America Invented Everything

President Obama is, correctly I think, taking some good natured ribbing from all sides for his rhetorical overreach in last night’s speech, claiming that America invented the automobile and solar energy when, in fact, others did.

Since we’re making pop culture references (Bobby Jindal as Kenneth Purcell), I’m reminded of Star Trek’s Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), who routinely made such assertions as “Scotch whisky was invented by a little old lady in Leningrad.”

Right now at least, we’re in a honeymoon period when these things can more or less be kept in perspective.

One wonders, though, what the reaction would have been had President Bush made a similar claim. Almost certainly, Democrats would have reacted with outrage at Bush for some combination of dishonesty and ignorance.  Doubtless, some Republicans have staunchly defended it, accusing detractors of treason.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Moonage says:

    The problem Obama is running into is by making absurd claims that are very easily debunked, he’s chipping away at his credibility. Which is what Bush did regardless of the balance of detractors. Bush just had more than Obama at this time. However, if Obama doesn’t pander to the left enough, and they become disgruntled and stop propping him up, it could get uglier than Bush Derangement Syndrome in a heartbeat. I really think the biggest problem Obama faces over the next two years is his ego. No speech writer would have let the gaffs go by that Obama is blurting out. He needs to swallow some pride and let others fact-check his stuff so his anatagonists don’t have such an easy time chipping away at him. ( Including last night, he’s honestly given people a lot more to work with than Bush had by this time. )

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    If you want to get nitpicky, I’m pretty sure that most people of “Henry Ford” and “automobile” connected in their heads. It was really in the states that it became POSSIBLE.

    Also, the basic research that led to the development of the photovoltaic cell was done here in the U.S.

    But yeah, seems silly to go on about…

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    I’m reminded of Star Trek’s Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), who routinely made such assertions as “Scotch whisky was invented by a little old lady in Leningrad.”

    My son and I just watched Trouble with Tribbles where Chekov made precisely that claim. Ahhh good times with old hokey sci-fi shows.

  4. JKB says:

    Are these really flubs or comments on the elementary school education his speechwriters and others received. Unless you are intellectually curious and pursue knowledge for knowledge’s sake, these are hardly facts that would be in the forefront of a political operative’s mind, rather they revert back to what their 5th grade teacher synopsized. False facts such as Columbus proved the earth wasn’t flat, etc. are routinely used to collapse hundreds of years of history into a talking point.

    I doubt Obama spends much time on the fluff when trying to develop a message but I’ll be someone will be from now on.

  5. Moonage says:

    Regardless, they are incorrect. If Bush had said them, they’d be all over late-night television and CNN and MSNBC would be dissecting how stupid he was. It’s only because of his party affiliation and liberal politics that he’s getting a bye right now. If he loses their support, then they’ll start Bushwhacking him as well. My point is that they are unnecessary in the first place. His speeches should be fact-checked by his speechwriters to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

  6. odograph says:

    The car thing seems like a flub to a car guy, but wikipedia gives a certain type of solar to Americans:

    “The modern age of solar power technology arrived in 1954 when Bell Laboratories, experimenting with semiconductors, accidentally found that silicon doped with certain impurities was very sensitive to light.”

  7. Brian says:

    One wonders, though, what the reaction would have been had President Bush made a similar claim.

    This seems to be a common theme around the right-leaning side of the blogosphere. I notice Glenn Reynolds and others make this comment all the time. I don’t get it.

    Yes, I realize that it’s there to emphasize how biased the media is…but, so what? Aren’t we past that yet?

    It just seems a little below the caliber of argument I’m accustomed to from writers I generally like reading and whose professional and generally reasonable opinion matters to me.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Yes, I realize that it’s there to emphasize how biased the media is…but, so what? Aren’t we past that yet?

    Actually, I’m just talking about the bloggers I read here. Bush was a polarizing figure and everything he did got an outsized reaction. Obama’s still in his honeymoon phase and mostly gets sane reactions.

  9. Bithead says:

    If you want to get nitpicky, I’m pretty sure that most people of “Henry Ford” and “automobile” connected in their heads.

    And being a Democrat, he’s going after what people feel, rather than the facts of the thing.

    Got it.

  10. just me says:

    I think this is based somewhat on perception of smartness. Bush was labeled an idiot from the day he was sworn in, so any flub like this one is a point in favor of proof of idiocy.

    Obama is assumed to be a man genius and very intelligent, therefore when he makes flubs he is and will likely be given a pass.

    At some point it might add up, but my guess is Obama gets free passes on these.

  11. Brian says:

    Bush was a polarizing figure and everything he did got an outsized reaction. Obama’s still in his honeymoon phase and mostly gets sane reactions.

    I don’t disagree. And maybe I mistook your intent with the intent of others who use similar phraseology.

  12. Michael says:

    The car thing seems like a flub to a car guy, but wikipedia gives a certain type of solar to Americans:

    Einstein wrote about the photoelectric effect in the 1920s.

    I’d be surprised if this wasn’t dissected by cable news, but the majority of the late-night demographic probably has no idea it wasn’t true, so I don’t expect Leno to make fun of his own audience.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    Are these really flubs or comments on the elementary school education his speechwriters and others received.

    The best and the brightest.

  14. odograph says:

    I think it’s interesting Michael because invention is more incremental and iterative than people tend to think. Clothes hanging on a line are using solar power. Signal mirrors for communication were using solar power. It was a progression from a tiny measurable”effect” to usable “power”.

    We humans tend to pick some point by consensus and call it a moment of invention … like Edison’s light bulb

    The auto goes back to those strange steam things, but we tend to give Daimler the call as the first “modern” car, with merit I think, but still as a consensus process.

  15. odograph says:

    Shorter: did Robert Fulton invent the steam boat?

  16. sam says:

    Einstein wrote about the photoelectric effect in the 1920s.

    Actually, he won the 1921 Nobel prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, and not for the special and general theories of relativity–which surprised the hell out of me when I first read it, esp. given that general relativity had received observational verification in 1919.

  17. tom p says:

    If Bush had said them, they’d be all over late-night television and CNN and MSNBC would be dissecting how stupid he was.

    Uhhhh, a little perspective is helpful: I don’t recall any one calling Bush an “idiot” in the first few months after 9/11. Even after they began to acknowledge he was an idiot, he was our idiot, and then he was considered a lovable idiot. It took a while before everybody finally admitted that, “No, he’s just an idiot.”

    Don’t worry, soon enuf Obama won’t get any slack for this kind of stuff (watch the Daily Show lately? They can be just as vicious to Obama)

  18. Franklin says:

    The first solar panel was created by Americans, and it was the first viable means of using solar energy. It is true that the basic precursor the solar cell was not invented by Americans.

    Technically, solar energy was not “invented” by anybody. It was first harnessed by somebody.

  19. Floyd says:

    To paraphrase Joyce Kilmer…..

    Articles are written by folks like thee
    But only God makes Solar Energy!

  20. muffler says:

    Way to focus on the petty and trivial. Yes the internal combustion engine is not an American invention, but America made it an industry. So nit pick and miss the bigger concept. Obama didn’t make a mistake. He is painting with a large brush to make a point that we have a history of innovation and know how to build real things.

  21. just me says:

    Uhhhh, a little perspective is helpful: I don’t recall any one calling Bush an “idiot” in the first few months after 9/11. Even after they began to acknowledge he was an idiot, he was our idiot, and then he was considered a lovable idiot. It took a while before everybody finally admitted that, “No, he’s just an idiot.”

    Not sure where you were during the 2000 election cycle, but I remember Bush being labeled an idiot during the election cycle and several of the Bushisms books coming out right around the time of his first innaugaration.

    Nice attempt to rewrite history, but the reality is that the left already had Bush labeled and pegged as an idiot before 9-11 and they stuck to that story and every miss step and flub was one more mark in the “proof he is an idiot” column. Obama, because he hasn’t had the idiot label hung on him gets a free pass or the “he was over tired” excuse when he flubs things up.

    Shoot with regard to the car,. he can just blame his speech writers and a lack of care to detail on his part.

  22. Michael says:

    Actually, he won the 1921 Nobel prize for his explanation of the photoelectric effect

    Okay, so I was off by a decade, I was pulling from memory.

    not for the special and general theories of relativity–which surprised the hell out of me when I first read it, esp. given that general relativity had received observational verification in 1919.

    Physics belonged to the quantum theory in those days, and relativity didn’t (and still doesn’t) play nice with quantum theory.

  23. Michael says:

    Obama didn’t make a mistake. He is painting with a large brush

    No, he made a mistake. You can argue about why he made the mistake, but it was still a mistake. Unless he was talking about Germany, which I find unlikely.

  24. G.A.Phillips says:

    False facts such as Columbus proved the earth wasn’t flat, etc.

    but he used the bible to figure out that the earth wasn’t flat by reading it.

  25. Michael says:

    but he used the bible to figure out that the earth wasn’t flat by reading it.

    Columbus got the circumference of the earth completely wrong, when his contemporaries had is remarkably right. I don’t think you really want to go making the Bible responsible for his mistakes.

  26. G.A.Phillips says:

    lol, you never know what I’m typing about but I still love ya, twas a teeny weenie Creation statement, no more no less, or know more know less.

  27. anjin-san says:

    he’s going after what people feel, rather than the facts of the thing

    Spoken like someone who’s intellectual growth never move far beyond reading Ayn Rand as a young man…

  28. anjin-san says:

    but the reality is that the left already had Bush labeled and pegged as an idiot before 9-11

    Well, an additional reality is that they made a correct assessment…

  29. Michael says:

    Well, an additional reality is that they made a correct assessment…

    Even if that were true, tom p would still be wrong.

  30. tom p says:

    Nice attempt to rewrite history,

    Actually JM, I’m not trying to rewrite history, just picking it (snark on me)

    but the reality is that the left already had Bush labeled and pegged as an idiot before 9-11

    Absolutely correct, but quite beside the point I was trying to make (I definitely mis-stated in an effort to make a point, my bad). The point I was trying to make is that in a time of crises, we (americans, MSM) tend to give our leaders a break. We overlook their flaws. As I said before:I don’t recall any one calling Bush an “idiot” in the first few months after 9/11.

    That was the thrust of my comment, in the rest I was trying to say that as this economic crises fades, there will be plenty of fault finding with Obama.