Why did historian Don Hickey say that about the president? Well, because we’ve heard repeatedly and incessantly from him in recent weeks that the United States has never defaulted on its debt obligations, and therefore now's not the time for us to start. But that just isn't true. In fact, such statements are demonstrably false.
The AP reports:
You hear the same proud claim every time Washington wrestles with the debt limit: The United States has never defaulted. But the record's not that clean. America has stiffed creditors on at least two occasions.
Once, the young nation had a dramatic excuse: The Treasury was empty, the White House and Capitol were charred ruins, even the troops fighting the War of 1812 weren't getting paid.
A second time, in 1979, was a back-office glitch that ended up costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The Treasury Department blamed it on a crush of paperwork partly caused by lawmakers who — this will sound familiar — bickered too long before raising the nation's debt limit.
These lapses, little noted outside financial circles in their day, are nearly forgotten now.
Another U.S. default is rapidly approaching. And yes, if Congress fails to reach a settlement by Thursday, and the government defaults again, the consequences this time could be catastrophic. But this isn’t stopping one academic from lambasting the president for using fact-free and ahistorical talking points every chance he gets:
Indeed, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew frequently declares that the United States has always met all of its obligations; a Treasury spokeswoman declined to discuss any possible exceptions. President Barack Obama, reminding Congress of the urgency of raising the debt limit before a Thursday deadline, warned of "the chaos that could result if, for the first time in our history, we don't pay our bills on time."
Historian Don Hickey isn't surprised that the default in November 1814 gets overlooked. After all, he titled his book, "The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict."
"He doesn't know his history," Hickey said of the president. "It's that simple."
The president might not know his history, but repeating such doom-and-gloom one-liners does help him build popular momentum and expedite the process for passing a "clean" debt limit hike. This is precisely what Democrats want, and they will stop at nothing to get it if they can.