Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 24, 2010

JUST IN TIME FOR THANKSGIVING.... Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) thought he'd use some floor time on the U.S. House to share his understanding on Thanksgiving history and the travails of 17th-century Pilgrims. There are, however, a few problems with his version of events. (Fired Up Missouri warns that watching Akin's video "may make you dumber.")

The far-right lawmaker believes the Pilgrims were "a great bunch of Americans," who "came here with the idea that, after trying socialism, that it wasn't going to work. They realized that it was unbiblical and it was a form of theft. So they pitched socialism out; they learned that in the early 1620s."

This is, to be sure, a popular belief among conservatives. Those rascally Pilgrims tried socialism, only to suddenly realize that it was ineffective and "unbiblical." They discovered the error of their ways and embraced the virtues of capitalism soon after.

The problem is that Akin's wrong. The New York Times' Kate Zernike had an item on this the other day, citing the work of actual historians, rather than easily-confused right-wing politicians.

In our reality, the settlers agreed to hold their property in common, not as experiment in socialism, but as a short-term decision "in the interest of realizing a profit sooner." The Pilgrims "were more like shareholders in an early corporation than subjects of socialism."

In the right's version, the commonly-held property led to laziness and famine. That's wrong, too: "The arrangement did not produce famine. If it had, Bradford would not have declared the three days of sport and feasting in 1621 that became known as the first Thanksgiving."

The Pilgrims ultimately moved away from the system, not because of discoveries about their "unbiblical ways," but because settlers "spoke different dialects and had different methods of farming, and looked upon each other with great wariness."

In the right's version, the Pilgrims flourished after moving away from communal property, which made the first Thanksgiving possible. In reality, the first Thanksgiving was held two years before the settlers gave up on holding their property in common.

Their production improved, not because they turned from a wicked economic system, but because the Pilgrims got better at farming crops like corn that they'd never seen before.

Brian at Right Wing Watch noted that Akin's not the only one caught up in the conservative-politically-correct myth on Thanksgiving's origins -- John Stossel and Phyllis Schlafly like the bogus version, too -- so don't be too surprised if your crazy uncle brings it up tomorrow at the dinner table.

Steve Benen 3:00 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Comments

At least you can't say we weren't warned.

Posted by: Breezeblock on November 24, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

stunning stupidity. just stunning.

Posted by: T2 on November 24, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Was there anyone else in the House, when he served this piece of bull puck? Because I didn't hear a single snicker, much less gusty laughter, with which it should have been greeted.

Posted by: exlibra on November 24, 2010 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

I detect the aroma of Home Schooling in the Halls of Congress. . .

Posted by: DAY on November 24, 2010 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

How about William Bradford's own words on the matter:

From Paragraphs 216 and 217 of jornal "Of Plymouth Plantation"

All this whille no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much torne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length, after much debate of things, the Govr (with the advise of the cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corve every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves; in all other things to goe on in the generall way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcell of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance), and ranged all boys and youth under some familie. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more torne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into the feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set torne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.

The experience that was had in this commone course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos and other.ancients, applauded by some of aater times; -that the taking away of propertie, and bringing in communitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and $orishing; as if they were wiser then God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much imployment that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For the yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour and servise did repine that they should spend their time and streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails and cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter the other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, etc., with the meaner and yonger sorte, thought it some indignite and disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, etc., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it. Upon the poynte all being to have alike, and all to doe alike, they thought them selves in the like condition, and ove as good as another; and so, if it did not cut of those relations that God hath set amongest men, yet it did at least much diminish and take of the mutuall respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have bene worse if they had been men of another condition. Let pone objecte this is mens corruption, and nothing to the course it selfe. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in his wisdome saw another course fiter for them.

http://www.mith2.umd.edu/eada/html/display.php?docs=bradford_history.xml

To sum it up: Community living (socialism) sucks

Posted by: John on November 24, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

The dear ignorant Congressman has his group mixed up. He was referencing what sounded more like the tale of Salem, where they burned people who were resisting the new capitalism, or was it the other way around?

To find out, I'll seek the knowledge of an historian, not what that dimwitted Congressman learned at the dinner table, on Sundays, over his childhood when he was known to fade in and out of the conversation! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on November 24, 2010 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Rush has been telling this story on his show for at least 20 years.

Posted by: Prudence Goodwife on November 24, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

@John:
Why yes, that's a perfect analogy to what's going on today. Just the other day, Obama made my wife do his laundry.
I'm sure that a small group of folks living off the land on a strange new continent with poor shelter and little local-crop knowledge would have NO incentive to cooperate. And if they did cooperate to get along, I'm sure NONE of them would complain about it.
Maybe if they didn't like the hard lives they'd created for themselves, the should have gotten back on a f*cking boat and sailed back to England, where they would have been hung by the neck until they were dead. But hey, what do I know, I'm just part Cherokee.
/snark.

Posted by: Govt Skeptic on November 24, 2010 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

stunning stupidity. just stunning.

Posted by: T2 on November 24, 2010 at 3:18 PM

Truly, it is. Jawdropping stupidity. Which is one reason I said I'll be "out of town" for the usual family Thanksgiving gathering this year, because I do, in fact, have a Fox-assimilated uncle who will doubtlessly bring this nonsense up along with his usual railing against Obama and ruin everyone's dinner. Not enough wine in the world can make it bearable.

Posted by: electrolite on November 24, 2010 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

@John

You just confirmed the original post.

The first Thanksgiving was in 1621.

The paragraphs you cite (216 & 217 moving away from communal living) follow para 210 "Anno Dom: 1623" or more commonly 1623 A.D.

First Thanksgiving then fend-for-yourself capitalism.

Oh, and someone steeped in religion can use God to justify anything.

Posted by: fracas_futile on November 24, 2010 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Theres a Ferengi version of Thanksgiving.

Whoknu.

Posted by: Kill Bill on November 24, 2010 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

And Jesus said, "Render that what is Caesars unto me"

Then Jesus opened a health clinic and charged people to heal them.

/snark

Posted by: Kill Bill on November 24, 2010 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

- John Stossel and Phyllis Schlafly like the bogus version, too -

As noted above, Rush tells this story every year. And I think Paul Harvey told a similar version for years before that.

Posted by: martin on November 24, 2010 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Upwards of twenty million First Americans were murdered in the name of the jew dog for this?

Posted by: Ten Bears on November 24, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Yanno, I thought conservatism was about traditionalism - but here lately what I have read is a whole lot of revisionism from Texas schoolbooks to Thanksgiving and now they dont celebrate Jesus on Christmas but some chubby guy not from the holy land but the north pole with reindeer and a sleigh full of cheap foreign toys from Walmart.

WTF?

Posted by: Kill Bill on November 24, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

At our Thanksgiving table, we tell the story Eddie Izzard style:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAOQtp-3b48

Posted by: josef on November 24, 2010 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Acts 4:32-35

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.


Just sayin'

Posted by: FridayNext on November 24, 2010 at 4:29 PM | PERMALINK

So... Thanksgiving was actually a collectivist holiday meant to convince the hapless Pilgrims that they were less miserable then they actually were. How long before the right decides to try to abolish it? After all, right now they're into trying to convince people that they're more miserable than they actualy are.

Posted by: Tom Marney on November 24, 2010 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

I have two problems with this whole socialism/capitalism dispute.

First, our economy is not binary -- it has aspects of both socialism and capitalism. We all chip in to educate our children and build roads and check out books from the libarary. We also buy most of our commodities in a free market.

And, not so obviously, Marx and Smith had not yet lived or wrote their philosophies, so the arguments forwarded in this post are merely attempts to retroactively assign activity to economic philosophies that didn't exist yet. Steve's argument that all of the farmers combining their produce is really more like "shareholders in an early corporation" seems just as arbitrary as calling it socialism. The farmers were given a land stake by the King of England -- socialism? When people combine their efforts and share output, the difference is what between a capitol company and a government entity such as the pilgrm's charter is what?

Socilism and capitalism are not binary. They both exist to pool the effort of men towards a better world. They both co-exist, and sometimes blend. The necessity to assign communal action exclusively to one category or another is not helpful.

Posted by: patrick II on November 24, 2010 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Always a great Thanksgiving read:

http://www.trinicenter.com/historicalviews/thanksgiving.htm

Posted by: bakho on November 24, 2010 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

I am the crazy uncle at the Thanksgiving table. Or at least I was for twenty years. Two years ago the nieces and nephews started asking me what I thought. Something seems to have changed...

Oh, I am the crazy COMMUNIST uncle.

Posted by: buddy66 on November 24, 2010 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

"Conservatively correct" should be the counterpoint term for "Politically correct".

Posted by: simplx on November 24, 2010 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

patrick II: Socilism [sic] and capitalism are not binary. They both exist to pool the effort of men towards a better world. They both co-exist, and sometimes blend. The necessity to assign communal action exclusively to one category or another is not helpful.

Well said and true.

It's also worthwhile to note that a number of these mixed socialized capitalist countries you mention are at the moment kicking our ass either in growth and/or unemployment rates -- all the while having the money to provide health care and unemployment benefits to all of their citizens.

Being a German or Norwegian or Swede definitely doesn't suck in these economic times.

Posted by: trex on November 24, 2010 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like another case of 'It ain't what they don't know that gets us into trouble, it's what they know that ain't so.'

Modern 'conservatives' have left behind merely knowing nothing about history or policy realities, they're increasingly inventing a whole alternate-reality history.

Posted by: biggerbox on November 24, 2010 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Who knew that England was a socialist country in the 1600s? This guy went to the Anatoly Fomenko school of history.

Posted by: Speed on November 24, 2010 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's fall, and the nuts are ripe. This particular nut should be laughed right out of Congress, ridiculed as the ignorant fool and right wing panderer that he really is. Instead of letting such stupid remarks slide as a Congressman's exercising his freedom of speech on the day before a holiday, the media should take the lead. Help the viewing public develop critical media skills. Socialist Pilgrims? Honestly, any fourth grader knows that is ridiculous. But no, they have spent the past two weeks talking about TSA scanners and full body pat downs. And today, they are sooo disappointed that Opt Out Day never materialized. Stupid.

Posted by: Carol All on November 24, 2010 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

I knew it was "unBiblical" for a community to forswear private property and hold all possessions in common. This is why the Book of Acts says of the early Christian community:

Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common.

Of course, Akin may have a more informed take on what is "Biblical" than, say, the author of some random book of the Bible.

Posted by: noncarborundum on November 24, 2010 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

What the Pilgrims initially did sounds a whole lot like Farm Cooperatives, in which American farmers joined with other American farmers to build collectively-owned silo storage along railroads, instead of building separately-owned silo storage, to hold their grain after harvesting, until it could be shipped to market. The savings for individual American farmers was enormous, by collectively pooling their resources. Damn those socialist American farmers.

Public schools, public libraries, public pools, public roads, public fire departments, public police forces, a public military are a result of American citizens collectively pooling their resources, keeping the per capita cost down, benefiting everyone in our society in the process. Damn those socialist American citizens.

Posted by: The Oracle on November 24, 2010 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Freedom my New England ass.

Despite the fact that the Pilgrims sought to escape religious persecution by the Crown they practiced peculiar brand of religious intolerance and sexism in the new world. Only men who owned property, the so-called "freemen," had a say in running the colony. They imprisoned and banished "heretics" like Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer who had Quaker sympathies and claimed to receive religious insight directly from God. The Puritans hung several Quakers in Boston, and eventually Mary Dyer herself in 1660 for heresy. And yes, these were some of the same Puritans who accused women of witchcraft and imprisoned and hung scores of them as well.

Do not let Todd Akin get away with re-writing history -- he is simply flat-out wrong.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on November 24, 2010 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Upwards of twenty million First Americans were murdered in the name of the jew dog for this?
Posted by: Ten Bears on November 24, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Ten Bears, I agree completely...but as an aside, I consider calling the indigenous tribes of this continent "Americans" of any kind is an insult to the tribes and peoples. There was no such thing as "America" until the Europeans decided to name this land after an Italian explorer by the name of Amerigo Vespucci. So, in my opinion, the only people who should be called "Americans" are the European colonists and their descendants and it should not be considered any kind of honor to be referred to as such.

Posted by: jackything on November 24, 2010 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

It's fall, and the nuts are ripe. This particular nut should be laughed right out of Congress, ridiculed as the ignorant fool and right wing panderer that he really is. Instead of letting such stupid remarks slide as a Congressman's exercising his freedom of speech on the day before a holiday, the media should take the lead. Help the viewing public develop critical media skills. Socialist Pilgrims? Honestly, any fourth grader knows that is ridiculous. But no, they have spent the past two weeks talking about TSA scanners and full body pat downs. And today, they are sooo disappointed that Opt Out Day never materialized. Stupid.
Posted by: Carol All on November 24, 2010 at 6:52 PM

Media take the lead? Assume responsibility for informing the public and furninshing them with the factual truth? Surely you jest!

Posted by: jackything on November 24, 2010 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

I have two problems with this whole socialism/capitalism dispute.
~~

The biggest spreader of wealth [socialism?] is the banksters [capitalists]

The only difference being one prints it for free and lends it where the other must work to repay it.

Clearly its not socialists versus capitalists.

Its about making the printers of commercial currency doing some actual work [create value]

Posted by: Kill Bill on November 24, 2010 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

Bernanke should have to dig ditches and for every calorie he burns then and only then can he print money to match what work he actually did.

Better get busy bomber ben.

Posted by: Kill Bill on November 24, 2010 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

John said,"To sum it up: Community living (socialism) sucks."

A couple of problems here. First socialism is founded on the principle of community ownership of the means of production. In the first years of Plymouth Colony the ownership of everything was held by a small group of capitalist investors back in England, not by the people working as virtual slaves to the company in the colony. After seven years everything they had produced, including their own houses and the meeting house were to be the property of the company--the colonists got nothing. In a socialist system income is generally expected to be distributed by merit or contribution. This was not what Bradford was describing. The failure of the system in the first years of Plymouth Colony was not a failure of socialism; it was a failure of extreme capitalism where capital, back in England, had everything and labor, in Plymouth, had nothing. And yeah, that sucks.

Posted by: oldguy on November 24, 2010 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

It's interesting to hear comments like these coming from a(n essentially) Southern politician. The Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy just couldn't handle having the focus shifted from Jamestown to Plymouth in the history books after the War of Northern Aggression (the Union couldn't make a big noise about the first colony being one of those rebellious states, after all), so they had to find some way to smear the Pilgrims without making the complaint sound regional. Turning the Plymouth colonists - whose devout Puritanism was a defining characteristic - into goddless Commies is a rather creative way to achieve that.

Posted by: boatboy_srq on November 25, 2010 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

The Jamestown settlement was definitely the modern conservative paradigm. They landed, spent all their time looking for gold, never bothered to learn how to farm in the different environment, literally starved, were bailed out by the indians--and the fortuitous arrival of a ship from England, and actively opposed attempte to put in place sensible leadership.

Posted by: Tom S on November 25, 2010 at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK
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