I have been, some say, too hard on Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain, for their various gaffes related to our American heritage. The reason I believe that these politicians are especially blame-worthy for their fractured history is that they are all constantly evoking America’s historical past, especially its founding. If you are going to take on the responsibility of educating Americans about the Constitution (which Cain mixed up with the Declaration), Paul Revere (whose ride Palin mangled) and the Founders (to whose number Bachmann added John Quincy Adams), you better get your facts straight, because the public trusts what you say.
What then, is the proper and fair reaction when a President the media has anointed as brilliant states in a nationally televised speech before Congress that Abraham Lincoln was the “founder of the Republican Party”? Up in GOP Heaven, that one must have provoked a spit-take from John C. Fremont, the Republican presidential nominee in 1856, and annoyance from those original Republicans who held and attended the first official party convention on July 6, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan, where Abe could not be found. The fact is that President Obama’s statement about Lincoln founding the GOP was wrong, and obviously wrong: I had never heard anyone identify Lincoln as the founder of the party.
It is also exactly the kind of statement the media delights in using to show that Republicans are morons. If Dan Quayle, or President Bush, or Palin had said something like this, it would have met with well-publicized ridicule.
As proof, it appears that a Republican did make this same erroneous claim: Mike Huckabee, running for President in 2008. And true to form, Time Magazine pounced:
“[Huckabee] gives a good speech, but he’s loose with the facts. He called Abraham Lincoln the “founder” of the Republican Party. Nope. Lincoln was not the founder of the party; he wasn’t even the first Republican nominee (John Fremont was, in 1856). Lincoln was, of course, the first Republican to be elected president.”
The writer? Jay Carney, Obama’s current press secretary.
Here is my verdict:
1. As I have said before, Obama has an incompetent staff, and it is incompetent for him to tolerate it.
2. National leaders, especially the President, should not misinform the American public about their nation’s history, which the leaders have an obligation to know well, and accurately. It is one of the necessary qualifications for the job.
3. Leader who allow themselves to be characterized as “brilliant” have an obligation to meet a higher standard when using their authority to assert facts. It is irresponsible to relay false history to the American public, which is already dangerously ignorant about the nation’s past.
4. The press has an ethical obligation to be just as critical of historically ignorant Democrats as Republicans.