Earlier this week, Senator Barack Obama made headlines when he spoke with pride about one member of his family’s military service. His uncle, you see, had helped to liberate the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
This remark puzzled a lot of people. After all, Obama’s mother had no brothers, and Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet Red Army, not any Americans. Was this another attempt at pandering by Obama?
It’s an understandable reaction. After all, Obama has quite a history of just plain making stuff up in hopes of currying favor with voters. He told people in Selma, Alabama that the results of the 1965 civil rights march led to his parents marrying and having him — although he was born in 1961. He tried to make hay out of a natural disaster when he said a Kansas tornado wiped out a whole town and killed 10,000 people (about five and a half times the total death toll from Hurricane Katrina), when the death toll was 12. And he talked about his personal sense of “racial awakening” being brought about by an article in Life Magazine about the horrific physical and pyschological scarring a black man had suffered trying to “lighten” himself — an article that never existed.
So, here’s Obama in a Memorial Day address, claiming a non-existent relative in the US Army participated in something that the US Army didn’t even do. Does it get any crasser than that?
Not so fast. It turns out that this was not shameless pandering, but a couple of genuine misstatements by Obama.
While Obama has no uncles on his mother’s side, he did have a great-uncle. And that uncle did participate in the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, not the death camp of Auschwitz.
In a lot of families, “uncle” is a pretty loose term. I think only the most painfully precise pinheads would distinguish an uncle from a great-uncle. And Auschwitz is probably the most infamous of the Nazi camps; if someone is tired and recounting a tale from one’s childhood, it would come to mind a lot sooner than Buchenwald or Treblinka or Bergen-Belsen.
In the taxonomy of Obama gaffes, this one falls more in line with his other misstatements. As someone who frequently confuses “Iran” and “Iraq” when typing (who the HELL thought it would be a good idea to put two countries next to each other whose names differ only in their last leter? I want that geographer shot immediately, then dug up and shot again.), I can sympathize with him when he confuses Sunrise, Florida and Sunshine, Florida, or says “Sioux Falls” when he means “Sioux City” or refers to “57 states” when he obviously means “47” and is talking about the 48 contiguous states.
But the problem is, he’s used up a lot of his good will for the “oops” moments with his “sucking up to voters” moments. On first blush, his uncle story was flagrantly false on its face: there were to easily-disproven facts in it that jumped out at readers. A lot of people just looked at the facts that he has no uncle and the US didn’t liberate Auschwitz, and called “bullshit.”
This time, that was a bit premature. But on so many other occasions, it was dead-on accurate.
Of course, this could all be avoided if Obama simply got things right the first time.
But I guess that’s too much to ask from The Living Embodiment Of Changeful Hopeyness.