For one, Gen. George Washington despised the notion of "sovereign states" because he knew that the weak Articles of Confederation, which governed the United States during its first decade, translated into failure to pay and arm his troops, as states reneged on promised contributions.
The Founders also recognized that the principle of state sovereignty under the Articles invited European powers to divide and weaken the country and to maintain their economic supremacy. Thus, in 1787, Washington presided over the drafting of the Constitution, which created a strong national government and transferred sovereignty from the 13 states to the American Republic.
In other words, the Tea Partiers have the early history of the United States inside-out. But that ignorance doesn't mean that they appreciate Bachmann and Perry getting well-known facts about the Revolution -- such as where and when it began -- wrong.
With former history teacher Gingrich as their standard-bearer, the Tea Partiers are at least not likely to cringe over those details. Gingrich's forte is to splash around historical factoids -- often about arcane topics -- as a debating technique to intimidate rivals. He also speaks with such bombastic confidence that opponents shy from challenging him.
Which may explain Gingrich's current appeal to the Right. Conservatives see him as a vehicle for tearing down President Obama, much as he tore down House Speaker Wright and other long-serving Democrats in Congress.
Gingrich also defines the battle ahead in the sort of grandiloquent terms that Revolutionary War-clad Tea Partiers want. Election 2012 is not just a contest over which politician (Romney or Obama) can better guide the economy and implement foreign policy, it is a clash over whether "civilization" will survive, as Gingrich is fond of saying.
The word "civilization" also recalls the animosity that some on the Christian Right feel toward Muslims, as in the "clash of civilizations." The concept also resonates with conservatives who view inner-city blacks much as Gingrich does, as shiftless welfare cheats and criminals lacking a work ethic.
At a rally in Iowa, Gingrich made his point, without explicitly defining the skin color though he could be sure that his audience would add the shading in their minds. As part of his plan to get rid of "truly stupid" child-labor laws and put elementary school kids to work as janitors, he declared:
"Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday [for school]. They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of "I do this and you give me cash' unless it is illegal."
This racially tinged message has been part of Gingrich's world view since his academic days in 1971 when he devoted his PhD thesis to the arcane topic of "Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960," which adopted what was then a favorite conservative theme of criticizing the ungrateful anti-colonialism of Africans (although he did acknowledge the exploitative nature of Belgian policies).
Gingrich called on Africans to understand "the good as well as the bad aspects of colonialism" and warned against "Black xenophobia," although as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted, "what's xenophobic about Africans wanting their oppressors to go away? It's like saying abused wives who want their husbands to leave are anti-men."
Over the decades, Gingrich has retained this paternalistic attitude toward white imperialism in Africa. It surfaced just last year when right-wing author Dinesh D'Souza constructed an absurd argument that Obama was channeling his dead Kenyan father, whom D'Souza described as "this philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions."
Gingrich praised D'Souza's insight, adding that Obama's "fundamentally out of touch" attitude toward Americans could only be explained "if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior."
A True Believer
The Tea Partiers also may understand that Gingrich isn't just making these radical pronouncements because he is in "campaign mode," as former President George H.W. Bush might say. Though Gingrich flits from grand idea to grand idea, he could be counted on to push many of his concepts through a Republican Congress if he wins the White House.