Thursday, December 31, 2009
Watching Barack Obama cluelessly become the worst combination of Herbert Hoover's economics and W. Bush's foreign policy has been disappointing but hardly unexpected. I didn't vote for him because I'm too old and crabby to be suckered into believing bromides about change and hope. I mean, pul--eeze. Actually, I had some real concerns.
My friends were surprised that I, a life-long Democrat from one of the more progressive states in USA, would shun such an attractive candidate as Obama. Wasn't his combination of community activism, an elite education, an international childhood, and a serious intellect not enough? In a word, no.
My first doubts about Obama came during his acceptance speech at the Democratic nominating convention in Denver. In it he claimed he would spend $180 billion over ten years to wean the USA from dependence on foreign oil.
Considering USA is a country of over 300 million people designed to run on petroleum from sea to shining sea and we do not produce enough within our borders to feed that machine, $18 billion dollars a year seems a little skimpy. A problem this big could barely be solved by investing in new systems and infrastructure, very wisely, at $1 trillion per year.
Obama and his advisors were underestimating one of the more critical problems facing the nation by a factor of at least 50. It is not good when a fancy education means you cannot do simple arithmetic but do have a slumlord's attitude towards fixing serious problems on the cheap.
But the event that actually kept me from voting for Obama came in May before the election. In a speech he claimed that one of his uncles on his mother's side had helped liberate Auschwitz. This was a historical blunder of the first magnitude. The historical fact is that the Red Army liberated Auschwitz while American troops never got closer than a few hundred miles.
The Obama campaign rushed to correct the record when folks began to point out the error. It turns out that his great uncle had liberated a concentration camp called Ohrdorf which was part of the Buchenwald complex. Not surprisingly, the controversy evaporated almost immediately. Why this is so says volumes about the American voter.
1) Barely anyone in USA knows any history at all and most of what they think they know is wrong. This is especially true about World War II. After all, Obama did have an uncle who liberated a concentration camp. So what if he got a few minor details wrong? Only a Holocaust geek knows the names of more than one concentration camp anyway. We liberated camps, Auschwitz was a camp, therefore we probably liberated Auschwitz--went this "reasoning".
2) Everyone "knows" the USA won World War II after lesser nations like France and England failed to do the job. As for USSR, their role in this massive conflict has been reduced to a running joke on "Hogan's Heroes" reruns where Col. Klink does almost anything to avoid going to the Eastern Front. The fact that 95% of what we call World War II was a fight between Germany and USSR--if measured by troops and equipment involved, length of battles, or casualties--just disappeared during the Cold War. As a result, almost no American alive has any idea that USSR was even in the war, much less that they liberated Auschwitz. And it is utter heresy in USA to point out the USSR was responsible for the defeat of the German Army--even though that conclusion is almost universally accepted outside our borders.
While it is true that virtually the whole of the USA public is historically illiterate and so was willing to cut Obama a lot of slack for his, I am not so forgiving of someone who wants to be President of USA. Here's why I believe a generalized historical literacy is a good idea for anyone who pretends to be educated and utterly essential for anyone who aspires to higher office:
1) Knowing your history is an essential navigation device. It is almost impossible to know where you are in this world unless you know where you come from. And if you don't know where you are, it IS impossible to know where you are going.
2) Until you know some history, you are forced to think as a child--i.e. the world in its present form just existed when you were born; how it got that way is not important.
3) Unless you understand just how difficult it was to build the world you live in, it is very difficult to know what to appreciate and value. And if our forebears made errors in building our world, it is impossible to correct those errors unless we know what they are and have good theories for why they were mede.
Yeah, I know--Palin, McCain, and Biden are probably even LESS historically literate than Obama. So when it came time, I voted for some third-party candidate. I live in Minnesota and we have a proud tradition of third-party movements so whenever I find myself frustrated by the top of the ticket, I find someone else to vote for if only to keep the third-party spirit alive.
And now that Obama has shown himself to be a tool of far-right economic and military interests, I am glad I didn't vote for him. It is the only comfort I can take as I watch him drive the Democratic Party off a cliff.