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Annals of Ignorance in High Places

- December 10, 2007

Chapter 1

From Peter Baker in this morning’s Washington Post:

bq. Still looking for that last-minute Christmas gift for White House Press secretary Dana Perino? May we recommend a gift certificate for the forthcoming book on the Cuban Missile Crisis by our colleague Michael Dobbs, “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War,” due out next summer?

bq. Appearing on National Public Radio’s light-hearted quiz show, “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell me,” which aired over the weekend, Perino got into the spirit of things and told a story about herself that she had previously shared only in private: During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and she didn’t know what it was.

bq. “I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about … the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

bq. So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.'”

Chapter 2

From the deep recesses of my own memory:

In 1993, I was contacted by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who was then president of this fair university. He said that he had recently dined with a prominent U.S. Senator who had agreed to give a speech about the U.S. presidency. This senator (who will remain unnamed here) told Trachtenberg that he was a bit nervous about giving this speech because he wasn’t an expert on the presidency. Never fear, Trachtenberg replied, we’ve got this hot new guy in our political science department. I’ll send him over and he can brief you. And so Trachtenberg called me.

I immediately enlisted the involvement of a colleague who was teaching our presidency course, and at the appointed hour we trooped over to the Cosmos Club for our date with destiny.

The senator was obviously preoccupied with what apparently would be his major decision of the day — the selection of an appropriate bottle of wine. With that preliminary finally completed after only half an hour or so, he turned to the task at hand. Well, he declared, because he had spent some time in England, he thought it would be a nice touch to talk not only about the U.S. but about England as well. And then: “I know something about the President of the United States, but I don’t know much about the President of England. What can you tell me about the President of England?”

I swear that the foregoing is true, and I have a witness.