May 30th, 2012

David Frum…

gives Obama a searing history lesson.

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.]

44 Responses to “David Frum…”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    Well, yes. But then again what makes anyone, you-me-the wall — think that Obama reads anything, anything at all, much less critical “advice”?

  2. Mac Says:

    “I won’t meet him, it doesn’t suit me.”

    Oh, that’s tasty. I hope it’s an accurate translation.

  3. holmes Says:

    They told me (and Glenn Reynolds) that if we voted for John McCain the rest of the world would hate us…and they were right!

  4. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    It’s not even his first embarrassing Medal of Honor error. Last year, he mistakenly told the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum that Jared Monti “was the first person who I was able to award the Medal of Honor to who actually came back and wasn’t receiving it posthumously.” In fact, Monti had received the Medal posthumously — Obama confused him with Salvatore Giunta, who was the first living person to receive the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War. Now, Obama did apologize for that one, but it was still almost-criminal sloppiness in a Commander in Chief. And here we are again.

    I’m inclined to think that the serial snubs directed toward Poland are no more accidental than those directed toward Great Britain (or possibly even those directed toward the military — “corpse-men”? really??) But if it IS just sloppiness — wouldn’t you think that if he really were the smartest man in every room, as Valerie Jarrett infamously claimed, it might occur to him at some point that he could have his speeches fact-checked by people who are not quite so overweeningly sure of themselves and are willing to look things up?

  5. Mac Says:

    My first reaction to this was that the Poles were indeed over-reacting to what would have been, in an impromptu remark, just a clumsy mis-statement meaning only that the camp was located in Poland. But I didn’t realize it was a prepared speech, and having read your remarks, neo, and Frum’s (and I am not a big fan of Frum) I think y’all are right. In a prepared speech, this is inexcusable. My guess is that it is a product of sheer and very culpable ignorance, to start with, and then indifference. The damage having been made clear, the institutional “White House regrets” makes it look like they’re taking the opportunity to turn a more or less inadvertent insult into a deliberate one.

  6. james Says:

    Well I for one certainly sleep securely knowing these people stand at the battlements. I don’t know who is funnier (more pathetic) they or their defenders.

  7. pst314 Says:

    “a president shouldn’t just read the words of a speechwriter aloud—he should also vet them beforehand.”

    It seems to me that Obama sees no reason to do so, because he has never been held to the same standards as other people–so his reflexive attitude is why start now? Furthermore, he despises Poland for being white, Christian, European, non-Communist–and thus feels no moral obligation to speak or act respectfully.

  8. Curtis Says:

    Frum is furious but his fret is fear not outrage. He doesn’t understand and stikes out blindly.

    More and more, Obama is losing his personal likeability, the only thing he can present to rally the troops. But, horror of horrors, Mitt Romney (Romney! ugh!) is actually trying to trump Obama on personal likeability.

    How dare he? It is an insult to the illiberal person, who, like the dog that bites itself and must be coned, will inflict damage upon the host when parasites inflict pain. Where, what, whom, ouch and bite bite bite!

    Romney has read the Art of War which counsels that secret operations are essential.

    Romney’s “secret operation” is secret because it is unexpected, audacious and unthinkable to the illiberal person that any opponent could be more likeable than Obama. Thus, Frum and others, sensing defeat and not knowing from where it comes, are subject to a secret attack. It is no secret to us who know of the illiberal’s inability to think outside its doctrine and command.

  9. rickl Says:

    Um, I could care less about Andrew Sullivan or David Frum. I really don’t give a damn what either of them thinks.

  10. neo-neocon Says:

    rickl: the point is neither Frum nor Sullivan; I’m hardly a fan of either. The point is that Frum has some interesting things to say on the subject, and Sullivan’s response is funny in terms of his own propensity for over-the-top emotionalism as well as his seeming ignorance of Obama’s long train of insults towards Poland.

  11. david foster Says:

    Any experienced executive knows that when you go to visit an important customer, you want to be well-briefed on what issues the customer is likely to be sensitive to.

    The Obama White House is really amateur night.

  12. texexec Says:

    I’m really beginning to wonder what courses Obama took at all those fancy universities he attended. He’s clearly not well educated.

    Some of the Twitter responses to this latest idiocy under the subject #Obamahistorylesson were hilarious. My contribution was “Texas won its independence by defeating a huge Canadian army at the Alamo.”

  13. Curtis Says:

    Obama, accompanied by a termite, walked into his Irish Da’s pub. The termite started to speak but Obama, dramatically, put his arm up and stopped him.

    Obama asked, “Is the bartender?”

  14. Kurt Says:

    I think Frum is angry mainly because Obama has proven to be such an embarrassment, given how enamored he was of him in 2008.

  15. neo-neocon Says:

    Kurt: well, that’s probably part of it. But I think the main reason Frum is angry is this:

    When my own grandfather emigrated from Poland to Canada in 1929, he was leaving a land where his ancestors had likely lived for at least 400 years, and very possibly 600…I took my family on a long visit to Poland two summers ago. And yes, we toured the camps. We also stayed in a beautiful hotel in the historic center of Krakow, whose lobby was filled every day with the sounds of Hebrew: visitors from Israel who had come not only to see the sites of Auschwitz and Belzec, but also to see the Schindler museum in Oskar Schindler’s one-time factory, the preserved Jewish quarter, and the rebuilt grand synagogue. The state of Israel has had few better allies in Europe than democratic Poland. That’s part of the story too.

    The honor to Jan Karski was intended to memorialize all this. Instead, an ignorant error by somebody who could not be troubled to understand the story he or she was telling has offended Poles and thrown discredit on Karski’s own memory.

    For Frum, it’s personal.

  16. Curtis Says:

    Yep, more true you are, Kurt, more true. An illiberal hates to lose in general, but in person, even more.

  17. Curtis Says:

    Neo, Frum does not deserve your good intentions.

    Still, it’s a very Christian thought. I’m not a Christian, but I think you might be as evidenced by the New Testament theology of forgiveness of your enemies:

    Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

    doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

    rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

    beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

    (Ack. Kind of sounds like Ghandi.)

  18. Paul in Boston Says:

    Obama is an ignorant dope. From the 2010 State of the Union address, “We find unity in our incredible diversity, drawing on the promise enshrined in our Constitution:  the notion that we’re all created equal”. How does a man touted as a Constitutuional scholar make an egregious error like this? The SOTU is about as spontaneous as a launch of the Space Shuttle, they have months to vet it.

  19. Parker Says:

    “Romney has read the Art of War which counsels that secret operations are essential.”

    I’m sitting on the bank of the river and patiently waiting to observe what floats down stream. I can see something bloated and water logged approaching and it sure looks like BHO tangled up with Biden, Jarret, and Axelrod.

  20. Curtis Says:

    That is a cubist warning that the abandonment of God’s reference points will lead to disaster.

  21. Curtis Says:

    She turned uphill,

    her head compelled;

    thrust the heavy neck

    and fell!

    There tolled three times

    a liberty bell

    and followed then

    the children’s yell:

    Freedom, freedom,

    All is for freedom!

    (intution given to MAC, Wy I liv Mc’doald)

  22. Occam's Beard Says:

    Yes–it’s the first time he’s ever embarrassed me as president.

    Has Tomasky been in a coma? Obama’s embarrassed me as President (not “president”) on a hebdomadal basis.

  23. Curtis Says:

    Where do you get those lovely words?

  24. progressoverpeace Says:

    This reminds me of the Dog-Eater’s counter-terrorism czar calling Jerusalem “Al Quds”, except that that remark was about something very much in the present and left no doubt, whatsoever, of the depraved and evil intention.

    All of these ridiculous expressions and terms are either intentional or due to mind-numbing stupidity, but if they’re due to stupidity then you can rest assured these America-haters would have made them intentionally, had they only known.

  25. Byzantium Says:

    He sure was quick to apologise for those Koran burnings though…

  26. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Ooooh, “hebdomadal.” Had to look it up and practice pronouncing it. How I do love starting off a day with a brand new word. Thanks, Occam’s Beard!

  27. Gringo Says:

    We have an ignorant speechwriter coupled with a teleprompter President, who just reads what is put in front of him without any proofreading.

    I am reminded of reading about the extended give and take between Reagan and his speechwriters regarding his speech in Berlin where he said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” Reagan was not a President who mindlessly read whatever his speechwriters put in front of him.

    Yet Reagan was the amiable dunce and Obama, according to the hype preceding his election, is THE MOST BRILLIANT PRESIDENT EVAH.

  28. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Much more on Poland, Jews, the Allies on Belmont Club

  29. effess Says:

    Q: smartest president ever?

    A: “Obama is not that bright”

  30. kcom Says:

    “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.”

    I won’t assume that because there is no evidence to back that up. Despite being the smartest man in the room there are mountains of real world evidence to suggest he lives in a blinkered, cloistered world cut off from the breadth of experience and knowledge that we’ve previously required in a president. He really does seem clueless much of the time.

    And I guess this puts another nail in the coffin of the conceit that “academics” are the experts on everything. His entire government seems to be made up solely of Ivy League (and Ivy League type) academics and yet the simplest things elude them regularly. Was there not one of those academics with experience in European history, especially as it concerns former members of the Warsaw Pact, available for consultation?

  31. effess Says:


    “Despite being the smartest man in the room… .”

    What does that say about others in the room?

  32. If Bush Had Said Or Done It…. Says:

    […] latest stupid statement in foreign policy. In his early years I was given to excusing things (like his habit of bowing to foreign Kings and […]

  33. Dennis Says:

    If Obama is deliberately snubbing Poland, what is the reason for the animus?

  34. Occam's Beard Says:

    “Despite being the smartest man in the room… .”

    What does that say about others in the room?

    I believe that they were busy grooming each other.

  35. kcom Says:

    Condoleezza Rice would never have allowed that to happen.

    “Rice also served on the National Security Council as the Soviet and East European Affairs Advisor to President George H.W. Bush during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and German reunification.”

    She was actually qualified for her job (and of course was later Secretary of State).

    Hello, Hillary, hello?

  36. Curtis Says:

    Poland recognizes Obama as a frenemy and demands more than a fauxpology. Poland should be happy, however, because Obama’s fart and dart is less offensive than the fame whoring we Americans have to put up with. Plus we get a good smathering of the fart and dart too.

  37. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    President Obama is a SCOAMF!

    Occam’s said, “I believe that they were busy grooming each other.” Ouch, that one’s right on target.

    A more charitable person, might feel a bit sorry for Obama. His hebdomadal errors just don’t elicit that feeling for me. Instead, I’m rather enjoying it all. Karma’s a bitch.

  38. Thalpy Says:

    This isn’t the first bamboozlement of the literati. Frum, Peggy Noonan, and others have finally concluded that in 2008 they bet on the wrong horse(there was no right horse) and that with all of Obama’s charisma, there simply isn’t much there. Obama makes mistakes because he’s a jive talker, a charismatic hustler, who actually doesn’t know very much. He’s the expedient man. Frum, Noonan, and others are remorseful and ashamed; as they should be.

  39. Curtis Says:

    The nation has turned a corner. A threshold has been crossed over. A certain density has been reached. However you describe it, it’s a point of no return for Obama. Because it’s all just been too much.

    The worst thing about it for Obama is that the perception is vague and undefined and cannot be rebutted with reason. He will try and rebut with more lies and distortion but more of the same is exactly what people don’t want.

    We will know how deep the reformation extends as one by one we unravel the lies-ending up with the birther issue. Again, the issue is not where Obama was born, but whether or not he can blackmail a nation, a whole damn nation, from investigating a legitimate issue. Obama’s on line birth certificate, which is a fraud, only supports the reasonable assertion that Obama’s description of his history is a willful and intentional lie.

    Obama is a liar. This is probably the best summation of people’s vague uneasiness and perception. Obama, rather than being his people’s Messiah, is a false Messiah, leading a false religion, destined one way or another for doom.

  40. DerHahn Says:

    Glenn Reynolds pretty regularly links to a picture of Obama’s chief speech writer engaged in semi-obsence frat boy hijinks with a lifesize cardboard cut out of Hillary Clinton.

    Nobody in the Obama crew gives the vibe that they take the responsibility they have been given seriously, and we’re paying the price for it.

  41. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    >>> And what of Obama?

    Indeed. What of The One, our “first” “international” President…?

    Snubs the PM of the UK, snubs the Queen, bows to the Saudi King, snubs the Poles (repeatedly).

    It’s amazing he has time to give a speech given how much time he has to spend extricating his own foot from his mouth… And the only reason no one seriously wants to shoot his dumbshit ass is because “Biden is President” is the only thing scarier.

  42. ConceptJunkie Says:

    Dennis said: If Obama is deliberately snubbing Poland, what is the reason for the animus?

    Here are some guesses:

    1. Poland was long home to many Jewish people.
    2. Poland has a strong history of Catholicism, giving us a Pope in recent years and going all the way back to the great Polish knights of King John’s who helped defeat and drive back the Ottomans at the Battle of Vienna (from whence September 11th became an important anniversary).
    3. Poland has thrived after throwing off the chains of Communism, yet is not floundering the way the Western European welfare states are. Giving the lie once again to socialism.

    Those are all pretty feasible reasons. Frankly, I think it was probably a mistake of ignorance, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the President doesn’t even see his speeches before the day he gives them. I simply cannot imagine a man who is so incapable of extemporaneous speech, and has created a common perception of being lazy, being the kind of person who does much preparation.

  43. richard saunders Says:

    Occam’s Beard:

    You’re being too generous the the Wan. Quotidian errors would be more accurate.

  44. Dennis Says:

    Concept Junkie,

    Thank you. I have always seen him as intellectually lazy and therefore making these gaffes as unforced errors because he just is not very well informed beyond his ideology. He also seems to do this stuff with his middle finger figuratively against his off cheek as he did during the election.
    I sure don’t discount that that ideology could also have led to this contretemps, but don’t understand it well enough to follow through as you did. I think, now, it could easily be a combination.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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