From time to time, we have noted President Obama’s lack of knowledge about American history. The most recent manifestation — his claim that Ho Chi Minh was inspired by America’s Founding Fathers — suggests that Obama’s ignorance is to some extent willful.
Obama filled out his education in American history as well as politics while he was working in Chicago. Mike Kruglik had been a doctoral candidate in American history at Northwestern before he became an organizer, and when he and Obama talked, they discussed the reasons why a nation supposedly dedicated to freedom and equality provided so little of either.
They talked about the differences between the populists and the progressives and the reasons why ordinary people never seemed to get anywhere in modern America. Kruglik recalls that Obama had a special interest in the work of the radical historian Howard Zinn.
John and Steve commented on Howard Zinn here. Steve nailed it when he wrote:
The main defect of Zinn is that he takes the deviations from the perfect realization of America’s founding principles to be the whole of America, and hence argues that America is therefore wholly fraudulent, missing the paradox that it was precisely America’s founding principles (especially individual equality) that made possible the liberal reform tradition. Once you ponder this, you recognize that Zinn, like his intellectual cousin Noam Chomsky, is simply a hater.
Today, the NRO editors summarize Zinn’s errors and distortions here. They note:
Zinn misrepresents everything from slavery in the Chesapeake colonies to American involvement in Cuba to the Tet offensive. He reports as fact the story of Polly Baker, a woman persecuted for having an illegitimate child, when the story is in truth a work of fiction, penned by Benjamin Franklin.
Zinn himself described A People’s History as “a biased account,” that bias being in favor of socialism, a political tendency that Zinn favored and thought would be popular but for the fact that “the Soviet Union gave it a bad name.” Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro didn’t help much, either, though Zinn had kind words for their revolutions.
Zinn denied being a member of the Communist party, though he was identified as such by several other members and served as an officer in a CPUSA front group. Presented with evidence (including a confession) that Soviet spies Zinn had defended were in fact guilty as charged, his response was: “To me, it didn’t matter whether they were guilty or not.” Later in life, he trafficked in 9/11 conspiracy theories.
Zinn’s book is as notable for what it excludes as it is for its distortions. It is a history of the United States in which there is no Gettysburg address, no Wright brothers, no moon landing, no D-Day landing at Normandy. The thought of Joan Baez receives more prominent attention than does that of Alexander Hamilton.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that President Obama had a special interest in the views of an anti-American historian. And it is only mildly surprising that Americans elected a president with a special interest in those views. As the NRO editors warn: “From kindergarten through graduate school, American education is a sewer of left-wing ideology.”
Unless Mitch Daniels and others succeed in improving this state of affairs, the distorted Obama/Zinn view of America likely will prevail within a decade or two. And a self-hating America does not have a promising future.