BuzzFeed and those “fake” quotations used by eeevil Mike Huckabee

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BuzzFeed reports that “Republican presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 1998 book Kids Who Kill is full of spurious quotations from leading American political figures, mostly the country’s founding fathers.”

The article continues:

A number of the quotations, such as those from Washington and Jefferson, have been routinely debunked by libraries of the past presidents but still regularly find their way into books from conservative figures. Other quotes, debunked by prominent historians, seem to be used for the first time in the book.

Kids Who Kill links a mass shooting in Arkansas “to the decline in America’s moral culture,” according to the article. Quotations from Founding Fathers like George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson “are often used to reinforce Huckabee’s moral viewpoint.”

Huckabee, like many politicians in both major parties, has used apocryphal quotations (and lousy paraphrases) from revered American figures.

So far so good. I don’t carry water for Huckabee. He’s too liberal for me though he has been sounding conservative lately. Go ahead and scrutinize him (along with all the candidates). This is the time to do it.

That said, the very first example BuzzFeed provides gives me pause.

Yes, it is inaccurate but it isn’t exactly breathtakingly, blood-curdingly off in terms of semantics. Sure, different words were used, and Huckabee shouldn’t have done it, but the ideas represented in the first “fake quote” attributed to Jefferson, happen to accurately express thoughts that the principal author of the Declaration of Independence had in real life. My guess is the inaccurate quotation gained wide currency because it mirrors what Jefferson actually thought.

Let’s look at Huckabee’s Jefferson quotation. From the article:

“Thomas Jefferson asserted that the ‘chief purpose of government is to protect life. Abandon that and you have abandoned all,’” writes Huckabee in one part of the book on abortion.

However, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, “this quotation has not been found in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.”

(Pro tip, BuzzFeed: “writes Huckabee in one part of the book on abortion” is bad writing, and in my view, ambiguous. Is the book about abortion? Or is just one part of the book about abortion? I thought Kids Who Kill was about homicidal children.)

A statement that Jefferson actually wrote, contains different words but they still express the same idea.

According to Bartleby, a reputable resource, Jefferson wrote this [emphasis added below]:

If, in my retirement to the humble station of a private citizen, I am accompanied with the esteem and approbation of my fellow citizens, trophies obtained by the bloodstained steel, or the tattered flags of the tented field, will never be envied. The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government.

This quotation comes, according to Bartleby, from a March 31, 1809 letter Jefferson wrote to “the Republican Citizens of Washington County, Maryland[.]” It appears in volume 8 of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by H. A. Washington (1871).

Interestingly, the real quotation is stronger than the one used by Huckabee which asserts only that protecting life is “the chief purpose of government.”

The actual Jefferson quotation makes protecting life the singular purpose of government, not merely an overarching purpose of government.

So again, Huckabee shouldn’t have done it, it’s not okay, but the quotation he used isn’t crazily far afield from something Jefferson actually wrote. The bogus sentences, which have been traced back to at least 1989 in a work by his co-author George Grant, were good enough to trick at least a generation of Americans. (Maybe BuzzFeed should have gone after Grant.)

In at least this one case BuzzFeed was a bit too hard on Huckabee.

I regret I don’t have time to go through the whole article tonight. Oh, the gems that likely await.

  • Chris Sahar

    Interesting the quote you give as in an article you say bluntly anti-Trump protesters should be careful as they have guns. Well I think the anti-Trump protesters have guns too. And your statement betrays the accurate Jefferson quote you cite and invites more violence. One day when you rhetoric allows mob violence don’t bemoan the fact you become a victim – possibly of the very people you support.