Campfire Blog

President’s Polish Insult: The Audacity of Arrogance

Barack Obama was supposed to be supremely diplomatic and thoughtful; it hasn’t turned out that way

What’s worse? A low level Mitt Romney staffer misspelling America in an iPhone app—or Barack Obama insulting the 38 million people of Poland—let alone all the generations gone by—by suggesting that the Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, in Nazi-occupied Poland were “Polish”?

Everyone makes slips of the tongue, especially those who speak in public and face constant scrutiny. But we’re constantly hearing that President Obama is so wise, so diplomatic, so well-mannered. Media and academic elites have fawned over him, calling him our smartest president ever.

Well how does someone so measured, so reasonable, so thoughtful, so knowledgeable possibly make a slip up like this? The Poles were invaded and oppressed by the Nazis. They weren’t Polish death camps, they were Nazi death camps in Poland.

It’s like saying “the New York attack on the Trade Towers.” Yeah, that would get you riled up, right? Now imagine you are Polish and the American president starts talking about “Polish death camps.” How would you react?

David Frum at the Daily Beast is justly outraged. It’s not a gaffe, he says. A gaffe is when a tired President Obama accidentally says there are 57 states in America. A gaffe is when Joe Biden speaks.

It’s not a gaffe when you, as the leader of the free world, get something so fundamentally wrong about one of the greatest tyrannies of all time. And then, to be so caught up in yourself and your own infalibility, to issue an apology through a spokesman, not even for the White House, but the National Security Council.

It’s true the Poles don’t forget. Every day, at noon, a lone trumpeter plays a lament from each of the four corners of St. Mary’s church in Krakow’s main square, remembering a battle they lost in the 1300s. But an American president in 2012–with his vast staff and his ever present Teleprompter–is surely capable of remembering the much more recent history about unspeakably terrible death camps at places like Auschwitz not more than 80 years ago.

Read David Frum’s take on President Obama’sPolish insult (1 page).

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