The meme about Obama’s many gaffes is fun and useful as an antidote to the media myth of St. Barack’s infallibility on the stump, but I think we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, especially in cases like the “fallen heroes” comment where he’s guilty of nothing more than awkward phrasing. I can imagine myself stumbling into the same silly formulation and that’s without 15 months of 18-hour days on the trail. Needless to say, it’s also a bit late in the game for conservatives to take great exception to rhetorical clumsiness in a would-be president.
Obama also spoke about his uncle, who was part of the American brigade that helped to liberate Auschwitz. He said the family legend is that, upon returning from war, his uncle spent six months in an attic. “Now obviously, something had really affected him deeply, but at that time there just weren’t the kinds of facilities to help somebody work through that kind of pain,” Obama said. “That’s why this idea of making sure that every single veteran, when they are discharged, are screened for post-traumatic stress disorder and given the mental health services that they need – that’s why it’s so important.”
Follow the last link to Ace’s site for a reminder of who did the liberating at Auschwitz. I notice that the Auschwitz part of Obama’s remarks isn’t quoted, which made me suspect that he hadn’t specified the camp at all and the reporter had sloppily jumped to conclusions. Not so: WaPo’s account also mentions Auschwitz (although again without directly quoting him). The charitable explanation is that he simply mistook which camp it was that his uncle helped liberate — Patton’s army, for example, liberated Buchenwald and Mauthausen — but according to Obama it was his grandfather who marched with Patton, not his uncle. (Or was his uncle in the Third Army too?) The uncharitable explanation — well, follow the link to See-Dub for that. I don’t think Obama’s crazy/Hillaryesque enough to make up a story like this whole cloth knowing what the consequences would be if he got caught, but there is a parallel with the Tuzla debacle here insofar as it’s never a good idea to float a powerful personal story that hasn’t been thoroughly fact-checked. Exit question: Barry’s got some interesting theories about World War II, huh?
Update: Geraghty has the right read on Obama’s proneness to gaffes. It’s not that he shouldn’t be indulged, it’s that the press should be similarly indulgent of conservatives.
Update: Lawhawk notes that Obama didn’t mention Auschwitz at all in his speech yesterday and wonders if CBS’s reporter simply made it up. Answer: no. WaPo noted the Auschwitz line too. It wasn’t part of the speech but the speech doesn’t represent the sum total of what he said in New Mexico. It’s only 10 minutes long; per WaPo, Obama spoke “for most of an hour.”
Update: I made a mistake in the headline; it wasn’t his grandfather who he said liberated Auschwitz, it was his uncle. Which prompts the question: Which uncle? Geraghty’s been googling and it looks like his mother was an only child. Was this “uncle” just a family friend, like “Uncle” Jeremiah Wright?
Update: A reader e-mails pointing to this passage in Obama’s 2002 anti-war speech:
My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain.
No mention of his uncle, even though this would have been an obvious place for it. Maybe it was his grandfather who helped liberate Buchenwald with Patton and somehow that turned into a mysterious uncle liberating Auschwitz. But, er, how and why?
Update: Commenter windansea sends along the video. Skip ahead to 5:14 for the part about his uncle; as luck would have it, it’s almost inaudible thanks to the wind blowing at that moment, to the point where I can’t tell if he mentions Auschwitz at all. I’ll trust the reporters who were there, two of whom claim to have heard it.
Other commenters are telling me that his great-uncle Ralph was in the service, so that’s probably who he means. In all likelihood he simply named the wrong camp here. Sloppy, but not nefarious a la Tuzla.
Update: Yeah, he said it. Here’s audible video from CNN.