For the president, belief in historical predetermination substitutes for action.
President Obama doesn’t know much about history.
In his therapeutic 2009 Cairo speech, Obama outlined all sorts of Islamic intellectual and technological pedigrees, several of which were undeserved. He exaggerated Muslim contributions to printing and medicine, for example, and was flat-out wrong about the catalysts for the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.
He also believes history follows some predetermined course, as if things always get better on their own. Obama often praises those he pronounces to be on the “right side of history.” He also chastises others for being on the “wrong side of history” — as if evil is vanished and the good thrives on autopilot.
When in 2009 millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest the thuggish theocracy, they wanted immediate U.S. support. Instead, Obama belatedly offered them banalities suggesting that in the end, they would end up “on the right side of history.” Iranian reformers may indeed end up there, but it will not be because of some righteous inanimate force of history, or the prognostications of Barack Obama.
Obama often parrots Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice. But King used that metaphor as an incentive to act, not as reassurance that matters will follow an inevitably positive course.
Another of Obama’s historical refrains is his frequent sermon about behavior that doesn’t belong in the 21st century. At various times he has lectured that the barbarous aggression of Vladimir Putin or the Islamic State has no place in our century and will “ultimately fail” — as if we are all now sophisticates of an age that has at last transcended retrograde brutality and savagery.
In Obama’s hazy sense of the end of history, things always must get better in the manner that updated models of iPhones and iPads are glitzier than the last. In fact, history is morally cyclical. Even technological progress is ethically neutral. It is a way either to bring more good things to more people or to facilitate evil all that much more quickly and effectively.
In the viciously modern 20th century — when more lives may have been lost to war than in all prior centuries combined — some 6 million Jews were put to death through high technology in a way well beyond the savagery of Attila the Hun or Tamerlane. Beheading in the Islamic world is as common in the 21st century as it was in the eighth century — and as it will probably be in the 22nd. The carnage of the Somme and Dresden trumped anything that the Greeks, Romans, Franks, Turks, or Venetians could have imagined.
What explains Obama’s confusion?
A lack of knowledge of basic history explains a lot. Obama or his speechwriters have often seemed confused about the liberation of Auschwitz, “Polish death camps,” the political history of Texas, or the linguistic relationship between Austria and Germany. Obama reassured us during the Bowe Bergdahl affair that George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt all similarly got American prisoners back when their wars ended — except that none of them were in office when the Revolutionary War, Civil War, or World War II officially ended.
Contrary to Obama’s assertion, President Rutherford B. Hayes never dismissed the potential of the telephone. Obama once praised the city of Cordoba as part of a proud Islamic tradition of tolerance during the brutal Spanish Inquisition — forgetting that by the beginning of the Inquisition an almost exclusively Christian Cordoba had few Muslims left.
A Pollyannaish belief in historical predetermination seems to substitute for action. If Obama believes that evil should be absent in the 21st century, or that the arc of the moral universe must always bend toward justice, or that being on the wrong side of history has consequences, then he may think inanimate forces can take care of things as we need merely watch.
In truth, history is messier. Unfortunately, only force will stop seventh-century monsters like the Islamic State from killing thousands more innocents. Obama may think that reminding Putin that he is now in the 21st century will so embarrass the dictator that he will back off from Ukraine. But the brutish Putin may think that not being labeled a 21st-century civilized sophisticate is a compliment.
In 1935, French foreign minister Pierre Laval warned Joseph Stalin that the Pope would admonish him to go easy on Catholics — as if such moral lectures worked in the supposedly civilized 20th century. Stalin quickly disabused Laval of that naiveté. “The Pope?” Stalin asked, “How many divisions has he got?”
There is little evidence that human nature has changed over the centuries, despite massive government efforts to make us think and act nicer. What drives Putin, Boko Haram, or ISIS are the same age-old passions, fears, and sense of honor that over the centuries also moved Genghis Khan, the Sudanese Mahdists, and the Barbary pirates.
Obama’s naive belief in predetermined history — especially when his facts are often wrong — is a poor substitute for concrete moral action.
© 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
16 thoughts on “Obama’s Hazy Sense of History”
When history freed the slaves or that time history landed at Normandy, the incumbent President got the credit. Should we blame Obama just because history did not act in time? History, as he understands it, has paused for Obama, much like global warming.
Obama seems to have mangaed to combine the worst of Marxist determinism with the passivity of Inshallah. History will not produce another like him.
What would you call Hillary?
“History will not produce another like him.”
Wanna bet? While Obama will no longer be President after January 2017, the people who elected and re-elected him are showing no signs of even realizing their folly, let alone repenting of it.
I agree 100%. I keep looking for signs of an upswell of “throw the bums out”. Not looking promising. We’ve lost the young people who are absolutely clueless.
Barack Obama’s ignorance is all the more telling, in that he attended Harvard University, which houses one of the greatest libraries in the world.
Since everything Obama does seems to make things worse, I’m glad that he’s lazy and passive when it comes to steering world events. Call it a “feature” and thank God. If he were active, it would be worse.
Obama on his own grades and intelligence will never get him into an ivy schools! His speeches were all written for him by someone else. He is good in delivering the speeches on TV. Listen and watch him talk without those prepared speeches, he could not utter a sensible , logical complete sentence.
He got in most likely via affirmative action quota plus some heavy weight $$$ influence and donation from middle east to Harvard U. Noticed whom he bowed to in 90 degree when he visited Saudi and was given a super heavy solid gold chain around his neck!
He was born and raised as a Muslim and indoctrinated in communism ideologies. What do people expected out of him?
Well said, as usual. When I went to college, I stumbled on a philosophy course about ethics. We didn’t just read Aristotle, et al, but studied him. It changed my life, but I did not know it at the time. We were taught to think in a moral world. Whenever I read you, Mr. Hanson. I am reminded of that point of view. Thank you.
If Obama’s omelet is one with a socialist texture infused with a mathematics of wealth distribution from within the U.S. and throughout Europe, then he’s breaking far too many eggs to complete the dish. The number of new and chaotic flare-ups (eggs) from around the globe will require a bit more ketsup to make this omelet able to digest.
Bravo, Mr. Hanson, once again you managed to place the dart right in the bull’s eye! You continue to show that Obama therapeutic thinking and speeches is getting him nowhere fast. He will soon end up in the trash bin of tragic historical figures. People who expired to become leaders in the future should avoid emulating him as an example of effective leadership.
Mr. Tobin, I have to say as one trained in mathematical physics, people should avoid using phrases such as this will never happen! Unless you are God who has mastered equations that are far more advanced than quantum mechanics Schrodinger’s equation or Dirac matrix equations for calculating with a high degree of probability where the next state of a particle will be, you should be humbled and refrained from such language. Life has a way of making the impossible possible given the inevitable passage of time. In other words, yes there will be another Obama in the making in the future, most likely given the nature of humans; he/she will probably be far worse.
As for Obama, it has been demonstrated perpetually by many commentators that he is an imbecile who managed to make it to the big house (this is one time when I wish the big house was the federal jail) and has no understanding at all about the implications of human nature. His progressive philosophy prevents him from seeing the many clear historical/philosophical/spiritual proofs that the nature of man is inherently evil and must be dealt with not pass over – our American founding fathers knew this all too well.
For the record, Obama as a progressive, is one who believes that humans can perfect the flesh given the proper circumstances and environment – according to the bible (which proclaims to be the Word of God) it makes clear that humans cannot perfect the flesh under any circumstances or environment – all humans have a sin nature that can only be dealt with by the accomplished works of Christ.
She call herself a 21 century PROGRESSIVE. Her college term paper was all about Saul Alinsky.
Obama and her are 2 peas in the same pod.
Would Barry have reassured slaves circa 1800 that they, too, were on the “right side of history”, even if they had another 60 years or so before the Civil War broke out?
Passivity is contagious. We have a president afraid of action, a fear assuaged by his cursory and embarrassing knowledge of history. It’s a very limited knowledge, and he does not seem to grasp the reality that he isn’t anywhere near as smart as he’s been told he is.
What Victor might be driving at, but doesn’t articulate going in or at the end, is that Obama has a view of the world simplified consistent with Obama’s limited experience. Obama has little understanding of how great things are accomplished and that a favorable outcome is not assured because it is simply “right.” Each side always thinks it is “right,” and like players from each side of a football game feeling assured of a win because of their faith in God, “right” has nothing to do with it.
Aside: great line from the movie, Unforgiven. Clint Eastwood goes into the bar guns drawn to avenge his friend’s death and Gene Hackman protests:
Little Bill Daggett: I don’t deserve this… to die like this. I was building a house.
Will Munny: Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.
Strategy and smarts wins the day along with a moral compass tempered in the fire of years of problem solving not found at the small end of a community organizer bullhorn or the handle end of a picket sign. Details bore Obama, and it shows.
While I’m at it, Obama misunderstands the difference between us and them. It’s not some grand distinction between our means, but rather the end. On the battlefield, there is no difference between a western democracy and any authoritarian rule. War and tactics are necessarily brutal to be successful. Civilians die, and more than the soldiers measured by numbers. The distinction is in the ends, what we become after the war and the values we fight to uphold.
The thing about “concrete moral action” is that it is far more trouble, and at the same time, isn’t nearly as interesting as a round of golf.
It is amazing how “wrong thinking” translates into the promotion of global evil. Thanks Victor for the observation.