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Obama Owes Rutherford B. Hayes an Apology

At a campaign stop in Largo, Maryland yesterday, President Obama delivered a set of remarks in which he attempted to exculpate himself from skyrocketing fuel prices.  And embedded within his speech was a typically partisan attack on Republicans (bolded below), which received special attention on the Drudge Report.

Lately, we’ve heard a lot of professional politicians, a lot of the folks who are running for a certain office — (laughter) — who shall go unnamed — (laughter) — they’ve been talking down new sources of energy.  They dismiss wind power.  They dismiss solar power.  They make jokes about biofuels.  They were against raising fuel standards. I guess they like gas-guzzlers.  They think that’s good for our future.  We’re trying to move towards the future; they want to be stuck in the past.

We’ve heard this kind of thinking before.  Let me tell you something.  If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail — (laughter) — they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society.  (Laughter.)  They would not have believed that the world was round….

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. 

No Obama speech is complete without a derisive partisan attack, but neither is it complete without a hallmark inaccuracy or two.  In this case, the President got his facts about our nineteenth President all wrong, and has earned himself a four Pinocchios rating at the WaPo’s Fact Checker blog.  Glenn Kessler explains:

According to Ari Hoogenboom, who wrote the definite biography, “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President,” Hayes entertained Thomas A. Edison at the White House. Edison demonstrated the phonograph for the president. “He was hardly hostile to new inventions,” Higgenboom said.

Moreover, documentation from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center shows that President Hayes first tried out the telephone in June of 1877, when Alexander Graham Bell arranged for a demonstration.  Hayes was so astounded by the telephone that he installed the very first White House telephone just four months later.  Kessler writes that “a list of telephone subscribers published in the article ‘The Telephones Comes to Washington,’ by Richard T. Loomis, shows that the White House was given the number ’1,’” indicating that the White House telephone was probably the first in the nation’s capital.

Kessler concludes:

Obama mocked Hayes for “looking backwards…not looking forwards.” In reality, Hayes embraced the new technology. He should be an Obama hero, not a skunk.

Hayes is dead and buried, but he deserves an apology.

  1. Last Outpost on the Right

    Okay. So Obama has no knowledge of American history. Stipulated.

    But let’s not get distracted by his ongoing gaffes. His energy policies are causing great harm to consumers. That’s what we must keep at the forefront of the public discussion.

  2. billy
    Last Outpost on the Right: Okay. So Obama has no knowledge of American history. Stipulated.

    But let’s not get distracted by his ongoing gaffes. His energy policies are causing great harmto consumers. That’s what we must keep at the forefront of the public discussion. · 0 minutes ago

    But to keep our spirits up, let’s not miss an opportunity to ridicule him.

  3. Casey

    That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore

    And you, Mr President?

  4. Wylee Coyote

    He doesn’t mention nuclear power?

    How odd.

  5. Give Me Liberty
    James Lileks: 1. Of course, if Hayes had put a windmill on top of the White House, he’d be hailed as a foresighted genius.

    2. The Obama formulation re: electric cars seems to be the reverse: No one would ever want to use one. It’s a great invention! · 30 minutes ago

    And electric cars are  green because they are powered by energy produced by coal many miles from the end user and there fore out of sight. Huh, what!?!

  6. ctlaw

    Of course, the proper response to Obama would be: “Then Mr. President aren’t you glad that Hayes did not have the power you have assumed or your willingness to use it to mandate that the people do what the President deems best for them?”

  7. SnillCo

    And a fellow Harvard Law School alumnus as well. For shame.

  8. david foster

    Thomas Edison, who had invested heavily in DC electrical technologies, favored the use of DC exclusively for electrical distribution, which would have required electricity users to be within a few miles of power stations. In attempting to get DC adapted as the sole standard, he engaged in an extremely sleazy fear-based campaign (including such things as supporting the use of the electric chair for executions and helpfully suggesting that the process could be called “Westinghouseing” in honor of his AC-oriented competitor.)

    Had Obama then been president in place of Hayes, he would probably have thrown the full force of the government behind the Edison approach and made AC power illegal…..

  9. Garrett Petersen

    That’s a lot of mistakes in one speech.  The people who argued with Columbus weren’t arguing about the shape of the Earth (a myth created by 19th-century writer Washington Irving) but about its size.  And guess what?  The critics were right!

  10. David Williamson

    History (and Science) don’t seem to be our Dear Leader’s strong points.

    If he knew more Science he would realize that the energy density of oil is orders of magnitude greater than wind or solar. Nuclear is many orders of magnitude more dense than oil.

    It’s tough to get round this fundamental problem, which is why the future will be nuclear (which, strangely, he forgot to mention).

    It also explains why we can now cross the Atlantic in hours, rather than the weeks taken by the wind-powered Columbus.

    Remind me again who is the Luddite, here?

  11. tabula rasa

    For Obama, politics is a form of theater (and not a lot more).  The new estimate of the cost of Obamacare shows that it is twice as expensive as we were told.  These are merely irrelevant facts to our Performance Artist in Chief.

  12. Mark Wilson

    Facts are just right-wing constructs, and have always eluded Mr. Obama.

    He’s also wrong about the flat-Earthers.  Few people thought the Earth was flat in the time of Columbus.  His detractors just thought he had underestimated the length of his westward journey around the Earth. And they were right, by a factor of 4.  He thought it was about 3000 miles West from the Canary Islands across the Atlantic Ocean, where he would find Japan.  In reality it’s more like 12,000 miles–across the Atlantic Ocean, overland across the Americas, and then across the must vaster Pacific.  That’s why Columbus thought North America was India.

  13. Misthiocracy

    Can you even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to carve that magnificent beard into Mount Rushmore?!

  14. Mark Wilson

    (continued)

    So the comparison to flat-Earthers is utterly wrong, and he should be embarrassed.  The objections to Columbus were based on skepticism from a scientific point of view–they didn’t believe his overly optimistic math.  Many of the popular forms of “green energy” are vulnerable to exactly the same criticism.

    Columbus wasn’t right, he was unbelievably lucky.  The only thing that kept Columbus from perishing on his journey “west to the Orient” was that the Americas happened to be in the way, about where he thought east Asia was.  So what can we say about the green movement based on the President’s lame analogy?

  15. Leslie Watkins

    Mark Wilson: So what can we say about the green movement based on the President’s lame analogy?

    That it’s mostly lost at sea?

  16. Maura Pennington
    C

    I am willing to bet money that Rutherford B. Hayes would not have used the word “folks” that many times in one breath.

    Folks.  It’s like we’re not even people to him.

  17. Mark Wilson
    Maura Pennington: I am willing to bet money that Rutherford B. Hayes would not have used the word “folks” that many times in one breath.

    Folks.  It’s like we’re not even peopleto him. · 1 minute ago

    At least he didn’t say “enemies”.

  18. Glenn the Iconoclast
    Garrett Petersen: That’s a lot of mistakes in one speech.  The people who argued with Columbus weren’t arguing about theshape of the Earth (a myth created by 19th-century writer Washington Irving) but about itssize.  And guess what?  The critics were right!

    I seem to remember reading that the pre-B.C. Greeks calculated the size of the spherical Earth with a fair degree of precision, something on the order of 20,000 miles in circumference.

  19. MFQuinn

    When I heard clips from this speech, BHO sounded particularly inarticulate and stuttering; it was as if he was making it up as he went along, giving this talk off the top of his head– and we’ve all pretty much concluded where his head was (and is).  Was this the Teleprompter Unplugged speech?  Are his speech writers on vacation?  Only a young, gullible, adoring community college audience could be anything but appalled.