Monday, April 6, 2009

Obama Discovers a New Language

The President, during a NATO press-conference yesterday, referred to the language of Austria as "Austrian," a malapropism that would have left 19th and 20th Century European statesmen and historians absolutely speechless. (video here)
We skeptics are endless assured that our Columbia University and Harvard Law School educated President knows better about everything. No doubt he does, but possibly Obama was too busy studying community organizing to pay much attention to central European history, and all that boring Großdeutschland/Kleindeutschland, Otto von Bismarck, Anschluss Österreichs, World War I, World War II stuff. Possibly I'm nitpicking just a bit (Hell, I admit it), but the man who discovered the "Austrian" language is clearly just the fellow to get us on better terms with Europe, eh?
Maybe I should give the fellow a break. Certainly, the press is -- James Fallows writes in his blog at The Atlantic:
He [Obama] also appeared to refer to the language of Austria as "Austrian," thus: "I don't know how you say it in Austrian, but we call it wheeling-dealing." If this had been GW Bush, it would have been taken as an obvious gaffe, as in his calling the residents of Greece "Grecians." Here you can't be sure whether it's a plain error or a knowing casualism, as in saying that Australians speak "Australian" -- eg, in the ad that says, "Foster's: Australian for 'beer.' "
Now folks, that's true journalistic skill. Admit a double standard, and make it positively sound rational, and do it in a tres gentil way. Yes, you silly unwashed rubes, the Great One may have slipped, but he's the Man of Hope. Now if Bush had talked about some Austrian language, you can bet your last Euro that Fallows is right and the journos would have jumped all over Bush like the Gestapo did to Austrians who didn't vote Ja on the Anschluss. But times have changed, and the Eurolefties that run things across the pond, Obama's spiritual brothers, are likely to declare Austrian a language if it would make the Sainted One look good.


The Girl You Don't Bring Home to Momma said...

Hey, how about that - Obama invents a new language and Al Gore invented the internet. We have such an intelligent government. What the hell have we all been worried about?

Texas Gator Girl said...

LOL at Girl! So true El Jefe & true! Austrian,hmmm...I wonder where one can learn that language? El Jefe - is there gonna be a ghost writer at some point??? Thought I would forget didnt' ya?! ;)

GiGi said...

I totally agree with you. What a double standard the media has for Obama. It truly is a 'slobbering love affair'...just like Bernard Goldberg says in his book of the same title!

LFC said...

Probably an error, not an intentional "casualism" (although Fallows' possibility cannot be completely dismissed -- and I did not watch the video).

I know where he went to
school -- Occidental College, transferred to Columbia, then Harvard Law School -- but I don't know anything much about the content of Obama's education. Chances are good he would not have picked up much European history while editing the Harvard Law Review, so the degree of his cultural literacy (for lack of a better phrase) must turn on his own reading etc and whatever he picked up in his formal education.

Obama is clearly very intelligent, but intelligence and knowledge are, of course, two different things, and there are evidently some gaps in the latter. Has nothing to do w his competence to be pres. (just as, to be fair, neither did Bush's malapropisms).

El Jefe Maximo said...

You're correct of course, LFC, re intelligence and knowledge. I'm not sure I agree that the possible gaps in his knowledge do not speak to competence, because Obama's fund of cultural knowledge bears on the ability to perform the tasks of his office.

Obama would be incompetent to fiy a 747 because he's never been to flight school. This is not his fault, but it may be sound reason for concern if you find Obama sitting in the left seat on the next aircraft you board.

As you recognize, depending on the President's educational track, Obama might well not have had the opportunity to pick up much European cultural knowledge. The decline of reading in general, and the need to load secondary school history and political science education up with content to make them seem more generally relevant mitigates against picking up a good deal of cultural and historical information that would have been considered fundamental a generation ago.

Unfortunately, I find it all too easy to believe that, today, a Harvard Law graduate might not be able to locate Vienna on a map; and might not know that there was once an important person named Franz Ferdinand, and that he had nothing to do with the band of that name.

LFC said...

To me, Franz Ferdinand means only the archduke shot at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. I am unaware of any band of that name. On a test of names of rock bands, my grade would probably be a C- or, more likely, D (with charitable marking).

Does a president's fund of cultural knowledge bear on his ability to do his job? At glaring levels of ignorance, probably, but Obama is not, I think, at risk of that. As your Franz Ferdinand example suggests, there are different kinds of cultural knowledge. I heard Obama on TV introduce Stevie Wonder and talk briefly about his music at the White House/Library of Congress evening for Wonder a while back -- I don't think I've ever heard Obama more confident, articulate, graceful, and sure of what he was talking about. That was also cultural knowledge, and also part of his job. Also, Obama's performance during the campaign indicates a v. good knowledge of the recent historical (i.e. last 50 years say) background of politics and policy, esp. in the U.S.

Of course, I agree w/ your point about the unfortunate downplaying of history in some high schools and colleges. One last thing that just occurred to me: Obama transferred to Columbia after at least a year at Occidental (which is a v. good liberal arts college, btw, as far as I know). That means he presumably missed the famous 1st yr great-books-style curriculum that I believe is still in place for Columbia freshmen.

The Traveling Salesman said...

Hey, whatever was on the ol' teleprompter is what he goes with!