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The One Is Never, Ever Wrong

8:44 AM, Mar 16, 2012 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Talking Points Memo has a good story about President Obama's latest incident of historical illiteracy at a speech where he got both U.S. and world history wrong in the course of lecturing Republicans about being know-nothings. Here’s a sample, from TPM:

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.”

While often cited, Card said Obama’s cited quote had never been confirmed by contemporary sources and is likely apocryphal. A contemporary newspaper account of his first experience with telephone in 1877 from the Providence Journal records a smiling Hayes repeatedly responding to the voice on the other line with the phrase, “That is wonderful.”

There's more after that—and keep in mind, this isn't Obama displaying his ignorance in off-the-cuff remarks. This was from a prepared speech—which means that a truckload of people reviewed it, edited it, and approved it. It's just that no one bothered to fact-check it.

But what's really noteworthy is the reaction of TPM readers in the comments section. Like Davis Guggenheim, they can't find anything—anything—to quibble about with this president. So instead of chuckling at Obama, they attack Talking Points Memo for being a bunch of "right-wing operatives" and the equivalent of WorldNetDaily.

Even by the standards of political Internet cocooning, it's an amazing spectacle.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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