We were told that Barack Obama is a genius. That turns out not to have been very accurate.
Speaking about the need to develop new sources of American energy in Largo, Md., Obama used our 19th president to illustrate a failure of forward-thinking leadership.
“One of my predecessors, President Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone: ‘It’s a great invention but who would ever want to use one?’” Obama said. “That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore.”
“He’s looking backwards, he’s not looking forward. He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something,” Obama said. “The point is there will always be cynics and naysayers.”
Have your speechwriters check their sources, Mr. President. President Hayes probably never said that bit about the telephone.
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.’”
Card goes on to note that Hayes was into technology: He brought the typewriter as well as the telephone into the White House, and had Thomas Edison drop by to demo the phonograph.
Maybe the knock on Hayes is part of Michelle Obama’s campaign to “change our history?”
“Barack knows that we are going to have to make sacrifices; we are going to have to change our conversation; we’re going to have to change our traditions, our history; we’re going to have to move into a different place as a nation.”
And in that different place, President Hayes would have gifted the queen of England with a trove of his own recorded speeches.