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My Father and His Father Before Him

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winthropWhenever conservatives paraphrase Ronald Reagan paraphrasing John Winthrop paraphrasing the Gospel of Matthew, I always wonder if they really don’t get the full implication of what they’re saying, or if they do and the whole thing is a dog whistle for all the hardcore evangelicals in the house.

What’s amazing about it is the chain of authority.  Big Hollywood steals a phrase from Ronald Reagan to give its call for a revitalized right grounding and some OG Republican heft.  Reagan stole a phrase from Winthrop to make his call for a revitalized federal government more momentous by adding a vague element of religiosity and by hearkening back to the first days of colonial America.  Winthrop stole a phrase from the Gospel of Matthew to help convince people that building a theocratic state in the middle of nowhere wasn’t an insane idea.

In each case, what makes it so effective is that it’s an appeal to authority that only people who already revere said authority are going to pick up on.  Otherwise it just sounds like a cool metaphor.  So you rally the faithful without alienating moderates by coming straight-out and saying things like, “We need to go back to the way things were 30 years ago” or “We need a little old-fashioned theocracy up ins” or ‘Don’t worry about those harsh winters or those badass native warriors, God wants us to be here!”  To someone who doesn’t know the context, it comes across as a simple “USA! USA! USA!”

Update:  Actually, now that I think about it, there’s the added appeal-to-authority on the part of the evangelist.  Since the Gospel of Matthew is particularly interested in Jewish converts, there’s a whole, “Look!  You can convert to Christianity and still be a chosen people!” thing going on, but that’s not really germane to this discussion.


Written by dieblucasdie

April 7, 2009 at 7:21 pm

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