22 August 2011

Michelle Bachmann, Research Assistant

An article in The Nation today informs me that Republican Presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann was a research assistant for John Eidsmoe's work leading to publication of Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (1987). I have blogged about this book several times in the past, most extensively in "Calvin and the Constitution" (July 2009), where I point out several errors of fact, interpretation, and methodology in Eidsmoe's scholarship.

The Nation asserts:
Bachmann was a research assistant to John Eidsmoe for his 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of our Founding Fathers, in which Eidsmoe wrote “the church and the state have separate spheres of authority, but both derive authority from God. In that sense America, like [Old Testament] Israel, is a theocracy.”
"Rewrite, Sugarcoat, Ignore: 8 Ways Conservatives Misremember American History"
Bachmann discusses the influence of Eidsmoe, and faux-historian David Barton in a video to which the article in The Nation links.

A reasonable working hypothesis suggest itself. Michelle Bachmann's history gaffes proceed not from the pressures of the campaign trail, but from faulty training and cultivation of systemic error.


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting; in part, Barton approaches the Constitution from a very narrow point of view. I find his interpretation troubling in that he often assumes that the framers were very clear in their central message. This, then, does not bold well for Bachmann.

James Stripes said...

Thanks for the comment Edward. I think "a very narrow point of view" is a kind and generous assessment of David Barton. It may be that he does not lie deliberately, although Chris Rodda makes that case in Liars for Jesus (see

Barton, as near as I can tell, spends a lot of time reading and quoting from primary sources without demonstrating much ability to comprehend their nuances. His reading is driven by a fanciful and simplistic ideology of influence that may reflect the thinking of folks easily swayed by clever rhetoricians, but that is a terribly inaccurate reflection of the intellectual leaders of colonial North America in the eighteenth century. Men such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison read everything they could get into their hands--the Bible, of course, and theology, political philosophy, natural science, vitaculture, et cetera--and then they thought deeply and argued with one another. The ideas that drove them were their own. Barton lives in a world much poorer in texts, much poorer in vibrant civil discourse. This impoverished world is one of his choosing.

John Eidsmoe seems a better historian that Barton, or at least reveals evidence that he has received professional training. But, he too seems driven by ideological blinders and favors secondary works that nurture his biases over careful inquiry grounded in primary texts.

That Michelle Bachmann sees these two men as "brilliant" intellectual leaders does not bode well for the future of civic discourse and rational self-government in the United States if her candidacy goes any further than it has so far.

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