My friend Maria, who grew up and lived in Eastern-Block Communist countries for the first 20+ years of her life, will tell you that one of the things propagandists were most adept in the olden days was to try to make you believe they invented every darn thing.
So I find it bothersome when politicians resort to exaggerated claims on inventions. Why do they do it? Clearly the US is a technologically advanced country with no need for exaggeration. Yet in his speech last night, President Obama claimed
We invented solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it.
I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.
As it turns out, the start of solar techonology was developed mostly by English and French individuals, and automobiles’ internal combustion engines were developed by several German individuals. It’s not a country who invents anything; it’s the individuals who do the work.
Marc Ambinder is bothered, too, by these claims:
Well, I’m a little bit irked by Obama’s claim for two reasons. First, it’s gratuitous, unappealing boosterism. Yes, America is great and its people are highly inventive. God bless America! But it just happens to be true that, in the case of solar technology and the automobile, the Europeans got there first. Claiming otherwise is both desperate and unnecessary, like copying homework in kindergarten. We should learn to settle for the atom bomb.
Second, as an argument for why we should we should continue to support certain technologies, Obama’s point is laughable. The value of technical innovation isn’t nationally contingent. In fact, one of the best things about technical innovation is that it’s so easy to steal: a great invention in Luxembourg is still a great invention in Cleveland. We should be investing in the technologies that are most useful or with which we have the most comparative advantage, not the ones that happen to come out Cleveland. Even if Cleveland is a great city with highly inventive people.
So please, speechwriters, check your facts, and when you need to bring forth an argument, skip the boosterism.
Jules Crittenden has more.