It’s an article of faith among conservatives that Ronald Reagan “won” the Cold War, consigning the Soviet Union to what he eloquently termed the “ash heap of history.” The argument goes that Reagan’s acceleration of the arms race, including pursuing his Strategic Defense Initiative “Star Wars” pipedream, brought the Soviet Union to its knees when they couldn’t match it.
So how to square this with the recent comments by Fox News talking head (and potential 2012 presidential candidate) Sarah Palin who, while directing another rhetorical assault against President Obama, gave credit for the U.S.S.R.’s downfall to its “Sputnik moment”? Perhaps her Mama Grizzly instinct to attack Obama has overwhelmed her natural conservative reverence for the Gipper?
Palin was discussing the president’s State of the Union speech on Greta Van Susteren’s Fox show on Wednesday night when Van Susteren asked about Obama’s reference to a “Sputnik moment.” Palin’s reply ( h/t Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher):
That was another one of those “W-T-F” moments, when he so often repeated this Sputnik moment that he would aspire Americans to celebrate. And he needs to remember that what happened back then with the former communist U.S.S.R. and their victory in that race to space, yes, they won, but they also incurred so much debt at the time that it resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.
As an aside let’s marvel at the compound ignorance and/or contempt on display in this glimpse into the World According to Sarah. There’s ignorance of history: The Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 did not “incur so much debt” that it caused the Soviet Union to collapse 34 years later. There’s either an unwillingness or inability to understand what Obama ( and Mitt Romney, among others) meant when he talked about a “Sputnik moment.” It’s not a celebration of the Soviet Union’s launching the planet’s first artificial satellite (thus winning the “race to space” if not the “space race” which extended to the moon); rather it’s a reminder of the great American reaction to that event: It was a galvanizing moment which prompted a major national push in the areas of science and education which, as Obama put it in his speech Tuesday, “unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.” [ See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
Or if Palin really isn’t that obtuse, if she really does know her basic grade school level history and really is capable of understanding a fairly straightforward passage in a major presidential address, then the comment was a breathtaking display of contempt for her followers whom she apparently views as being just that doltish. [ See editorial cartoons about the Tea Party.]
But coming back to Reagan, how can he have won the Cold War in the 1980s if the Soviets lost it in the 1950s? I suppose the charitable explanation is that she’s conflating the expenditures incurred by earlier space-related events (Sputnik) with later ones (Star Wars). Perhaps she’ll refudiate her Sputnik comments when she delivers the keynote address at a major Reagan birthday celebration next month. [ See a photo gallery of Reagan's life.]
Or maybe she’ll find some way to reconcile the two ideas. She could argue, for example, that Reagan’s presidential greatness is so massive that it actually bends space and time around it, causing 1950s Soviets to launch Sputnik in an attempt to compete with future-Reagan’s SDI. Could this theory of history-warping greatness also explain Michele Bachmann’s contention that the Founding Fathers eliminated slavery? You betcha.