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Analogies, Obscure, Historical

March 22, 2010, 9:00 am

Obama_NapoleonRegalRegalia500.jpgHealth care reform wasn’t President Obama’s Waterloo, it was his Borodino! William Kristol explains:

Barack Obama was able to muscle his health care plan through, and therefore avoided a legislative defeat that Sen. Jim DeMint had said would be his Waterloo. But Waterloo was always an imperfect analogy. Leaving aside the injustice to Napoleon of comparing Obama to him, the better analogy is Borodino.

“But,” you say, “Borodino? Um, huh? What’s that?”

Kristol elucidates:

Napoleon invaded Russia in June of 1812. On September 7 of that year, the Grande Armée under Napoleon’s command attacked the Russian army near the village of Borodino. Napoleon won the battle, the greatest of the Russian campaign, but at a terrible cost–about a third of his soldiers were killed or wounded. The Russian army was not destroyed, and while Napoleon occupied an abandoned Moscow a week later, the French army was never the same. It soon had to begin its disastrous winter retreat from Russia, and Napoleon finally did meet his Waterloo almost three years later.

Credit to the man to reaching back past the political standard issue historical analogies–Pearl Harbor, Munich, Hanoi Jane–but it’s probably a good rule of thumb that if your comparison requires substantial explanation, briefing, and (possibly) footnotes, then it’s not a solid one. Having said that, the Obama-as-Napoleon meme is quite widespread on the right, and is taking shape as the same sort of secret code that the Dred Scott case was for President Bush. The comparison is, at least explicitly, non-racial, and makes Obama aloof, imperial, and above all, French. We should probably not mention that Napoleon, despite his eventual exile, did succeed in remaking French society in numerous way, an influence that has lasted to this day.

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