Friday, April 5, 2024


The teaching of history in our schools and colleges isn't what it was, but these guys are all old enough to have learned stuff if they were paying attention. Jonah Goldberg:
... [S]tupidity and ignorance are closely related concepts, but they’re not the same thing. Smart people can be ignorant and stupid people can be informed. Indeed, one of the cool things about knowledge is that it can make not very bright people seem very smart. ....  Meanwhile, really smart people can seem stupid if they have no good facts to work with. We tend to look with scorn at thinkers of the past because we know they were wrong. Hah hah, they used leeches! They thought the sun revolved around the earth!

The thing is, the people who came up with these incorrect theories were probably very, very, smart. They just didn’t have access to a lot of information and data. It’s not like you came up with heliocentrism. ....

There’s a lot of wisdom to George Santayana’s aphorism, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But I’d like to offer a different observation. We are condemned to hear a lot of stupid nonsense from people who don’t know—or don’t remember—jack squat about the past.

What got me thinking about this was an interview with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on CNN Monday night. ....
And Goldberg then explains how RFK Jr. displays remarkable ignorance about history. But he's not the only Presidential candidate who does. There are a couple more.
[Donald Trump] knows nothing about American history, so every (allegedly) unfair thing that happens to him has “never happened before.” Indeed, RFK Jr. is essentially cribbing Trump’s material. After Biden’s State of the Union Address, Trump posted on Truth Social: “HE WEAPONIZED GOVERNMENT AGAINST HIS OPPONENT – DIDN’T TALK ABOUT THAT, NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!” In 2016, Trump insisted that “African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before. Ever, ever, ever.”

“Ever, ever, ever” is pretty definitive. It’s also nonsense.

Trump insists that no president has been treated as unfairly as him, including Lincoln (he also probably didn’t know Lincoln was a Republican—whenever he learns something new, he likes to say “a lot of people don’t know that …”). But even leaving out the whole assassination thing—which is a pretty big thing to leave out—Lincoln was treated pretty shabbily by the press. Trump didn’t know where some of his favorite terms came from, including “America First,” and “Silent Majority.” He claims to have invented “Make America Great Again,” but when it was pointed out to him that Ronald Reagan used it, he plausibly responded that he didn’t know that. Besides, Reagan “didn’t trademark it.” ....

Joe Biden is a little different. It’s not so much that he doesn’t know anything about history, it’s just that the history he invokes is frequently wrong. He wasn’t arrested in South Africa trying to visit Nelson Mandela. He didn’t have a historic conversation with Golda Meir, nor was he a “liaison” with Egyptians. Many of the seemingly historic tales of his personal life never happened.

More to the point, Biden makes up history about stuff he’s not personally involved in. And—also very important—he was doing this long before anyone accused him of being senile (though that’s increased the frequency). In 2008, he told Katie Couric, “When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn’t just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed.” But FDR didn’t go on TV then —television was introduced to the American public at the World’s Fair in 1939—and FDR wasn’t even president when the stock market crashed in 1929. He makes up stuff about the Second Amendment, Jim Crow, and more—all the time.

What this says about Biden versus Trump and Kennedy is open to debate. I do think having no idea there was a past is different than being wrong about the past, but the differences are obscure and psychological. Where all three old men overlap is that they’re blowhards. Biden’s style seeks the authority of the past in a different way, but it’s still wild exaggeration and bluster. When he touted Barack Obama’s successful effort to kill Osama bin Laden—which he opposed at the time—he said, “You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan.” Okay, Joe.

But there’s another commonality. They all work from the assumption that the rest of us are too ignorant to know better—or care. .... (more)

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