Friday, June 01, 2012

OBAMA'S POLISH GAFFE

"I take for granted that President Obama intended no slur when he referred to the 'Polish death camps,' but people in Poland are very sensitive on this point and insist that the camps not be described in those terms,"

Every time a political figure does something at least somewhat controversial, I try to think what my reaction would be were they on the opposite side of the divide. For example, if a conservative I like does something, I try to think how I'd react if they were a leftist, or the reverse. Its my way of trying to maintain perspective on events.

So when President Obama made a speech in Poland and mentioned "Polish death camps" I shrugged. Yes, its a bit of a gaffe - they were Nazi death camps in Poland - but it really wasn't that big a deal.

That isn't to say it was no big deal to the Polish, they were enraged. Their reaction is primarily driven by history. Poland was becoming a pretty big competitor for Germany, especially in chemistry. They were horrendously treated by the Nazis, and their culture and nation almost destroyed. The Nazis wanted to make an example of Poland because it was their first big conquest and because the Polish fought very hard and made it tougher on the Germans than they wanted.

Nazis wanted everyone to be in shock and terror when they contemplated fighting the Germans. They wanted fear and intimidation on their side, so they destroyed Poland in an especially awful way. As a result the Poles are less than positive when they think about Germany, Nazis, and that time period. They want to be absolutely sure that everyone knows the camps were not their idea and that it was all the Nazis.

Plus, the Polish are not particularly fond of President Obama to begin with. They are strong anti-communists, they can't stand leftists, and the Polish are not very pleased at him pulling the missile shield troops and technology from their country to appease the Russians. So they are inclined to dislike what the president says to begin with.

But objectively, what he said wasn't all wrong. These death camps were in Poland, they were "Polish" by location, not origin and administration, just like the Japanese Embassy in New York City is Japanese by origin and national sovereignty, but it is a New York Building. This is a gaffe, but not a very awful one.

And as several Jewish leaders have pointed out, Poland wasn't exactly one of the most friendly places on earth for Jews even before the Nazis showed up:
Elliott Abrams, a policy analyst and former Bush official, called the Polish response "appropriate."

"The Poles have a great deal of anti-Semitism in their history to be ashamed of, and they have a great deal to be proud of in their resistance to the Nazis and to the Soviets," Abrams said.

"Methinks the Poles doth protest too much about this 'controversy,'" said William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy of the Jewish Federations of North America. "Hiding behind the crimes of the Nazis does not lessen the fact that Polish anti-Semitism has hundreds of years of murderous history. Pogroms occurred before the Nazis occupied Poland, and they occurred after the Nazis were defeated."
Bear in mind, however, that a lot of Jewish leaders are so left wing and supportive of any Democrat that they would defend nearly anything President Obama did or said. And blaming Poles for mistreatment of Jews when they were occupied and controlled by the Soviet Union is a bit misleading, to say the least.

But the instant presumption by folks on the right that President Obama must be wrong in this and all other things is simply unreasonable. He's not always wrong, and even when he's wrong he's not 100% completely wrong. I can disagree with someone without them being a demon.

The problem for President Obama is that most of his persona and popularity was based on his ability to speak and his ideology of reaching out to enemies, being smarter in how to deal with foreign policy, and not being a "cowboy," so our allies would not be so "put off" by his behavior. So this kind of thing looms large. Its evidence he isn't all he was cracked up to be (and we warned voters about). That's why his dependence on the teleprompter and his stammering and mumbling when not prepared for a question gets mocked as well.

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