In “Obama as political historian,” Scott Johnson of Power Line writes:
Yesterday he was at it again, in his peevish interview with the feisty local broadcast reporter from Texas. Why are you so unpopular in Texas? the reporter asked. Obama being Obama, he was unable to laugh off the question and say he’d do better next time around. Obama responded: “Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for, you know, historic reasons.”
Has the guy ever heard of LBJ? You know, the fellow who first brought us socialized medicine? Has he ever read a single volume of Robert Caro’s monumental biography of LBJ? It’s hard to miss the extent to which the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics for the duration of LBJ’s political career.
Obama majored in political science at Columbia. Did he miss the fact that Texas was part of the solidly Democratic South — the slaveholding, segregated, Jim Crow South — more or less from statehood in 1848 until Nixon’s 1972 landslide?
Did Obama skip class the day he might have learned that in the the postbellum South, including Texas, the Republican Party was virtually nonexistent? Apparently so. Or maybe he was just deploying his skills as a bs artist to deflect a question that could not be reconciled with his self-worship.
If our the history of our perpetual undergrad as president seems more than a little faulty, it’s not all that surprising considering the milieu from which he emerged. In Spain, they’re debating the “right” of your personal history to be “forgotten” on the Internet, but American academics have been doing an excellent job forgetting history since the early 1980s, as David Foster writes at the Chicago Boyz on “The Assault on American Identity and Cohesion:”
According to Robert and Olson, the teaching of American history has been greatly influenced by the New Western History movement, which emerged from Yale University in the early 1980s. “Traditional historians, alienated by the crusading zeal of the revisionists, accused them of examining the past from a neo-Marxist perspective and seeing only class conflict, imperialism, and racial tension..For some traditionalists, the New Western Historians had bulldozed the profession, formulating a party line that brooked no opposition and tolerated no dissent.”
It is true that American history, as taught many decades ago, did tend excessively toward uncritical hero-worship. But it is equally true that much teaching of that history today tends toward unreflective demonization. Politically-minded intellectuals often like to talk about the virtues of “nuance” and their superior understanding thereof, but nuance seems to quickly go by the wayside when there is an opportunity to portray the U.S., its civil society, and its people in a bad light: all those shades of gray turn into black and white pretty rapidly. And the obsessive focus on group identities, as reflected in the views of the grad students at the Alamo commemoration, is particularly destructive.
The innate character flaw of the political right, with its thrumming appeals to the logic of blood and soil, is its lamentable tendency to go in search of enemies abroad. The left, on the other hand, with its own appeals to the politics of envy and class warfare, is content to find mortal enemies closer to hand.
Today’s “progressive” movement seeks to reduce American society to nothing more than an arena for a neo-Hobbesian struggle of group against group–and its obsessive focus with race and ethnicity as core determinants of group identity, as exemplified by the behavior of the grad student cited above, show that today’s “progressivism” borrows as much from Fascism as it does from Marxism.
This worldview has gained great power and influence–most notably in academia, journalism, and entertainment–and has declared war on American civil society. If not checked, the spread of the “progressive” Leftist belief system will destroy our society. And the collapse, if it does happen, will be a lot less enjoyable than many people seem to anticipate.
As Mark Steyn wrote recently in National Review, this isn’t the first time that a major world power has faced the risk of massive cultural decay:
But some of us have been here before. We know the smell of decay, and we recognize it in America today. Last year, Niall Ferguson, professor at Oxford, at Harvard, and on highbrow telly documentaries, joined Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, and other eminent thinkers at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “Having grown up in a declining empire, I do not recommend it,” he told them. “It’s just not a lot of fun actually, decline.”
Amen, brother. It’s the small things you remember. The public clocks that stop and are never restarted. “Stands the church clock at ten to three? / And is there honey still for tea?” wrote Rupert Brooke, aching from abroad for an eternal England. If the town-hall clock stopped at ten to three, it stands there still, and the one above the splendid Victorian railway station stands at twelve past four, and the one on the Gothic Revival opera house at 7:23: You are literally in a land that time forgot. Likewise, the escalators. In “developing nations,” they’re a symbol of progress. In decaying nations, they’re an emblem of decline. In pre-Thatcher Britain, the escalators seized up, and stayed unrepaired for months on end. Eventually, someone would start them up again, only for them to break down 48 hours later and be out of service for another 18 months. It was always the up escalators. You were in a country that could only go downhill: All chutes, no ladders.
If you live in certain of our more obviously insolvent states, you may already recognize the phenomenon. A waggish reader wrote to me from the nation’s capital a few weeks ago hailing what he called Union Station’s cutting-edge bidirectional escalator technology. The conventional escalator on the left had been out of order for a month and “requires two full-time maintenance workers to stare at it for hours at a time while discussing football and women.” But during the same period the equally non-moving escalator on the right had been used every rush hour to accommodate thousands of both upward and downward commuters simultaneously. All the advanced technology of a staircase — now in an escalator! The bright new future of mass transit: no-speed escalators to high-speed trains.
Incremental decline is easy to get used to. I’m sure a few of my correspondent’s fellow commuters are equally droll about it and a few more get angry, but untold thousands more just shuffle uncomplainingly up and down, scuffing shoes and bumping backpacks. That’s the trick with decline: persuading people to accept it. The Transportation Security Administration, which in a decade of existence has never caught a single terrorist, has managed to persuade freeborn citizens to accept that minor state bureaucrats have the right to fondle your scrotum without probable cause. The TSA is now unionizing, which means that this hideous embodiment of bureaucratized sclerosis will now have its fingers in your gusset until the end of time.
Which brings us to Peter Wehner of Commentary on Obama’s other recent historical gaffe:
In a town hall event in Annandale, Obama evoked the August 2007 St. Anthony Falls bridge collapse as a justification for higher taxes. “Remember when that bridge in Minnesota collapsed with all those people on it?,” Obama asked. “And there was a big hue and cry, ‘How can this happen in America?’ Well, the National Society of Engineers — they looked around and they give us a D when it comes to infrastructure.” Obama added, “We cut transportation by another third and what’s going to happen to America? We’re just going to have potholes everywhere? We’re just gonna have bridges collapsing everywhere?”
But as both Ed Morrissey and CBS News point out, the bridge collapse in Minnesota, which killed 13 people, was found to have been caused primarily by a design flaw, not aging infrastructure. It had nothing to do with lack of maintenance.
So the president is using a dishonest recounting of an event, in which more than a dozen people died, in order to support a bad policy. And one suspects that Obama is only warming up, that as we get nearer the election, the more this kind of dishonesty will occur. To see Obama employ these techniques underscores just how weak his case is and how cynical and (literally) unbelievable his claims have become. It isn’t quite what we were told to expect, is it?
Depends on who you were listening to back then, I guess.
Related: Don’t know much about history…Don’t know much about a science book.