In an energy speech in Maryland on Thursday, President Barack Obama decided to take a whack at a former Republican president who drew Democratic ire for “stealing” an election.
While blaming former President George W. Bush has been a pastime for Obama, he had to reach farther back and make even wilder claims to explain the country’s reluctance to embrace his energy policies.
“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? 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 in his energy speech on Thursday.
Obama then insinuated that Rutherford B. Hayes, the Civil War general from Ohio, was a particularly poor president and was backward-looking, along with the Republican Party.
“That’s why he’s not on Mount Rushmore,” Obama said of Hayes.
Obama was not only being unfair in attacking the late 19th century president, but he also badly misrepresented Hayes’s views and record.
While Hayes had many detractors during his own time, including one of America’s greatest historians, Henry Adams, a descendent of the Founding Father, John Adams, who called Hayes “a third rate nonentity, whose only recommendation is that he is obnoxious to no one,” Hayes was never accused of being “anti-technology.”
Hayes was no backwards Luddite as Obama suggested, but a man intensely interested in cultivating new technologies and using them to expand the effectiveness of the presidential office itself. Hayes was the first president to use a telephone and a typewriter in the White House and said when he used the telephone for the first time, “that is wonderful.”
Hayes was also the first to travel to the West Coast, which would have been a difficult task for a president if he couldn’t use trains and the recently finished Transcontinental Railroad for transportation.
Not only was Hayes a friend to technology, but he was also the friend of a man who is given credit for inventing some of the most world-changing technologies, Thomas Edison. Edison brought a phonograph, which is used to record sound, into the White House in 1878. Hayes eagerly embraced the new technology.
What is strange is that President Obama and his administration didn’t do any fact-checking of Hayes before trashing him. Perhaps it is because of the official White House profile of Hayes, which strangely never mentions his love of technology and instead focuses on the charge that Republicans stole the presidency in 1876.
The charge that Hayes had stolen the 1876 election is nearly as shaky as the accusation that George W. Bush stole the 2000 election against former Vice President Al Gore.
Even though it is probable that some of Hayes’s supporters did try to rig the results of elections in many new, western states, Samuel Tilden, who was his Democratic opponent, was accused of trying to bribe electors in Florida, South Carolina and Oregon. This accusation came out several years after the election in the so-called, Cipher Dispatches. Also, Democrats had frequently intimidated black voters in the South from voting for Republicans which kept many states solidly Democrat.
The point is that Hayes won a contest in which both sides were most likely cheating to some extent.
Obama’s stab at the old Buckeye State president for not being on Mount Rushmore is even worse when you compare their records. Hayes only served one term and didn’t run again, but before that time the country was in much better shape than today, especially considering that it was just over a decade after the most devastating war in American history, the American Civil War.
Hayes was successful in curbing inflation and getting government spending under control, residing over budget surpluses every year in office and helping repair and economy that had been devastated in the Panic of 1873.
Unlike Obama, who presided over an America with a downgraded credit rating, Hayes restored the credit of the United States.
Hayes slashed a great deal of government bureaucracy; he specifically cracked down on the New York Customs House, which was extorting money from hard-working merchants.
Hayes took even bolder action when he called upon federal troops to put down a massive railroad strike in 1877 that took place across six states and threatened to shut down the train traffic throughout the Northeast and Midwest. It was a movement that bore incredibly similar comparisons to the communist movements that were growing in Europe.
Given Obama’s comments it must be assumed that he knows relatively little about former President Hayes, but perhaps he should take notes on a president who was unlikely to acquiesce to such inflationary policies as quantitative easing, the creation of new bureaucracies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and would certainly not have shut down the Keystone Pipeline project that could create jobs for thousands of Americans and make the country more energy independent.
Rutherford B. Hayes may not be great enough to put on Mount Rushmore, but President Obama has a long way to go to be as good as the Republican general from Ohio.