President Obama got a laugh out of a Maryland audience on Thursday when he mocked the Republican Party in a speech, comparing their skepticism of alternative energy to the “Flat Earth Society” in Christopher Columbus’ day and President Rutherford B. Hayes’ apparent dismissal of the telephone. But while Obama thinks the GOP is in need of a science lesson, he may need to bone up on history himself.
In mocking the GOP, Obama cited an anecdote about Hayes in which, upon using the telephone for the first time, he said, “It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?”
“That’s why he’s not on Mount Rushmore,” Obama said. “He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.”
But Nan Card, curator of manuscripts at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Ohio, told TPM that the nation’s 19th president was being unfairly tagged as a Luddite.
“He really was the opposite,” she said. “He had the first telephone in the White House. He also had the first typewriter in the White House. Thomas Edison came to the White House as well and displayed the phonograph. Photographing people who came to the White House and visited at dinners and receptions was also very important to him.”
That’s not Obama’s only error: it’s a common misconception that many people (or even that it was common wisdom) that the world was flat in Columbus’ day, or that he would sail off the edge, as the major criticism of Columbus’ plan to sail to the Far East by a Western route.
The world had commonly been accepted as round for centuries before. The major criticism was that it would be TOO FAR, which was actually correct, if the New World was not in the way, sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific would have been an impossibility for Columbus and his ships.
He should spend more time reading history and less filling out NCAA Brackets.