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Thursday, August 7, 2008
The Perils of Historical Ignorance

"Don't Know Much About History" could be an Obama campaign slogan.

I've been flirting with the idea that our national ignorance of basic economics may be more dangerous to our freedom and prosperity than our national ignorance of the US Constitution and the principles and philosophies it embodies. First-term Senator and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has provided ample reinforcement for this theory of late, when speaking on energy policy and gasoline prices, among other subjects. Vacuous is not too strong a term for the junior Senator from Illinois, even though he's a great performer with particularly talented speech writers.

Senator John McCain, his Republican opponent, may be better in this respect without being very good. It is the principally the war which leads me to believe that we need McCain over Obama, but mostly economics which leads me to believe -- as I have written before -- that we need a Republican majority, or at least a strong minority which can filibuster, to restrain McCain.

I haven't wholly abandoned the idea that economic ignorance is the largest threat, but it has some serious competition now, and from more than the constitutional ignorance I mentioned above. I realize Senator Obama is a few years older than I am, but over the last week or two I have become increasingly conscious that there is a lot of important history I remember that he doesn't, and a lot of older history I learned that he apparently didn't. And his speech writers, for all their talent, are not helping.

Among other things I worry that ignorance of history will lead a president to underestimate our enemies and abuse our allies. At least Senator McCain remembers his time in a Communist prison camp. One line from British philosopher George Santayana may be overquoted, but there's a reason for it. It's the line, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

I was pondering how to describe one of my largest specific concerns about Obama's historical ignorance, his absurd recollections of the Cold War with Communism, when I read a column by Jonah Goldberg, who did a better job of it than I was going to, I suspect. Here's one excerpt:

The real brutal oversimplification is the treacle we hear from Obama, that victory in the Cold War was some Hallmark-movie lesson in global hand-holding. The reality is that it was a long slog, and throughout, the champions of "unity" wanted to capitulate to this evil, and the champions of freedom were rewarded with ridicule.

It's recommended reading.

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