There are so many quotes about why history is important and why people are doomed to repeat their predecessors' mistakes when they don't know about history. My favorite has always been: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" (George Santayana).
But there is a twist on that quote that many politicians just don't realize: If you don't know your history, you are doomed to say really, really stupid and embarrassing things.
Which brings us to Sarah Palin (and to a lesser extent John McCain and the Republican Party). Last Thursday night, Palin said in a campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina: "We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit, and in the wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation." CNN 10/17 Campaign Wrap. Tie that to McCain's recent panderings to his base about Obama being a socialist and we see "Red Scare" politics reemerging.
And here is where Palin and McCain's failure to understand history really comes into play. You see, America is a country that embraces all ideas. It embraces those that no one can stand and it embraces those that are clearly the majority's sentiment. So long as those ideas aren't ones that incite violence or are the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, then people are given the right to say what they want and express what they like. In the past eight years, too many times the executive branch forgot that mantra. And now McCain and Palin are trying to manipulate the fear that accompanies the "us v. them" mentality.
The beauty of this country, the beauty of the American ideal is that this country expects and encourages its citizens to question the ruling class. It is the reason that anyone and everyone who questions the establishment is a true American, a pro-American. And it is the reason that these comments are ludicrous.
But even as ludicrous as they are, these "Red Scare" politics only work in democracies. Only in a country that embraces almost all freedoms of expression could a group of people spread out and out falsehoods about other candidates and not face some sort of consequences. You see non-democracies don't tolerate questioning the ruling class. People aren't allowed to attack the corrupt nature of politicians. Instead, in dictatorships or faux-democracies, you see roving bands of mercenaries killing dissenters; you see government sponsored pogroms of terror; and you see dissidents imprisoned.
Which brings us back to history and "Red Scare" politics. And ties directly into Sarah Palin being able to see Russia. Now we all know that Sarah can't see Russia, but if she could, she'd be staring directly at Siberia. And you know what you found in Siberia in Stalin-era Russia? Well besides lots of snow, you'd find Gulags. And you know who they put in Gulags? Political dissenters, among others. Like Sarah Palin in 2006. You know when she was attacking Frank Murkowski. Or like John McCain when he was all mavericky back in the day. You know like when John McCain lambasted the Bush tax cuts. So these mavericky mavericks who seem to have problems with people they don't find American enough are both the beneficiaries of America's promise and mission to protect freedom of expression.
So the next time that Sarah Palin or John McCain denigrate non-Republicans as un-American, they should remember that they are direct beneficiaries of the protections of this country. And while they talk about socialists and true Americans versus non-Americans, a bit of history might have taught them that it could be much, much worse for them: They could have been born in the U.S.S.R. in the 1930s ...