Back in May, I wrote about how President Obama had his name dropped into the official White House online biographies of other presidents going back to Calvin Coolidge, to attempt to share credit for their accomplishments. The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper was the first to notice the changes when he saw the administration’s added note to Ronald Reagan’s biography in order to misrepresent Reagan’s tax plan as basically his own, which was quite far from reality.
Then a week ago, Jim Roberts, who works for Heritage and the Wall Street Journal on the jointly produced Index of Economic Freedom, noticed another oddity: the Obama State Department has been removing the comprehensive “background notes” on other countries in favor of brief, far less informative, descriptions of the countries’ relationships with the Obama administration. Roberts, who has worked for the State Department writing background notes in the past, said he was in the process of going through this latest messianic presidential prank-on-history, and has published this morning at the Wall Street Journal what he found.
Here’s one example of the change:
Compare the nearly 1,200-word Fact Sheet published last week by the U.S. Embassy in Brazil with the last Background Note written during the George W. Bush administration. The 4,100-word Bush document was full of information and statistics about Brazil—that it’s a constitutional federal republic, for example, with 196 million people of whom 74% are Roman Catholic, and annual economic output of nearly $2 trillion. The section on U.S.-Brazil relations was 300 words long, or 7% of the total.
By contrast, 70% (or 830 words) of the new Brazil Fact Sheet is dedicated to U.S.-Brazilian relations—and most of that either discusses President Obama directly or in the context of the educational, scientific and cultural programs he launched during a March 2011 visit to the country.
The Bush-era document noted similar joint efforts, but it did so briefly and after offering thousands of words of historical context. (Both the Bush and Obama administrations failed to include information about the costs of these foreign-aid programs to U.S. taxpayers—a bipartisan weakness.)
Roberts writes that the administration’s new “fact sheets” treat left-wing and right-wing governments differently, with left-wing governments more likely to receive effusive praise from The One. Other times the president tries to take credit for the successful policies of others, such as the fact sheet on sub-Saharan African countries noting President Bush’s incredibly successful and lifesaving Pepfar AIDS relief program without actually mentioning that the program predated Obama.
The fact sheet on China removes much of the information on China’s human rights abuses and other problems, and the fact sheet on Pakistan has been reduced to practically a note card’s worth of information, mostly beginning in 2009. Roberts adds:
In simpler times, the hot fires of domestic political polarization were said to stop at the waters’ edge. Americans agreed that it made sense to project a united front abroad, both to our enemies and our friends. The State Department’s stodgy Background Notes were a reflection of that old consensus, in addition to being a valuable source of information to the American public.
Such information shouldn’t be reduced to just another taxpayer-subsidized campaign commercial. But that’s just what the Obama administration is doing.
That gets at the two problems with the change. First, the president is once again erasing history, or at the very least manipulating it, because in the fantasy world he is trying to project he seems far less unimpressive a president. But the larger problem is the president’s erasure of information. In the White House biographies, Obama didn’t actually erase history (though the White House was caught doing so in George W. Bush’s biography, but that obsessive pettiness doesn’t seem to have been applied elsewhere).
But with the removal of the background notes, the president is displaying a shocking lack of interest in the world. He was caught, because others aren’t nearly so dismissive of intellectual pursuit and curiosity about the world as Obama seems to be.
Obama’s lack of knowledge about world affairs has landed him in trouble in the past—glaring mistakes about Middle Eastern history, confusion about Russia and Georgia, offensive mishaps with regard to World War II and European history, etc. But most disappointing is the fact that rather than fill in those gaps in his knowledge, the president would rather pass those gaps along to others who might otherwise be interested educating themselves.