Seriously. Dude. As with the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, it is not the fault of conservatives when this president and his administration manage to live down to the very lowest expectations you can find on an ideological message board. When it sounds like you’re copying and pasting your remarks from an all-caps parody of you on a site with a clip art screaming eagle and waving flag, you have only yourself to blame.
“…we discussed the fact that Ho Chi Minh was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson.”
— President Obama talking to reporters alongside Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.
While Sterling Beard notes that this may be “factually true,” it is, at the very least, morally and politically problematic to throw Thomas Jefferson out as an “inspiration” to a man whose very name is shorthand for the slaughter of millions. You don’t even have to know anything about history to know that the likes of Stalin and Ho Chi Minh are not on the list of people you should be tacitly praising. Sure, there are communist chic figures like Che Guevera who made it out of history with their crimes covered and their murderous legacies masked by cool t-shirts, but Ho Chi Minh doesn’t even make it into that category. The ranks of the communist chic are a lot bigger in a tony, super-liberal, yuppy radical neighborhood like Hyde Park, but surely Obama learned to put such things out of his vocabulary better than this. Nope. My guess is this is where this comes from. He’s speaking off the cuff, he’s trying to be agreeable, and he reverts to a comfort zone of calmly stated professorial radicalism that was a-okay in the parlors of Hyde Park. He doesn’t think about being utterly careless with the legacy of those who fought and died in Vietnam, those who perished at the hands of leaders like Ho Chi Minh, and those who escaped them but still suffer trauma.
Estimates run as high as half-a-million killed in Ho’s effort to consolidate power after his communist forces drove the French out of Indochina. The killing of landlords and bourgeois-class merchants was famous even in its day and since then has been documented in even more horrifying detail.
And those who carried his banner forward following his death in 1969 – he remains “Uncle Ho” even to this day – built upon his brutal regime. Following the final U.S. retreat from Vietnam untold thousands of Vietnamese, deemed collaborators by the regime, were put to death. He and his Leninist regime used V.I. Lenin’s tactics: murder, terror and “reeducation” to obtain, maintain and expand power.
Ho, whose preserved corpse lies in a glass tomb modeled after Lenin’s in Hanoi, was a seriously bad actor. Whether the United States should have sought to oust him or not or whether the war was rightly fought, Ho was not any heir to Jefferson and the Founding Fathers.
In Obama’s credulous citing of the Constitution as an inspiration, there is particular historical dissonance. One of the great murders of the 20th century could not have been truly inspired by the most significant advancement of the rights of the individual in human history.
There are many other ways to be polite to a visiting head of state, without going here:
Nevertheless, was it really necessary tacitcly to praise a man who killed approximately half-a-million people in an effort to consolidate his power, or to concede ideological similarities between the founding of the United States and modern Vietnam? In Sang’s translated remarks, the Vietnamese president doesn’t mention Minh at all and doesn’t hint at any remorse over his actions. Instead, he noted that he and Obama ”touched upon the war legacy issue, including human rights” and that the two “still have differences on issue.”
Obama doesn’t even need to know much to avoid this pitfall. He could have just watched “The Amazing Race.”