Obama's Uncle And An Extreme Example Of Molehill Politics

In a sign of just how desperate far-right conservatives have become — and just how odd their standards are — we saw one of the dumber outrages of the 2008 presidential campaign this week.

Speaking in New Mexico on Memorial Day, Obama said a great-uncle had helped to liberate the Auschwitz death camp at the end of World War II. “I had a uncle who was one of the, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps,” Obama said (a YouTube clip of the remarks quickly went viral online).

He continued: “And the story in my family is that when he came home, he just went into the attic, and he didn’t leave the house for six months. All right? Now, obviously something had affected him deeply, but at the time, there just weren’t the kinds of facilities to help somebody work through that kind of pain.”

That may be a fact, the RNC noted gleefully — but only if Obama’s uncle had served in the Red Army of Joseph Stalin, which liberated Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945.

Obama’s campaign said yesterday that he had erred in naming the camp but not in describing the role of his great-uncle, who partook in the liberation of Buchenwald.

That’s it. That’s the whole story. Obama said his uncle had liberated one Nazi concentration camp, when in fact, his uncle had liberated a different Nazi concentration camp. Obama got the name of the camp wrong. There was no obvious intention to deceive anyone, a presidential candidate simply misidentified the specific camp his mother’s brother liberated. An innocent mistake, barely worth raising an eyebrow over.

And yet, Republicans instantly turned the Outrage Machine to 11, as if Obama had claimed to have liberated Buchenwald himself.

For the entire day yesterday, most of the far-right voices wanted to talk about nothing else but Obama’s shameful “lies.” The Republican National Committee issued a statement, arguing that Obama’s minor error “raise[d] questions about his judgment” and his “readiness to lead.” Unhinged conservative bloggers went completely around the bend — Red State said Obama’s remarks were “sickening” and “a bold faced lie.”


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It’s as if Republicans woke up yesterday, ate a bowl of Crazy Flakes, and then went straight for their keyboards.

The service of Obama’s great uncle was actually pretty amazing. He served in the 89th Infantry Division that liberated Ohrdruf in April 1945, a Subcamp of Buchenwald, which was the first camp liberated by Americans. Obama misstated the name of the camp. What difference does it make? Has the political world become so consumed with bile, and so overwhelmed with trivia, that this harmless error is evidence of something important?

Or, as the LAT’s Stuart Silverstein put it, “What’s worse, Obama’s apparent gaffe or the RNC pouncing on a Holocaust-related historical mistake for political advantage?”

If Obama’s uncle hadn’t served in the military, or hadn’t even left the country during World War II, I could see this being more embarrassing and newsworthy. Ronald Reagan, for example, boasted that he’d served in an Army unit that filmed recently liberated death camps. In reality, Reagan never left the U.S. during the war.

That’s controversial. Obama’s inconsequential error was utterly meaningless. That this became a huge deal to the Republican Attack Machine highlights just how far off the edge these poor schmoes have fallen.

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