Paul Revere’s Ride: Don’t Know Much About History

If there's anything all sides should be able to agree on after several days of back-and-forth is that most of us didn't really know the story.

If there’s anything all sides should be able to agree on after several days of back-and-forth on Sarah Palin’s account of Paul Revere’s ride is that most of us didn’t really know the story.

In, “How Accurate Were Palin’s Paul Revere Comments?NPR‘s “All Things Considered” provides a fair treatment of the facts.  Palin got almost everything wrong. Her critics haven’t done much better, even with the help of Google.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: We are going to fact-check Palin’s Paul Revere history now with Robert Allison. He’s chair of the history department at Suffolk University in Boston.

Professor Allison, welcome to the program.

Professor ROBERT ALLISON (Chairman, History Department, Suffolk University): Thanks, Melissa.

BLOCK: And let’s review Paul Revere’s midnight ride, April 18, 1775. He’s going to Lexington, Massachusetts. And according to Sarah Palin, he’s riding his horse through town sending warning shots and ringing those bells. True?

Prof. ALLISON: Well, he’s not firing warning shots. He is telling people so that they can ring bells to alert others. What he’s doing is going from house to house, knocking on doors of members of the Committees of Safety saying the regulars are out. That is, he knew that General Gage was sending troops out to Lexington and Concord, really Concord, to seize the weapons being stockpiled there, but also perhaps to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams, leaders of the Continental Congress, who were staying in the town of Lexington.

Remember, Gage was planning – this is a secret operation, that’s why he’s moving at night. He gets over to Cambridge, the troops start marching from Cambridge, and church bells are ringing throughout the countryside.

BLOCK: So Paul Revere was ringing those bells? He was a silversmith, right?

Prof. ALLISON: Well, he was – he also was a bell ringer. That is, he rang the bells at Old North Church as a boy. But he personally is not getting off his horse and going to ring bells. He’s telling other people – and this is their system before Facebook, before Twitter, before NPR, this was the way you get a message out is by having people ring church bells and everyone knows there is an emergency.

And by this time, of course, the various town Committees of Safety, militia knew what the signals were, so they knew something was afoot. So this is no longer a secret operation for the British.

Revere isn’t trying to alert the British, but he is trying to warn them. And in April of 1775, no one was talking about independence. We’re still part of the British Empire. We’re trying to save it. So this is a warning to the British Empire what will happen if you provoke Americans.

BLOCK: And Sarah Palin also was saying there that Paul Revere’s message to the British in his warning was: you’re not going to take American arms. You know, basically a Second Amendment argument, even though the Second Amendment didn’t exist then.

Prof. ALLISON: Yeah. She was making a Second Amendment case. But, in fact, the British were going out to Concord to seize colonists’ arms, the weapons that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress was stockpiling there.

So, yeah, she is right in that. I mean, and she may be pushing it too far to say this is a Second Amendment case. Of course, neither the Second Amendment nor the Constitution was in anyone’s mind at the time. But the British objective was to get the arms that were stockpiled in Concord.

BLOCK: So you think basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.

Prof. ALLISON: Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She’s not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.

BLOCK: Are there other historians, Professor, whom you’ve talked with who say you’re being entirely too charitable towards Sarah Palin here, and she really did misread American…

Prof. ALLISON: I haven’t talked to many – well, I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t talked to too many historians today. And, you know, Sarah Palin is a lightning rod. I just was thinking about how many times, you know, I’ve spoken about Paul Revere. I’ve organized events about the American Revolution. No one ever pays any attention. Suddenly, Sarah Palin comes to town, makes an off-the-cuff remark about what she learned, and suddenly, you’re calling me to find out what I think about Paul Revere and the American Revolution.

It’s a great honor to talk to you, Melissa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. ALLISON: I wish it didn’t take Sarah Palin coming to town to bring us together.

The “basically” is doing a hell of a lot of work in “basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.” In fact, she got every single disputed fact wrong.

No, Revere wasn’t warning the British, which was the central fact in dispute. (Which, incidentally, I don’t think Palin believed. Rather, I’d bet anything that she simply misspoke and stuck with her story when obscure bits of history seemed to prove her right.)

No, Revere wasn’t ringing bells and firing shots. On the other hand, bells were being rung and shots were being fired. Did Palin actually know this and just jumbled it up? I can’t say.

No, the ride wasn’t motivated by protecting gun rights. But, yes, it was partly motivated by securing the guns themselves–which were about to be needed for a fight that was long brewing.

But it’s also fair to say that the critics, who were basing their understanding of the Revere ride on a poem, found out how little they knew, too.

Palin’s stumbling delivery–which frankly jumped out at me more than the odd version of the Revere ride when I first heard it–made the whole thing seem worse and, as noted in the discussion, she’s an awfully polarizing figure. But it’s a good bet that most of the other candidates didn’t really know the Revere story before now. I’m guessing they’ll study it, though, in anticipation of being asked in the future.

UPDATE: ABC News (“Experts Dispute Sarah Palin’s Midnight Ride Account, Agree Paul Revere Did Not Warn the British“) interviews several other historians which confirm Allison’s version of the facts but don’t say they amount to Palin being almost right.

“He didn’t warn the British,” said James Giblin, author of “The Many Rides of Paul Revere.” “That’s her most obvious blooper.”


Experts agree that warning the British — Revere was an American patriot, remember, he was against the folks across the pond — was not crucial to the midnight ride.

“Revere’s assignment that night was to go to Lexington to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were moving in that direction from Boston,” explained Kristin Peszka, director of interpretation and visitor’s services at the Paul Revere House, which Palin visited Thursday. (Peszka noted that Palin offered her convoluted account beforetouring the historic site.)

“People did ring bells that night,” she added. “It was a common way of alerting people to come out. But Revere was not the person ringing the bells.”

Peszka offered her own halting take on Palin’s explanation.

“I think she’s … being accused of being caught in an error and she’s trying to correct herself,” she said. “I think the story of the midnight ride is one that’s confusing to lots of people.”

Indeed, since Revere-gate (or would it be Revere-gait?) started at the end of last week, many questions have been raised about what actually happened during the midnight ride.

“It was an extremely complicated situation which she sort of regurgitated in a garbled way,” Boston University’s Brendan McConville said. “It has been, as an American history professor, disconcerting to realize that no one seems to know what happened in this iconic event.”

Which, again, is the key takeaway. I don’t care much one way or the other about Palin’s knowledge of a bit of historical trivia. I’m more concerned that she can’t admit that she misspoke. I’m gravely worried, however, that legions of her supports can’t.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s how she gets into these things: she things she has a style and has to stick to it. It’s that cloyingly precious faux folksy think the hillbillies love. But that style is not effective for presenting facts. Or really for much of anything but sending the message, “I’m just as dumb as you Tea Party morons.” So it ends up, as Colbert says, being “word salad.”

    Then because she’s simultaneously incredibly arrogant and yet insecure, she doubles down. She always doubles down. She is incapable of accepting correction. She is incapable of having a sense of humor about herself. And she simply cannot admit error. If she accidentally fired off a nuke she wouldn’t order the self-destruct, she would double down.

    But to her fans none of that matters because the whole point of Palin is to justify by example the imbecility of her supporters. So the dumber she is, the happier the dummies are.

  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    Would someone please ask Obama what he knows about the ride….Please….hell I learned about the other guy who rode to give warning on Pawn Stars….

    lol, can’t remember his name:(

  3. James Joyner says:

    @michael: I’m having a back-and-forth with some guy on Twitter who thinks this story proves that Palin got it all right. He glommed on to this and ignored the entire rest of the interview:

    BLOCK: So you think basically, on the whole, Sarah Palin got her history right.
    Prof. ALLISON: Well, yeah, she did.

    Which is one bizarre ass understanding of what Allison actually said. I don’t know if he’s being charitable to Block or he’s doing the professorial “good answer, but” routine.

  4. jwest says:

    There seems to be a lot of academic mistrust going around.

    I found it incredible that anyone with even a basic knowledge of politics didn’t know of Saul Alinsky prior to 2008, and insisted that someone so flagrantly ignorant in the subject they were credentialed in shouldn’t be teaching.

    Now, James is making the same case against a PhD, chairman of history department of a respected institution in Boston.

    Are there any professors who actually know what they’re talking about?

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    lol crap, looks like there was 3 riders…..

  6. michael reynolds says:


    You’re dishonest.

    No one believes you knew of Alinsky before hearing about it from Beck.

    And as I recall no fewer than 4 Poli Sci profs told you that no one outside of specialized fields knew about him. So all you’r doing is regurgitating Beck talking points and pretending to have known something you didn’t.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @jwest: Academic mistrust?

    What we pointed out re: Alinsky is that, contrary to the myth that built up during the 2008 campaign, political scientists never paid much attention to a local community organizer’s tract. He wasn’t a political theorist or scholar and simply had no impact on a discipline that really doesn’t study community activism.

    Here, I’m citing the professor as an authority on the subject on which he’s speaking. I’m simply saying that Block’s summary of the discussion and his answer to it don’t jibe with the rest of the interview. Palin got every major fact wrong. That’s not “basically right, on the whole.”

  8. rwb says:

    This is best judged in the context of the knowledge of history displayed by Palin in other pronouncements, like the statement she made on one of her fox spots about our “right ot life liberty and the pursuit of happyness granted by the constituion”.

  9. jwest says:


    Well, we all now realize how worthless a doctorate in political science is, don’t we?

    Anyone who was politically aware during the Clinton years knew of Alinsky, those who didn’t were hopelessly ignorant. As the person who shaped not only the Clinton’s political strategy, but also Obama’s, I can only laugh at those who try to portray him as a “minor figure”.

    Now, Sarah Palin brings out facts that few with cursory knowledge of Paul Revere knew. Instead of evaluating the research and learning, some are clinging to the meme that Palin couldn’t be right – that she knew something they didn’t know – and in doing so reveal themselves to the closed-minded fools they’ve always been.

    Don’t be afraid of knowledge. Embrace it.

  10. rwb says:

    The interesting thing is, that after palin’s constitutional right of life liberty and pursuit of happiness statement, I heard one of the other Republican front runners say the same thing, so I guess it must be correct.

  11. Franklin says:

    I still don’t think it’s fair to say Palin got it wrong, or right. It was simply too jumbled to interpret her meaning or understanding. And that’s okay, it was an off-the-cuff remark.

    There are elements of things that happened, and some difficulty in matching them to various accounts (I don’t think Revere ever mentions gunshots, but others do), but nobody can say for 100% sure that Palin didn’t know them beforehand. Based on her history of spouting history, my *guess* is that she didn’t really know them, but we just don’t know for sure.

  12. michael reynolds says:


    I kind of don’t mind honest idiots like GA. But you’re a dishonest idiot. Which makes you boring. And makes conversation with you a waste of time.

  13. ponce says:

    I’ve had several friends who have never once expressed a political opinion to me in the past 20 years email me the video of Palin’s interpretive history of Paul Revere’s ride with a comment about how stupid she is.

    I bet that, despite the winguts’ attempt to spin her gaffe, the average America is pointing and laughing at her over this.

  14. LaurenceB says:

    For me, there’s a bit of parallelism between this and the other big story about Weiner.

    In both cases, I didn’t think the original reports were particularly noteworthy. Weiner is not the first Congressman to have an extramarital affair, and I don’t particularly care if Palin screwed up and said “warned the British”, etc. If both of these politicians had stopped right there and just admitted their error and moved on, I wouldn’t care a hill of beans about what they did.

    But neither one did, and now I think less of both of them. And I wasn’t particularly fond of either one in the first place.

    Here’s a counter example –

    The other day Debbie Wasserman Schultz accused Republicans of wanting to change voting laws to become more like the Jim Crow laws of the past. That’s clearly wrong. And a day later she retracted that statement. She didn’t double down. And I appreciate that. It’s make me like her more.

  15. Smooth Jazz says:

    “UPDATE: ABC News (“Experts Dispute Sarah Palin’s Midnight Ride Account, Agree Paul Revere Did Not Warn the British“) interviews several other historians which confirm Allison’s version of the facts but don’t say they amount to Palin being almost right.”

    I can’t believe this blog; You guys are so far into this “Palin is a dunce and should be back to Alaska meme” that you cannot help yourselves and have to spend 5 – 10 posts trying to parse the few words she said. The selective editing of your post – ie your inclusion of an ABC news piece with experts that dispute her side, and exclusion of the Boston Herald article that quotes experts that said she was right – is instructive insofar as how you guys are presenting the story to your readers.

    Here is what ALL the experts agree on. Revere said something to the Regulars when captured, to the effect: Our militia is waiting for you, which is basically all she said. She also didn’t say a whole lot. Yes, she mangled the syntax when a question was asked of her in a fast moving and noisy scene, but her contention that Revere said something to the British is not in dispute. Why Liberals keep contorting themselves into pretzels trying to parse her 20 or so words on the matter when the matter is not clear cut is beyond me.

  16. James Joyner says:

    @Smooth Jazz : Unless your contention is that the purpose of Revere’s right was to get captured by the British, Palin got it wrong. (And, again, I think it was a verbal slip rather than ignorance–she meant warn colonists that the British were coming, not warn the Brits that the Americans were ready.)

  17. hey norm says:

    palin mangled the story, at which time the right wingers started digging up minutia and intentionally misreading minor details in order to support the leader of the cult. to use that as an indictment that “…most of us didn’t really know the story…” is a reach. did i know before this that revere stopped at the Natick Service Plaza on the Mass Pike to take a leak and to warn the british that we won’t embrace socialized medicine? No I didn’t.
    your larger point, that “…I’m more concerned that she can’t admit that she misspoke. I’m gravely worried, however, that legions of her supports can’t…” is on point.

  18. hey norm says:

    and as worrying as the fact that she can’t admit she was wrong is the fact that she immediately plays the victim…claiming it was a gotcha question. it will be hard to dabate this narcissist.

  19. jwest says:


    Here we go again.

    No one, not Palin or any of her supporters, argued that Revere set out that night to warn the Regulars. If you have a transcript that shows that’s not the case, post it.

    If you use some of the knowledge you should have acquired during your education, you might realize that the colonists were not trying to lure the Regulars into an ambush. Revere’s warning to them after his capture was a purely logical attempt to intimidate the British officers to abandon their mission to seize the arms in Concord.

    Try to think the scenario through instead of letting your Palin hatred take over.

  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    I think the problem re: Alinsky is what constitutes “Political Science.”

    Almost anyone who has taken a political science course, has majored in Poli Sci, or most importantly had a career in Political Science (Messrs Joyner, Taylor, et al) defines it as something along the lines of:

    “A social science concerned with the study of political and governmental institutions and processes.”

    Whereas jwest defines political science as “Whatever part of the wide wide world of politics is important to me.”

    In this light, jwest is correct. Alinsky is extremely important in the world of political science, so long as that world is the one whose parameters come from his definition.

  21. G.A.Phillips says:

    I kind of don’t mind honest idiots like GA.

    lol gee thanks Harry…..
    I new about Alinsky before Beck as I new about most stuff before Beck talks about having to do with history before Beck.

    As he will admit.

    And as I recall no fewer than 4 Poli Sci profs told you that no one outside of specialized fields knew about him.

    Not hard to believe coming from those taught by the left. Indoctrinated and don’t know why yet happy to be that way and still referring to the educated guesses of those who did it to them….

    Excuses excuses….

  22. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Right. While there are exceptions, most political science departments don’t focus on the nitty gritty of campaigning or running a campaign, for example. There are public policy schools that have specialized programs to train people to do those things. But they’re not really “political science” as understood by academic political scientists.

    Which, incidentally, is why presidential campaigns are seldom run by political science PhDs.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @G.A.Phillips: So . . . your explanation for why political scientists don’t study the writings of someone you consider a left wing radical is . . . because political scientists are left wing radicals?

  24. @jwest:

    You continue to provide amusement on the Alinsky bit. As I noted before, you utter lack of willingness to admit that you were wrong on that issue simply underscores your preference for your own fantasies over reality. It should truly undercut anyone who would even entertain the possibility of taking you seriously.

    It is a curious plot of land to decide to defend to the death.

  25. Nightrider says:

    The “story” of Revere’s ride may well not reflect the actual reality of what happened, but instead how it was spun at the time to advance political causes. The spinning may have been even much wilder in those days before fact-checkers, video clips, etc. So I don’t know if anyone alive can truly claim to be certain what happened. And so a debate that requires any attempt at researching actual historical accuracy seems silly here. I’ve seen the Palin clip on the Daily Show, it looks like she was standing in line ordering a lunch and made some off the cuff remarks that really don’t seem unreasonably far of base from the story I was taught in school.

    Palin is utterly unqualified to be President (or an AP high school teacher), but this event isn’t even in the Top 100 exhibits of why.

  26. Wayne says:

    Talking about twisting and turning things to fit your agenda James. If you want to see who misunderstood what Allison said look into the mirror.

    One of the fact being disputed was did Revere warned the British. He did.

    Were bells ranged? They were.

    Were there warning shots or at least shot taken as warning shot fired? Yes.

    Isn’t the right to keep (securing) your guns a significant part of protecting your gun rights?

    James statement is about like saying that Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat wasn’t about civil right but just a lady who wanted that seat.

    Didn’t the ride accomplish and had affects outside of what it was originally motivated by?

    Yes Palin wasn’t very articulate in her comment. She should have said Paul Revere and his companions did ….. However it isn’t anyway unusual for people to do so and is generally understood. For example many state that Jordan won 6 NBA Championship. Technically that is a false statement since it took Jordan and his teammates to win. However it is understood what people mean when they say it so in the end it is not false.

    Paul Revere did not do every little thing himself that night. However just because Revere himself didn’t ringed a bell or shoot a warning shot doesn’t mean it never happen. It also didn’t mean he wasn’t at least partially responsible for those things happening.

    We have professor of History saying Palin got the basic facts right but James disagree. Who should we believe?

  27. ralphb says:

    The liberals have thoroughly beclowned themselves already. It’s not necessary to keep playing the fool any longer.

    Palin was weirdly correct while those who only know this history through the Longfellow poem are completely wrong. Maybe it’s these people who should admit it and take their lumps? I’m not holding my breath.

  28. Wayne says:

    A little cross post reference. There is more important news to cover than a Democrat Congressman scandal or Obama a “President” misrepresenting facts on auto bailout repayment. What is that news? Palin statement on a history event!

  29. mattb says:

    Here’s the thing about Mea Culpa’s and a certain breed of demagog — of which Palin, Bachman and GWB are both examples of (note there are lots of them on the other side of the aisle as well): American Exceptionalism.

    Or perhaps its that they are “Exceptional Americans.”

    What attracts a major amount of their base (especially among the Fox News crowd) is that they have 100% confidence in all of their actions and that they never show any real moments of doubt. They always know the right thing to do because they are exceptional Americans.

    Through of the grace of God, “America” (its history, moral, hopes, and traditions) runs through their veins and infuses their speech. For them to misspeak or make a major mistake is impossible as that means that “America” got it wrong (perhaps even God).

    This can be completely juxtaposed against Obama as the personification of the “shade of gray” thinker/technocrat/bureaucrat. Obama needs an expert to tell him whose ass to kick, Sarah and GWB both inherently know (at least in the minds of this population). Likewise, Bill Clinton didn’t know things in his heart, he triangulated.

    So for Sarah to admit that she misspoke or was unprepared and rattled something off the cuff would be to question her innate “American”-ness. This btw also ties into a certain sort of evangelical Christianity (and can also be traced back to Calvinism… why we should all revisit Weber).

  30. jwest says:


    You and James continue to argue that the person whose political philosophy, strategy and tactics that shaped the democrats over the past 30 years is not a part of “political science”.

    Not only that, but you also contend that even though you and your colleagues are in the field you are in, all of you and everyone you interact with were so intellectually incurious over the past three decades that none of you have ever bothered to investigate the genesis of the ideas that drove the most prominent figures on the left.

    If that is the state of what passes for “political science”, I fear for the future of this country.

  31. michael reynolds says:


    I think that’s right. It’s the subordination of reason to faith. Facts are irrelevant, only the assertion of belief matters. To put it another way, “it’s true because I said it.” (In the original German: fuhrerprinzip.)

  32. mattb says:

    Oh… and the kicker in all of that…

    The core followers of Palin, Bachman, and GWB consider themselves exceptional as well. And so that means that they can’t have been wrong in supporting these people and further invests them in defending them.

    And note that the very language used on Fox commentary shows and talk radio is all about re-enforcing the image of the audience as exceptional — only smart people listen to this program, you’re tuning in so you must be a real American, etc…(*)

    So, generally speaking, beyond the identity politics of support (they’re real American’s like me), this also goes to the idea that if the candidate was wrong, then the supporter was wrong — a total failure of “American Exceptionalism.”

    (*) Note, most of us subscribe to some sort of “Exceptionalism” (liberal, academic, libertarian) and all radio talk programs typically stroke their audiences in this fashion, it’s not just the conservatives.

  33. ponce says:

    Talking about twisting and turning things to fit your agenda James.

    Wayne, it is you who is “twisting and turning things to fit your agenda”:

    One of the fact being disputed was did Revere warned the British. He did.

    Were bells ranged? They were.

    Palin said it was Paul Revere who rang the bells to warn the British:

    He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms uh by ringing those bells

  34. @jwest:

    The problem is, of course, that the only proof for your position is that you continue to assert it.

    I, at least, provided evidence for my position and have had the backing of several persons with Ph.Ds in the field as well as input for several others from related fields and with graduate study under their belts.

    When confronted by evidence that your position was unsupportable by facts you have decided not to thoughtfully reevaluate your position. Instead, you have decided to take shots at the entirety of the discipline of political science because it doesn’t comport with your views. This is why I state that the situation “underscores your preference for your own fantasies over reality.”

  35. James Joyner says:

    @Wayne: “There is more important news to cover than a Democrat Congressman scandal or Obama a “President” misrepresenting facts on auto bailout repayment. What is that news? Palin statement on a history event!”

    You realize we’ve done more than a half dozen posts on the Weiner thing, despite the fact that he’s 1/435th of half of one third of our government? Palin is a frontrunner for a major party nomination for president. And we’ve done dozens of stories on the bailout. What “misrepresenting facts” are you talking about?

  36. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    No one, not Palin or any of her supporters, argued that Revere set out that night to warn the Regulars. If you have a transcript that shows that’s not the case, post it.

    “Part of his ride was to warn the British that were already there that, “Hey. You’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms. You are not gonna beat our own well-armed, uh, persons, uh, individual private militia that we have. He did warn the British.”
    Sara Palin on Fox News Sunday

    Youtube Video

    And that is the main point of contention. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the issue is not how much Palin does or doesn’t know about history. The sneering there is completely pointless.

    What is an issue, however, is the fact that she simply seems unable to take a step back and tackle these matters rationally. If your argument were right (and it is quite possible that it is) she simply used a garbled way of expressing a correct fact.

    Instead of simply stating that, she used the “cat-pratfall” way of error-control by insisting that what said was not only what she wanted to say but also that it was the absolutely right thing to say.

    And that is a seriously dangerous reflex in someone aspiring to an office with military leadership authority. Too many good man and woman have died already due to morons unable to admit and correct a single botched decision.

  37. mattb says:


    Reminds me of a fable that often comes up among my friends who work in the area of art criticism:

    In the midst of an art theory class that was dealing with the Italian Renaissance, a smart young undergrad goes into an extended critique — or rather rant — of Leonardo Da Vinci and the Mona Lisa, listing everything he didn’t like about the painting and how it didn’t deserve all of the accolades and why all the experts are wrong. After patiently listening to the rant, the professor politely thanked him for his contribution and then added:

    “Your opinion that the Mona Lisa is not a great painting says far more about you as a person than it does about Da Vinci as an artist. And that you believe your opinion should be given equal weight to those who have dedicated their lives to studying the subject says even more.”

  38. rodney dill says:

    Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She’s not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.

    I think this is the crux of the Sarah and facts issue. She isn’t trying to teach history, she’s trying to form a narrative for her political views. She borrows some on real history and some on historical myths to do this. Whether you agree with her view or not this is what she is doing, and is what some politicians do from time to time.

  39. G.A.Phillips says:

    @G.A.Phillips: So . . . your explanation for why political scientists don’t study the writings of someone you consider a left wing radical is . . . because political scientists are left wing radicals?

    Because they are taught by them, take their word for every thing… I am just amazed at what I a simpleton history buff knows and what some people I respect such as you do not consider to be worth examining and or seem to dismiss outright.

    Because Glen Beck said so or Harry might make fun of it, I guess.

    And or I saw my opportunity to take a shot at the history/poli sci big dogs and I took it:)

    Their is a Massive Alinsky Influence on the left in this country and It’s hard for me to imagine it not being known to many or wildly discussed without the scenario I have laid forth being true in the year 2011 after all we have recently learned.

  40. James Joyner says:

    @ G.A.Phillips:

    But you’d think Saul Alinsky would be taught and the likes of F.A. Hayek would be ignored, then. Yet that wasn’t the case in my graduate political theory seminars despite the prof being a 1960s liberal.

    I’m not saying that “Rules For Radicals” isn’t interesting — it is, and big parts of it ring true — just that Alinsky wasn’t part of either the political science curriculum or the popular conversation until quite recently. He may have indirectly influenced some major thinkers. A lot of the “Rules For Radicals” ideas were either obvious to others or got picked up by them somehow over the years. Ideas work that way sometimes.

    As to Bill Clinton and Saul Alinsky, the sole reference to it I can find that predates the 2008 campaign (i.e., before 2007) is a piece in something called The Wanderer that apparently first appeared on Free Republic in March 2000 and was reprinted in April 2003. NewsMax has also recirculated it. But Clinton was rather infamous for being non-ideological — remember the Carville quote about him having “no core” that Rush used to repeat constantly. He was also famously undisciplined.

  41. mattb says:

    Because they [political scientists] are taught by them [radical left wing professors], take their word for every thing…

    This is of course the beautiful, sad irony of it all:

    1. Statement that students are blindly take their teachers word for everything.
    2. Because teachers are all radical liberals, those students become indoctrinated into radical liberalism.

    Proof for this: Media people I like say its true – occasionally producing a single individual (see Ward Churchill as an example) to stand for all “professors.”

    Why do I believe it’s true? Media people told me it was.

    But that isn’t blind acceptance of course… It’s just Beck, Hannity, and Limbaugh are always right. Right? Unlike those professors, who are always wrong.

    In fact, one of my favorite moves of Beck in particular is to tell his listeners not to take his word for things and to look them up for themselves. Yet, when anyone calls in or attempts to engage him on how his history might be wrong, that person’s a crackpot ideologue (’cause Beck has teh realz hiz-story). So look it up… just be sure to find the same answer.

  42. Wiley Stoner says:

    James, anyone who ever heard of Hillary Clinton could have known she was an avid follower of Alinsky. I guess to prove a point, someone would have to see how many and by whom, Rules for Radicals sold. I’ll bet it is required reading at Columbia and maybe Harvard in certain classes. Bet you could find copies currently as well as back some time ago on Berkley. That is just speculation. Other sites are referring to Doug as #failconis in the comment section. This is probably due to his obsession with Palin. Looks like you fell into the trap. I think she is partying like it was 1773, or do you think that was a mistake or accident. You believe all the hype about her, but you forget what her father did for a living. Go ahead and believe she is stupid. I think she is a better chess player than you.

  43. That is just speculation


  44. Wiley Stoner says:

    GA, you are right about the influence of Alinsky in this country and you surely do not expect those influence by him to admit it do you? Certainly not here. That would surely be a breaking of one of his rules. Admission by denial. It is kind of like saying OTB has not turned in to DU lite or the Daily OTB. Neoliths like Reyolds abound here.

  45. surely do not expect those influence by him to admit it do you? Certainly not here. That would surely be a breaking of one of his rules. Admission by denial.

    Well, that proves it, doesn’t it?

  46. James Joyner says:

    @Wiley Stoner : It wouldn’t surprise me at all re: Hillary. She’s from Chicago and of the right age. Then again, she was a Barry Goldwater supporter.

    It does look like “Rules for Radicals,” or at least selections from it, are on some academic syllabi out there. That’s not shocking, in that professors have myriad interests and near-total control of what readings they assign. I had students read several chapters of P.J. O’Rourke once upon a time, and he’s not a political scientist, either.

    Palin’s dad was a high school track coach who also taught science. I’m not sure I’d read too much into that. Regardless, I’ve never claimed Sarah Palin was stupid; indeed, I’ve stated again and again that I presume she’s in the average to slightly above average range (i.e., 100-115) in IQ. I just don’t think she’s intellectually curious in general or interested enough in public policy for a vice presidential nominee or presidential aspirant. That’s a much different standard.

  47. I will say, too, that some of the commenters have an odd conception of what goes on in a college classroom (either undergrad or grad). While, yes, there are some faculty who try to push specific ideas, this not the norm in my experience. Further, the presence of a reading on a syllabus is not evidence of an attempt to indoctrinate.

    In my undergrad political theory course last spring we read selections from, for example Aquinas, but that’s not because I was trying to convert the class to Catholicism any more than the reason we read selections from Marx was because I was trying to create a new Red Menace.

  48. James Joyner says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    read selections from Marx


  49. mattb says:

    @Steven and @James,

    In terms of readings and indoctrination… Do you think these images of the “college classroom” are a result of these two things (in particular):

    Current right wing talkers came of age in the 1970’s. Those that had at least some college under their belts, were at the tail-end of the “radical” university. And most of the big names left school after a semester or two (Limbaugh and Beck didn’t make it a full year, Hannity made it two or three with a transfer in there). So its safe to say that most of them didn’t get too far past 101 courses and might in fact have been taught by more “radical” professors.

    Beyond that, if one looks at the common High School experience in the US it’s largely (sadly): Here are the texts, read, memorize, and regurgitate. The idea of reading texts against each other is typically introduced only in college and often not seriously taught until you get past the huge lecture classes.

    Taking those two thing into account, its easy to imagine how these folks build up an image of college as further indoctrination.

  50. James Joyner says:


    That’s a plausible theory and likely explains a lot of conservative views on higher education. But not the three men in particular.

    I can’t imagine that Southeast Missouri State University was all that radical even in Rush’s day–especially not in the introductory courses he’d have taken as a freshman.

    Hannity attended NYU and Adelphi, which might be more radical. But he’s about four years older than me, which means he’d have attended in the early to mid 1980s.

    Beck is only a couple years older than I am and I gather his college education consisted of one theology class at Yale as a grown man.

  51. @James:

    read selections from Marx


    Crap! Did I actually write that for everyone to see? Damn. I must have forgotten my Alinksy!

  52. Franklin says:

    “Part of his ride was to warn the British that …”

    Wait, I’ve been here defending Sarah (basically saying – you can’t actually tell if her original garbled quote is correct or not), and this is what she said to defend herself? This is pretty clearly incorrect, by all accounts I’ve seen now. I’m assuming by “was to” that she is saying “was intended to”.

  53. @Mattb:

    At a minimum, it is rather significant that some of the loudest voices critiquing the academy have such limited exposure thereto.

    The high school example, in particular, likely does inform a lot of people on the topic–since they clearly assume that up and through doctorate level study that all one does is read a book and repeat back the contents to the prof.

  54. G.A.Phillips says:

    Yet, when anyone calls in or attempts to engage him on how his history might be wrong, that person’s a crackpot ideologue

    Hmm that sounds familiar…

  55. Rob in CT says:

    The issue is that Palin cannot, apparently, simply say “Oops, I got a little tangled up with that. I meant ____.” Which would turn the whole thing into a minor gaffe/misstatement (which she clearly made, if you read her answer and try to square it with the facts). But oh no, that’s unacceptable. She’s never, ever, even the littlest bit wrong. It’s all the libruls fault. Please.

    On the continuing polysci discussion:

    I only took 1 political science class in college. The prof was a proud right-winger. How can that be?!?!?!

    Good professors typically won’t let personal political beliefs slip out in class. You might find out outside of the classroom, or infer it from a subtle comment, but the idea is to teach the material, not indoctrinate. When I read these posts from righties asserting that college is all leftist indoctrination I have to wonder if they’ve been to college and, if so, where/when? Because it doesn’t jive with my experience at all. And before you say I didn’t notice leftist indoctrination because I’m a liberal or somesuch, in my college days I self-identified as lean-GOP (social liberal/fiscal conservative – aka New England Republican). That’s changed, as the GOP has unmasked itself (for me. Others saw it sooner, being older or wiser).

  56. mattb says:

    @Steven and @James,

    Thanks for the feedback. Agreed that Southern Missouri wouldn’t be that liberal — still if the intro course was being taught by young faculty or a grad student, you never know. Plus there’s a good chance those guys (definitely Limbaugh who was brought up staunch conservative) probably had some selected hearing going on (especially since he was attending at the tale end of the 60’s and warned about radicals on campus.

    As far as the High School problem, I’ve taught and TA’d (somehow have managed to go backwards in my classroom career) enough first semester 101 courses that I’ve worked to develop a series of mini-lectures to guide students into college reading (and in particular reading texts with/against texts). It’s a pretty exceptional student, usually coming from an elite high school, that doesn’t, out of the gate, seem to think that we agree with 100% of the readings on the syllabus (in fact, “syllabus reading and analysis” is one of the mini-lectures).

    A pet peeve is, especially at the more “elite” universities, many professors aren’t willing to do that work (they consider it too much hand holding).

  57. Neil Hudelson says:

    I’ll bet it is required reading at Columbia and maybe Harvard in certain classes.

    I’ll take that bet!! How much?? $100? $200?

    Can someone tell me how to find out what’s required reading “at Columbia”? I’m assuming he means all of Columbia, and the entire text, because that’s how universities work, right?

  58. James Joyner says:

    @Neil Hudelson With a little bit of Google Fu, I found some results for “Rules for Radicals” + syllabus. Several classes had selections from it. But I’m strongly guessing that it’s not the cornerstone of any required course at any university in the United States.

  59. mattb says:

    @me: Yet, when anyone calls in or attempts to engage him on how his history might be wrong, that person’s a crackpot ideologue

    @GA: Hmm that sounds familiar…

    Somewhat fair… but here’s the difference — at least with the academics on OTB (and beyond)…

    @Steven and @James have been arguing their point academically, mustering more and more writings and comments by historians to support their suppositions. Further, going across the posts on this topic, a number of those historians are both self-identified conservatives and identified by conservative organizations as conservatives (ie. they are published in the National Review). Additionally a number of source documents have been cited (including Revere’s own account). Further, these are all well regarded academics.

    Now one might argue about the interpretation, but the further we get from this the more consensus is built. There have been some academics who said she’s flat out right. But the majority are tracking somewhere between, she got part of it correct and #historyfail.

    Right or wrong, informed consensus rules here.

    Now of course you and Jwest are free to say we got it wrong. You’re also free to say you’re Emperor of the US. And if, like Emperor Norton, can get enough people to believe you and support you, then you might get somewhere with that. But for the moment at least, much like JWest’s Alinsky protests, most people with at least half a brain will just think you’re at best a wrong and at worst a crackpot.

  60. jukeboxgrad says:


    the person [Alinsky] whose political philosophy, strategy and tactics … shaped the democrats over the past 30 years

    You keep saying that. Are you ever going to show proof? I guess the concept of proof is foreign to you.

    In a prior thread, you attempted to prove this, and all you proved was that Alinsky was known to Hillary and Obama. And then I pointed out to you why that is: because the three of them are all connected via the same place: Chicago. Of course after I pointed this out, you were never seen again in that thread. As always, you dematerialize when inconvenient facts are presented.

    When are you going to prove that Alinsky was ever famous or influential outside of Chicago?

  61. jwest says:


    You’re looking for “proof” in the sense that there is some statement somewhere from either Hillary Clinton (who was Bill Cliinton’s chief strategist and manager) or Barack Obama that they have fashioned their lives on Alinsky. Although there may well be one, I don’t know where it is.

    However, as anyone who has ever read and studied Alinsky can tell you, once you understand him, the goals, strategy and tactics of the democrat party for the last 30 years becomes an open book. Every position and campaign can be looked at in retrospect and explained as an extension of his teachings. Not knowing Alinsky is like trying to understand calculus without a basic understanding of arithmetic.

  62. @jwest:

    You are engaging in, as we like to call it in the English language, assertion. You are asserting that you are correct and that the positions you are are accurate. That is not, to use another English word, argumentation. Yes, they both start with the letter “a” but they do have rather different meanings.

  63. jukeboxgrad says:


    You’re looking for “proof” in the sense that there is some statement somewhere from either Hillary Clinton (who was Bill Cliinton’s chief strategist and manager) or Barack Obama that they have fashioned their lives on Alinsky.

    No, that’s not what I’m “looking for.” But thanks for giving us “proof” that your reading comprehension is exceptionally poor. Consider these two claims:

    A) Understanding Clinton and Obama without first understanding Alinsky is a trick apparently only taught in post graduate courses. … Clinton and Obama have fashioned their lives on Alinsky.

    B) No democrat has ever risen higher than driver for retired aldermen without knowing Alinski frontwards and backwards. … how could you possibly teach or write about anything political without being fully versed in the primary operating manifesto of the democrat party for over 40 years? … [Alinsky’s] political philosophy, strategy and tactics … shaped the democrats over the past 30 years.

    Do they sound familiar? You made both those claims. Can you find any place where I have challenged you to prove A? I can’t. What I have challenged you to do is substantiate B. What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present.

    I already explained to you that A and B are different, and proving A is not the same as proving B. You’ve only shown evidence to support A. When are you going to show evidence to support B? Because what you keep saying over and over again, including in this latest thread, is not just A. You keep saying B.

    Maybe the problem is that you can’t manage to grasp that A and B are not the same. Is that it? Maybe you don’t realize that there are Democrats other than Obama and Hillary? Maybe you don’t realize that that their backgrounds cannot be glibly extrapolated to every other Democrat?

    And by the way, I am not accepting A. I’m just asking you to start by proving B.

  64. Wayne says:

    Your memory must be short. Many of the main bloggers stated that people need to drop the Weiner story because there are more important stories to cover. I also haven’t seen any post on Obama’s false statements about the auto bailouts. What I have seen is post after post on Palin.

    So what is more important, a possible Presidential contender ad hoc jumbled statement on a history event or a President’s false prepared statements on a current event?

    Don’t get me wrong, Palin’s statement interest me to. However those who claim that we need to get over talking about other stories because there are more important stories to cover sound like a lot of B.S. when you consider what they are covering.