Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Should it matter when politicians make history mistakes?

George Stephanopoulos used his time interviewing Michele Bachmann to quiz her about a couple of gaffes she'd made about American history. She had said that the Founding Fathers who wrote the Declaration of Independence and Constitution worked tirelessly to end slavery. When reminded that several of the Founders were in fact slave-owners, she defended her point by using John Quincy Adams as an example of a Founding father who had worked tirelessly to eradicate slavery. While he was a prominent abolitionist in his post-White House career, by no stretch of the imagination can he be included in with the Founders who wrote the Constitution and Declaration. And it's rather difficult to ignore that the author of the Declaration of Independence, the president of the Constitutional Convention, and the acknowledged father of the Bill of Rights were all slave-owners.

Rather than reaching for JQA as her example of a founder who opposed slavery, she could have brought in his father, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin, all of whom were opponents of slavery. She could have talked about Washington's freeing his slaves after Martha's death in his will, or talked about Jefferson's own distaste for slavery though he didn't know what to do to end it. She could have taken the position that Lincoln did, that our founders sought an ideal of an end to slavery and established principles such as the concept that all men were created equal that could be used later to recognize the natural rights of black men and women. But she didn't. Perhaps she doesn't know these examples or just could not come up with them in the short time of an interview. Maybe she wanted to keep the focus on her campaign positions rather than getting sidetracked.

I'm still shaking my head over her inexplicable error in campaigning in New Hampshire by congratulating them "You're the state where the shot was heard around the world at Lexington and Concord." How could she not know that that was in Massachusetts? Has she never actually studied the Founding Era and simply gathered some sloganeering language wrapped up with an appeal to the Founders as support for her political positions today?

Now it would have been nice if Stephanopoulos or any journalist had shown as much focus on historical gaffes that Obama has made. Here are a few reminders.

During the 2008 campaign he'd claimed that we should meet face-to-face with those we oppose just as Kennedy had met with Khrushchev when "We were on the brink of nuclear war." Except Kennedy's meeting with Khrushchev had occurred more than a year before the Cuban Missile Crisis and was regarded even by JFK as a failure. In fact, Khrushchev concluded from his meeting with JFK at Vienna that the young president would not be a barrier to an increased Soviet hardline as he went on to approve the building of the Berlin Wall and the placement of missiles in Cuba.

Also during the campaign he bragged about his uncle being part of the liberation of Auschwitz when it was the Soviets who liberated the camps in Poland. His uncle helped to liberate a satellite camp of Buchenwald. I would have thought that, if he were truly so proud of his uncle's service, he might have read up on those experiences and learned more about what actually happened.

At his inaugural, he didn't know how many men had been president double-counting Cleveland. That was a small error, of course, but you'd think that for an Inaugural Address he or his speechwriters would get it right.

Obama's aides seem so impressed with the boss that they have lost all historical perspective. Remember Rahm Emanuel telling Obama that he had faced the toughest times that any president has ever faced. Apparently, Obama and his aides only remember Abraham Lincoln when they want to reach for some strained comparison between the two.

Obama's sense of himself seems so grandiose that he can make boneheaded comments like claiming that the reason he was so unpopular in Texas is that "Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for, you know, historic reasons." Apparently, this man who supposedly learned so much from the civil rights movement was unaware that the Democrats were the party of the solid South and that Texas had been a Democratic state since its admission in 1845 until Nixon's election in 1972. That was the historic gaffe that led Scott Johnson of Powerline to say that "Obama's historical ignorance could be a full time beat for somebody who does this work for a living".

More importantly, his whole approach to the Middle East displays a vast historical ignorance. In that same Inaugural he talked about seeking a "new way forward" for our relations with the Muslim world and a return to the "same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.". As Charles Krauthammer pointed out at the time, Obama seemed ignorant of the true history of our relationship with the Muslim world.
Astonishing. In these most recent 20 years -- the alleged winter of our disrespect of the Islamic world -- America did not just respect Muslims, it bled for them. It engaged in five military campaigns, every one of which involved -- and resulted in -- the liberation of a Muslim people: Bosnia, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The two Balkan interventions -- as well as the failed 1992-93 Somalia intervention to feed starving African Muslims (43 Americans were killed) -- were humanitarian exercises of the highest order, there being no significant U.S. strategic interest at stake. In these 20 years, this nation has done more for suffering and oppressed Muslims than any nation, Muslim or non-Muslim, anywhere on Earth. Why are we apologizing?

And what of that happy U.S.-Muslim relationship that Obama imagines existed "as recently as 20 or 30 years ago" that he has now come to restore? Thirty years ago, 1979, saw the greatest U.S.-Muslim rupture in our 233-year history: Iran's radical Islamic revolution, the seizure of the U.S. Embassy, the 14 months of America held hostage.

Which came just a few years after the Arab oil embargo that sent the United States into a long and punishing recession. Which, in turn, was preceded by the kidnapping and cold-blooded execution by Arab terrorists of the U.S. ambassador in Sudan and his chargé d'affaires.

This is to say nothing of the Marine barracks massacre of 1983, and the innumerable attacks on U.S. embassies and installations around the world during what Obama now characterizes as the halcyon days of U.S.-Islamic relations.

Look. If Barack Obama wants to say, as he said to al-Arabiya, I have Muslim roots, Muslim family members, have lived in a Muslim country -- implying a special affinity that uniquely positions him to establish good relations -- that's fine. But it is both false and deeply injurious to this country to draw a historical line dividing America under Obama from a benighted past when Islam was supposedly disrespected and demonized.
Obama's recent trumpeting of desiring a return to the pre-1967 borders as a basis for peace between Israel and the Palestinians was another example of the result of having a president who is so ignorant of history.

So historical ignorance can be both embarrassing and crucial for a president. Critics shouldn't ridicule Michele Bachmann's errors unless they've also spent some time on Obama's errors. But that isn't stopping Bachmann's liberal critics from jumping all over her for her mistakes. Add in the blunder about claiming John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa when it was really the murderer John Wayne Gacy and it hasn't been a smooth opening to her official announcement for president.

But does it matter that she seems to be rather clueless about the history of the Founding Era even as she cloaks herself in the mantle of the Founders? Perhaps not. Maybe I'm just overly sensitive because I'm a history teacher and I so want my students to have a fuller understanding of the our nation's history than just a few slogans and nice stories. A candidate's ideological approach is more important than his or her knowledge of historical facts. And I'm certainly much more in sympathy with Bachmann's conservatism than with Obama's approach. And there is much to admire about her personal biography. I admire her spunk as she deals with criticism and mockery. And I applaud her for regularly running the gauntlet of hostile interviews rather than trying to remain within a cushioned bubble of softy interview from her ideological soulmates in the conservative media as Sarah Palin does. I thought she handled the unfortunate phrasing of Chris Wallace's question about being a flake rather well. I didn't think it was so very objectionable a topic for a question. That's the rap on her and he, as an interviewer, was well within the bound to give her a chance to respond. His choice of words was poor, but it was clear what he was trying to do in that question. And it certainly was easier on her than what Stephanopoulos did by using her own words to demonstrate the holes in her historical knowledge.

I must confess that I find her gaffes cringe-making and reading her rather robotic responses to Stephanopoulos's questions as she tries to talk about what she wants to rather than address her historical blunders was not encouraging. A leader of a movement based on a return to the founding principles of our nation should be more familiar with that actual history. In addition to reading von Mises and Hayek, she should add in some history to beach reading. I am so tired of the GOP candidate being someone whose remarks so often make me cringe. She's fine for her role of being a leader of the opposition to the Democrats in the House and rallying Tea Party supporters but she doesn't strike me as ready to defeat Obama. And that is my prime concern in choosing a candidate to support. Since I usually end up having to pick a candidate to support who is the least objectionable to me, I'd also like to support one who could oust the Obamanians from the Executive Branch. I shudder to think where our country will be after another four years of all of them and another four years of his appointees to the courts and all the administrative agencies which seem to be constantly expanding their unelected reach into every aspect of government. If I had to trade one who knew history for one who had the right policies and could defeat Obama, that would be fine for me.

Meanwhile, I won't be holding my breath waiting for all those who are enjoying their opportunities to ridicule Bachmann's historical gaffes to subject Obama's pronouncements on the Middle East to the same historical examination.

But being able to point fingers and say "your guy's also a historical ignoramus" shouldn't be all that supporters of a political candidate have to fall back on when she goes out there and starts making us cringe.


Smith said...

Bridgeport lapband

Slavery was one of the major issues during those time. Hats off to the people who fought against it.

mark said...

As entertaining as her gaffes are, they don't disqualify her from running. What should is her disgraceful comments calling Obama "anti-American" and calling for Joseph McCarthy-type investigations. She wraps herself in the flag and religion and makes a mockery of both.

On MSNBC, she said, “What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think the American people would love to see an expose like that.

pumping-irony said...

Stephanopoulos and most of the MSM are pompous frauds. An old Soviet-era joke asked why do their TV sets come equipped with windshield wipers, the answer to which was "to wipe away the spit during the newscasts." My sentiments exactly. If our MSM is indeed dying, all I can say is "faster, please."

lorraine_lanning said...

The John Wayne comment was trivial, but I do object to the Lexington/Concord "slogan". That's such a basic part of our history and, I thought, one of the few well-known facts. She said it more than once to more than one group too. Also, as far as I know, JQ Adams has never been considered a Founding Father, and I've read a lot of books about that time period, it's my favorite.

Is she really that ignorant of our history or is she blindly repeating factual mistakes her staff made? Either proposition is not comforting to me.

Davebo said...

" I shudder to think where our country will be after another four years of all of them and another four years of his appointees to the courts and all the administrative agencies which seem to be constantly expanding their unelected reach into every aspect of government."

Could you expound a bit on these constantly expanding agencies?

Are you referring to the Department of Homeland Security? The IRS?

I really would like to know.

RightKlik said...

Sure I'd like to see fewer gaffes on both sides. It would be reassuring to know that our leaders know something about history.

But I wouldn't suggest that Bachmann is clueless to any extent greater than Obama. What did Obama say about the emperor of Japan and the Japanese surrender?

More than anything I'd like to see the American people hold the MSM accountable for its selective presentation of the facts and the obvious partisan, ideological motivations for their disproportionate scrutiny and ridicule of conservatives.

mark said...

The gaffes are a distraction from her hypocrisy regarding "socialism". She rails against it, yet she and her husband have raked in thousands in grants for employee-training (shouldn't she and her husband pay for their employees' training instead of taxpayers?) and accepting thousands in medicare and medicaid payments. Typical repub: For socialism when it benefits you; against it when you're on the short end.

Steven Taylor said...

I suspect that every politician has made, over a campaign (or career) a series of historical errors, large and small--and some which matter more than others.

The Bachmann error is troubling to me mainly because she is allegedly trying to draw on her knowledge of the Founders as part of the basis of her legitimacy. It is one thing to get an example wrong or semi-wrong, it is another to make bold theoretical claims that are supposed to be linked to one's understanding of history.

Further, the JQA thing is actually less troublesome than the assertion that the Founders "worked tirelessly to end slavery." Sadly, they did not. Some opposed slavery, yes; others were ardent supporters; and yet others hoped that it would fade (but not today).

We create false impressions about who we were if we pretend that from the beginning all the Founders wanted to end slavery because that simply isn't a true statement. One should think that truth would matter, even if we recognize that much about politics and philosophy are open to interpretation and debate.

Terrye said...

It goes without saying that conservatives are going to get more scrutiny. That might not be fair, but it is reality. That is just more reason to get your facts straight.

There are things I admire about Bachmann, but I do not understand why she does not bone up on this kind of history if she is going to talk about it on the stump. A basic chronology would help.

tfhr said...


You said, "Typical repub: For socialism when it benefits you; against it when you're on the short end."

As always you are about party politics but the part you don't seem to understand is that we are all on the short end of out of control government spending. "Socialism is great until you run out of other peoples' money", or words to that effect, were spoken by Margaret Thatcher decades ago.

ray.heller said...

Yes, as someone who claims to be a leader and representative of the TEA Party movement, she shpould be better versed on the history of our founding fathers. Yet,this should not disqualify her. The platform she stands on is most important. What she believes needs to be done to fix what has happened to America, over the past couple of years, is the issue we need to focus on. It is too bad that the democrats are running so scared that the best they can do is highlight her minor mistakes about our history that really should not matter. Let's not major on the minors.
The Rural Ranter

mark said...

No, I get it, tfhr. She rails against socialism even though she and/or her husband stick their hands out for a piece of the action. If she had principles, she would have forgone the training for her employees or forked over the money herself.

BTW: Are you okay with her proposal to cut benefits for disabled veterans? I don't remember seeing any outrage from you or anyone else here? C'mon, at least pretend you still care.

She's a fraud with no principles, which explains why you would defend her.

From Air Force Times:

Tea party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has unveiled a plan for cutting $400 billion in federal spending that includes freezing Veterans Affairs Department health care spending and cutting veterans’ disability benefits.

Pat Patterson said...

William F Buckley was also accused of being a hypocrite for accepting SS checks on his reaching the proper age. His response was that he was legally entitled to collect considering that he had also been paying into the program since he wrote, God And Man At Yale. It should be noted that the only way one can rake in Medicaid payments is by providing a service to those that are eligible and that raking in amounted to some $20K per year over 6 1/2 years.

Alfred J. Lemire said...

The reference to a Charles Krauthammer column on President Obama's historical blunder re: the U.S. and Muslims, created by his own intense prejudices, hatreds, and resentments--reminiscent of a certain European historical figure--well serves the cause of fairness in dealing with candidates'' real or perceived errors. So did the other Obama errors, which Ms. Newmark provided.

But any Republican candidate ought to realize that a hostile, corrupt, incompetent, propagandistic, and partisan (for the left in politics and culture) news media and such as Chris Matthews will make much of any real or perceived gaffe. Sadly, many on both left and right make their politics an ersatz religion and sharply attack unbelievers. Worse still, lefties fancy righties as their intellectual inferiors, so any mental error plays into that peculiar notion.

mark said...

Good try, Pat, but taking SS checks after paying into the system is far different from applying for/accepting grants to train your employees.
Between Medicare, Medicaid and farm subsidies, she and her family have sucked up over $400,000 in taxpayer money.

Pat Patterson said...

Then you need to read the articles more carefully as it was the clients the money was attached to not the clinic. Or are you unhappy that almost all mds receive continual training paid for by Medicare. And as far as the subsidies complain to the Democratic congresses of the Depression area for creating the price supports in the first place. Some 75% of the subsidy money goes to the largest agricabusinesses in the US not the smaller farm such as the Bachmann family trust. Besides I thought the left loved managed economies. I may not like freeways but I have no problem in using them just as anybody that is eligible for money back uses those facilities. And before you start in about artifically high food prices it might be wise to remember that the cost of such items is much smaller both in inflation adjusted dollars and per capita spending now then when the supports were created.

tfhr said...


I'll take a look at the disabled vet issue you raise, but as a life time member of Disabled American Veterans and one who is rated presently at 70% disabled, I walk the walk, so to speak.

Pat Patterson said...

Thse disability "cuts" are something Congress has been trying to reform for years. Only those who are getting the military benefit and the SS benefit would be effected. Congress never intended to have both DFAS and SS writing checks for the same disability.

That plan was offered as one of the ways to trim the budget as the rest of the article notes. And since she broached the idea in Jan she has not introduced either a bill or an amendment that would cause such a cut to take place.

tfhr said...


I looked at the Air Force Times article and it closely tracks with what Pat Patterson mentioned above. Tell me, are you in favor of duplicating benefits?

I get a check from the VA every month. I don't collect disability from Social Security for anything - and certainly not for what the VA is already compensating.

I think this should get a close look and I think you need to be a little more clear about your own position on the matter. You certainly did not characterize the article clearly and that makes me wonder if you read it or if you are relying on some sort of distorted talking point, as we frequently see from you.