What does it mean to be on the right side of history or the wrong side of history?

tags: history



When Vladimir Putin seized Crimea, President Obama said, “Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” Secretary of State John Kerry concurred, using exactly the same phrase. They were hardly breaking new rhetorical ground for the administration. In his first inaugural address, Obama stated, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Later, Obama declared that Putin was on the wrong side of history for supporting the Assad regime in Syria. He also said that Assad was on the wrong side of history.

In a recent column, the conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg wrote that the Obama administration “has used the ‘wrong side of history’ phrase more than any I can remember. They particularly like to use it in foreign policy.” Goldberg claimed that for Obama this is “a sign of weakness. … Whenever things haven’t gone his way on the international scene — i.e., on days that end with a ‘y’—he or his spokespeople have wagged their fingers from the right side of history.” (Goldberg didn’t mention it, but Republicans have invoked WSOH as well. During Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings as secretary of defense in January 2013, Sen. John McCain berated Hagel for his opposition, as a senator, to the Iraq “surge”: “I think history has already made the judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it.”)

Goldberg argues that Obama’s use of the “right side of history” formulation, by contrast, is a “sign of strength. … On social issues like, say, gay marriage, it amounts to a kind of impatient bullying that you can afford when time is on your side; ‘Your defeat is inevitable, so let’s hurry it up.’” Gay marriage is indeed the apposite example. Attorney General Mark Herring of Virginia announced, in reference to his decision to oppose in court the state’s same-sex marriage ban,  “I’m proud to say today the Commonwealth of Virginia stood on the right side of the law and the right side of history.”

To which Mike Huckabee replies, in essence, “History shmistory.” He recently said, regarding his opposition to same-sex marriage, “You’ve got to understand, this for me is not about the right side or the wrong side of history, this is the right side of the Bible, and unless God rewrites it, edits it, sends it down with his signature on it, it’s not my book to change.”...



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