“History” as Propaganda

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James Madison doesn’t need Lynne Cheney to stand up for him.

In the arc of the moral universe, is there a spot where writing history is supposed to deal with facts rather than boost a present-day agenda?

Or is there a spot where one is supposed to write about a historical figure without tearing down other historical figures?

I wasn’t predisposed to read any books by Lynne Cheney, wife of Lord Voldemort. Then, because I had recently listened to Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, I decided to be open and listen to Ms. Cheney’s book about James Madison. After all, the two worked together closely and were certainly among the Founding Brothers.

It didn’t take long of listening to James Madison: A Life Reconsidered to wonder: A. Did Ms. Cheney write it because she was jealous of the attention Hamilton was getting with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical? B. Is Ms. Cheney in love with James Madison? She seems utterly unable to write about Madison without tearing down Hamilton (who was, in fact, an abolitionist) and gushing, gushing, gushing.

To be honest, it is only recently that my autodidactic history journey has taken me to the Founding Fathers. While the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are brilliant documents, I can never forget the hypocrisy they contain as those white Europeans who settled this country stole land and lives from the First Peoples and then imported Africans to work it for them.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” if you are a white person. “A more perfect union” for white people. But okay, facts are facts and I can’t change them. So who were these men and was there anything so noble about them? I try to put myself there and yes, were I an early American, I would have revolted against the British crown as well. But to do so without having any glimmer that the oppression of the monarchy was no worse than the oppression of the slave-holder and the oppression practiced on Native Americans comes nowhere near the virtue of nobility.

Ms. Cheney immediately makes the statement that Madison and his close friend Thomas Jefferson were abolitionists. This is so far from the truth that it’s laughable. That’s like saying that vivisectionists are animal lovers. The Virginians among the Founding Fathers were Republicans and pushed stronger rights for states, as opposed to Hamilton’s Federalist stance, which preferred a strong central government. And this is exactly the fault line along which slavery rested, with states wanting the right to determine for themselves whether to continue the abhorrent practice.

Among the greatest irony of Ms. Cheney’s book is that all the things she lauds Madison for are things against which her husband worked. The secret government of the Bush puppet regime was his triumph and a way to suppress facts and freedom of information for which Madison worked so hard. Is Ms. Cheney that cynical or that stupid not to realize it?

This is not a biography; I do not come away with any real feeling for James Madison. I’ve consulted other books and scholars do agree that he was brilliant and certainly he did do a great job on the Constitution, if only people like Lord Voldemort and the Supreme Court’s right wing would actually pay attention to it.

And now Lord Voldemort has endorsed another He Who Must Not Be Named. Will Ms. Cheney write a glowing, loving biography of Him some day?

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