I was going to do a “culture wars” history that would go back to the election of 1800 and forward to the Reagan era, and I noticed that people kept returning to these TOUCHSTONE DOCUMENTS, quoting them in the way that preachers and Christians quote from the Bible. I’ve always been fascinated by the rabbinic tradition in Judaism, that to be a Jew is to argue about what it is to be a Jew. It seemed the same — to be an American is to argue about WHAT IT IS TO BE AN AMERICAN.
I think of this book as the most political of my books. It’s about texts like “I Have a Dream,” the Gettysburg Address, the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence. It does seem to me they constitute a kind of canon the same way Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Epistles are part of the canon of the New Testament.