Yesterday I noted that Barack Obama is bad at math, but he’s even worse at history. Tina hit this yesterday, but it’s worth adding to the OOTD canon — and I suspect the Sunday poll commenters would erupt in outrage if Obama’s assessment of his predecessor Rutherford Hayes wasn’t included:
There have always been folks like that. There always have been folks who are the naysayers and don’t believe in the future, and don’t believe in trying to do things differently. One of my predecessors, Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone, “It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?” (Laughter.) That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore — (laughter and applause) — because he’s looking backwards. He’s not looking forwards. (Applause.) He’s explaining why we can’t do something, instead of why we can do something.
Really? I guess we didn’t have Hope and Change in 1877. However, we did have media that actually reported events back then — those were the days! — and as New York Magazine reports, Obama not only got this wrong, he got it as wrong as he possibly could:
We thought it was a bit unsporting of Obama to attack President Hayes, who is quite unable to respond. So we called up the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio, where Nan Card, the curator of manuscripts, was plenty willing to correct Obama’s ignorance of White House history. Just as soon as she finished chuckling.
“I’ve heard that before, and no one ever knows where it came from,” Card said of Hayes’s alleged phone remark, “but people just keep repeating it and repeating it, so it’s out there.”
Wait, so Hayes didn’t even say the quote that Obama is mocking him for? “No, no,” Card confirmed.
She then read aloud a newspaper article from June 29, 1877, which describes Hayes’s delight upon first experiencing the magic of the telephone. The Providence Journal story reported that as Hayes listened on the phone, “a gradually increasing smile wreathe[d] his lips and wonder shone in his eyes more and more.” Hayes took the phone from his ear, “looked at it a moment in surprise and remarked, ‘That is wonderful.'”
In fact, Card noted, Hayes was not only the first president to have a telephone in the White House, but he was also the first to use the typewriter, and he had Thomas Edison come to the White House to demonstrate the phonograph. “So I think he was pretty much cutting edge,” Card insisted, “maybe just the opposite of what President Obama had to say there.”
The real reason that Hayes doesn’t find his visage on Mt. Rushmore is that he wasn’t a very good President, not because he was a Luddite. That’s also why Obama won’t find his visage on Mt. Rushmore, either … nor on the History Channel, except as a cautionary tale. But if they put faces on Mt. Rushmore for mindlessly repeating bad data and false assumptions, Obama would get a peak all to himself.
Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.
Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!