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John Nolte and Peter Schweizer’s Sputnik moment


At some point in their quest to defend Sarah Palin from the likes of Jon Stewart, Big Hollywood‘s John Nolte and Big Peace‘s Peter Schweizer either lost the ability to understand the English language or acquired Palin’s ability to misunderstand it. Their new side-quest involves Stewart’s mocking of Palin for fundamentally misconstruing what Obama meant by “Sputnik moment.”  Here is what the President said:

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.

The President is clearly saying that Sputnik spurred the United States into action so that it could defeat the Soviet Union. Now, here is how Palin responded:

That was another one of those WTF 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 USSR 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.

Palin is arguing, based on her fundamental misunderstanding of what the President said, that because Sputnik led to the collapse of the Soviet Union some 30 years later, the United States should not try to become the Soviet Union. Nolte is arguing, via a long quotation from Schweizer, that

Palin’s other point is that Sputnik was the sort of government bureaucratic program that got the Soviet Union in trouble; it’s an example of what eventually did them in … From the late 1950s, CIA had clearly described the chronic weaknesses as well as the formidable military power of the Soviet Union.” Hmmm. Do you think this “chronic weaknesses might have had something to do with excessive bureaucracies and the size of government?

Anybody else notice the problem with Schweizer and Nolte’s defense? Of course you do. But in case either of them read this, I’ll spell it out: Palin woefully misunderstands the President’s argument, as is evident by the fact that in the terms of the analogy, she mistakes the United States for the Soviet Union. The President said that the United States now should be like the United States in 1959, not that it should be like the Soviet Union in 1959. To claim that the President wants the United States now to be like the Soviet Union in 1959 is to make an error worthy of the mockery it has received. Instead of recognizing Palin’s inability to comprehend a simple analogy, Nolte and Schweizer claim that the mockery is unfounded because bureaucratic excess eventually brought down the Soviet Union.

Nolte and Schweizer have two problems: the first is that they’re defending a minor point and ignoring the major one; the second is that, by the terms of the analogy when properly distributed, the fact that the United States responded to its Sputnik moment in 1959 without collapsing undermines the legitimacy of their minor point. If the United States could do it before, surely it could do it again, no?

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