Poor Rutherford B. Hayes. It wasn’t bad enough that the 19th president, a Republican, was called “His Fraudulency” by Democrats during his one term in office (1877-1881) because of the unusual circumstances of how he “won.”
Now, the current occupant of the White House, President Obama, was spreading a most assuredly inaccurate story, according to experts, about Hayes’ reaction to an early telephone.
In a Thursday speech, Obama accused critics of his administration’s energy policy of being Luddites, just like Hayes was of earlier technology. Obama said:
“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….
Unfortunately for Obama, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post’s The Fact Checker blog, makes a very compelling case for why the president may owe any Hayes family members still around an apology for this phone story.
(Not that there aren’t things to hold against Hayes, like his removal of federal troops from the South which essentially left newly freed and vulnerably blacks unprotected.)
Hayes apparently was just the opposite of how Obama portrayed him, at least when it came to the telephone. He’s what we would now call an early adopter. The story Obama relied on was one of those scurrilous tales that should have been debunked by Snopes.com by now but they evidently haven’t gotten around to it yet.
As Kessler writes:
“The quote cited by Obama does exist on the Internet, but we would expect the White House staff to do better research than that. (This line was in the president’s prepared text, so it was not ad-libbed.)”