March 30, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Historic Fervor Steeped in History

As the 2010 midterm elections approach, the tea party movement is brimming with anger.

But the Boston Tea Party and other founding events and principles so often invoked by todays angst-filled activists havent only been symbols of limited government.

In the 1770s the days of the actual tea party it was bitterness about taxation that stirred the colonists to protest. Throughout American history, groups across the political spectrum have tried to claim the nations founding events, such as the Boston Tea Party and the battles of Lexington and Concord, as their own. This is an issue of selective memory.

It is easy to say the Founding Fathers would have favored one groups cause over anothers, but its harder to prove. In her new book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Partys Revolution and the Battle Over American History, author Jill Lepore tries to do what politicians arent willing to: actually study the history behind events such as the Boston Tea Party and examine the way they are manipulated politically.

The books hook is the popularity of the tea party movement during this election cycle, but The Whites of Their Eyes, despite the seemingly incendiary title, is not a critique of this years ubiquitous political movement. The text is much more a historical analysis than a partisan one.

Lepore does point out inconsistencies surrounding the 2010 iteration of the tea party. However, the book spends most of its 165 pages bouncing back and forth from the 1770s to the 1970s and the present day. What Lepore comes up with is an argument against historical fundamentalism the idea that key events such as the American Revolution can be superficially interpreted, even two centuries later, to reveal an incontrovertible political truth.

My point in telling three stories at once is not to ignore the passage of time but rather to dwell on it, to see whats remembered and whats forgotten, whats kept and whats lost, she writes in the books prologue.

The authors accuracy in describing the three eras is hard to question. The 18th century is one of the specialties of this Harvard University professor of American history, and the book is full of quirky stories about John Adams, Paul Revere and others. And for the modern research, Lepore attended historical re-enactments of Revolutionary War battles in the 1970s and tea party rallies in Boston in 2009.

Lepores decision to study the tea party movement in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal states, is both an interesting and practical one. The physical link to the Boston Tea Party is obvious, and the tea party movement played a major role in GOP Sen. Scott Browns electoral victory last year.

Many tea partiers were happy to speak with Lepore because of what they felt was an unfair portrayal of them in the national media. Still, the ideological connection between the Boston Tea Party and the current movement which bills itself as of the people is a flimsy one.

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