I’ve rarely seen Frum so angry.
And Andrew Sullivan (known far and wide for his own calm rationality) is nonplussed at what he calls Frum’s hyperventilation:
No, this was quite obviously a speechwriter’s fault, or “an ignorant error,” as David concedes. And yet when you read his piece, it is brimming with outrage, spluttering, and vituperation, as if some deliberate harm had been wantonly done. No one “slaps” someone “in the face” by accident. Look: I can understand why Poles are deeply upset about this. But it was a mistake, it seems to me, an error of cultural insensitivity – in a bid to honor someone – not a deliberate act of animus, for goodness’ sake. Blowing it up into the greatest insult ever committed by an American president is bizarre.
What Sullivan fails to appreciate is the fact that a president shouldn’t just read the words of a speechwriter aloud—he should also vet them beforehand. The error was egregious and ignorant, and should have been caught. It is also in line with a whole lot of other insults Obama has flung Poland’s way, and so it is congruent with his previous behavior towards that country. Therefore it behooves Obama to issue an apology himself rather than through surrogates.
And even that probably won’t repair the rift with the Poles, because it started long before this remark. First there was Obama’s snubbing the Sept. 1st ceremonies at Gdansk in 2009, marking the 70th anniversary of the German invasion. Then there was the scrapping of the missile shield negotiated by his predecessor, George Bush. Obama also managed to not let the funeral of the Polish president and nearly a hundred other Polish officials who died in a plane crash in 2010 interrupt his golf game (to be fair, he couldn’t get to the funeral because of the Icelandic volcano eruption; but he also failed to visit the Polish embassy in DC to offer his condolences). Obama’s actions towards Poland have been so dreadful prior to his “Polish death camp” statement that Lech Walesa decided to snub him a year ago, saying, “I won’t meet him, it doesn’t suit me.”
Would that Obama’s “Polish death camp” statement were a “deliberate act of animus.” At least then it would show some knowledge of history on Obama’s part, and some attention to little details like the words in his own speeches.
[ADDENDUM: I’m beginning to think that, even if the original insult wasn’t intentional, Obama has a real yen to insult Poland once more. From Allahpundit:
I said last night that, at the least, Tusk and foreign minister Radek Sikorski could expect groveling phone calls from Obama. But I was wrong: To my amazement, Jay Carney told the White House press corps this afternoon that he’s not aware of any plans by Obama to phone either. Can that possibly be true? Calling them “Polish death camps” is profoundly stupid but can be explained away as an accidental lapse in thought. Refusing to call and apologize for the error is much more of a deliberate slight. What’s the hold up, champ?
And the following is a seismic event—Michael Tomasky, who’s heretofore been just about the staunchest Obamaphile on the face of the earth, writes:
I have to say I’m in wholehearted agreement with David Frum on this one. For Obama to refer to a “Polish death camp” is just ghastly. How in the world could that happen? Some callow kid in the speechwriting office didn’t know the difference? His or her boss also didn’t know? And what of Obama? I will assume that he does know better. But he said the words.
Assuming he knew it was wrong when it was coming out of his mouth, why didn’t he just stop and say: “You know, Mr. Karski, it says here ‘Polish death camp,’ so that’s what I said, but I want to correct that. We all know that these were German camps.” That’s all. Easy peasy. He really should have just taken charge of the moment there and shown some honesty and candor…
Yes–it’s the first time he’s ever embarrassed me as president. He came kinda-sorta close when he called the Cambridge police “stupid,” but that was more of a political thing, not a sin against history. This was just shameful; a shameful thing for a president to say.
You have to be familiar with Tomasky’s usual columns to understand what a departure this is for him.
And by the way, Tomasky makes quite an error here himself. He doesn’t seem to be aware that the president was awarding the medal posthumously to Jan Karski, so had Obama followed Tomasky’s suggestions and said, “You know, Mr. Karski, it says here ‘Polish death camp,’ so that’s what I said…,” it would have been another exceedingly odd and ignorant gaffe, although not one that insulted an entire nation.]