consider that it became ancient because it was wise.”

But consulting The Works of Thomas Jefferson available in full at the Online Liberty Library, as well as the Library of Congress’ online Jefferson site, Ed Darrel of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub (2/1/09) could find no evidence authenticating any of the quotes. As Darrel, whose website targets historical falsehood, observed, “Jefferson seem[ed] oddly prescient in these quotes, and, also oddly, rather endorsing the views of the right wing.”