President Obama, speaking in Largo, Md., today, took it on himself to mock Rutherford B. Hayes — all for a statement about telephones that Hayes historians say he never made.
Politico quoted the president as saying: “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? 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. The point is there will always be cynics and naysayers.”
Up with this I will not put.
You can malign former presidents all you want. Carter? Sure. Eisenhower? Why not! And sure, the devil’s bargain that Hayes made to assure his ascension to the presidency in 1877 sounds pretty devious.
But give the man his credit for technology.
He was, reportedly, quite excited by it. And he had so few joys in life. His wife, “Lemonade Lucy” refused to serve alcohol at White House functions. So instead, he amused himself by listening to the telephone and having Thomas Edison come to the White House and demonstrate the phonograph.
He even used a typewriter.
No, Hayes wasn’t left off Mount Rushmore because he was too backward-looking. He was left off it because his Bluetooth headset was too hard to carve. He didn’t want to be on there, anyway. He was less interested in stone than tablets. And the WiFi there was terrible. He was so hip that when Edison demonstrated a new invention, he would scowl and think of Tesla.
This man was clearly hip, and he deserves credit. Hayes scholars were ready to leap to the phone when New York magazine called them, producing articles from the Providence Journal describing how, listening to a telephone, “a gradually increasing smile wreathe[d] his lips and wonder shone in his eyes more and more.” Nobody is that excited by a telephone unless his life is otherwise bleak, full of people misattributing quotes to him and confusing him with James A. Garfield.
The least the poor man deserves is to have quotes correctly attributed to him.
Besides, calling him anything less is a bit much coming from a man with a BlackBerry.
Related: Here’s a meme I started and am trying to encourage.