In his address last night, president Obama implied that an American invented the automobile ("The nation that invented the automobile cannot turn away from it"). It doesn't matter that the president was unaware this is false. Politicians can't be expected to know everything. What matters is that neither he nor anyone in his inner circle apparently thought it was important to fact check his first major speech to the nation. What other parts of his speech and policy platform are based on mistaken assumptions, we might well wonder?
Alas, some very important ones. In his campaign fact sheet on “21st century threats”, then-candidate Obama declared that
When Sputnik was launched in 1957, President Eisenhower used the event as a call to arms for Americans to help secure our country and to increase the number of students studying math and science via the National Defense Education Act.
"That's the kind of leadership we must show today," he later told a crowd in Dayton, OH.
The trouble is, the National Defense Education Act was an expensive failure. The average mathematics performance of 11th graders fell in the eight years following passage of the law, according to “national norm” studies conducted by the College Board. They still hadn't returned to pre-NDEA levels a decade later.
In last night's speech, the president called for increased federal "investment" in public schools, on the apparent assumption that this will improve educational outcomes and with them our economy. History does not support this rosy view.
To have any hope of achieving the lofty goals he has set out for himself, our 44th president would do well to get his future proposals -- and speeches -- thoroughly fact-checked. While this may starve late-night comics of material, it will save both the president and the American people a lot of heartburn.