10 Unfortunate Statements by U.S. Presidents

By Steve Wiegand

Here are ten statements that U.S. presidents made before taking office or while they were in office. They didn’t always backtrack or recant, but you gotta think they would’ve just as soon kept quiet.

Martin Van Buren

Railroad carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour . . . the Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.

New York Governor Martin Van Buren in a January 31, 1829, letter to President Andrew Jackson

Van Buren was fearful that the advent of railroads was threatening the nation’s system of canals, much of which was located in the state of New York. Van Buren succeeded Jackson in the White House in 1837 but was unable to do much about slowing down those trains.

Herbert Hoover

Gentlemen, you have come 60 days too late. The Depression is over.

President Herbert Hoover to a visiting group of clergymen, June 1930

Actually, Hoover was about ten years early in declaring an end to America’s darkest economic era.

Richard Nixon

I’ve always wondered about that taping equipment, but I’m damn glad we have it. Aren’t you?

President Richard Nixon to his chief of staff, April 25, 1973

The taping equipment to which Nixon referred was used to secretly record White House conversations, including some that incriminated the president and his top aides in the Watergate cover-up.

Gerald R. Ford

There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford Administration.

President Gerald R. Ford, during an October 6, 1976, presidential election debate with Jimmy Carter

Of course, the truth was that the Soviet Union controlled most of Eastern Europe. Ford compounded his mistake by refusing to correct himself when the debate moderator gave him a chance to do so. Then he went on to lose the election to Carter.

Jimmy Carter

I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.

Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in a Playboy magazine interview just before the 1976 general election

During the aforementioned debate with Gerald Ford, Carter admitted that “in retrospect, I would not have given that interview if I had it to do over again.” He won the election anyway.

Ronald Reagan

My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing will begin in five minutes.

—President Ronald Reagan during a radio microphone check before a speech, August 11, 1984

Reagan’s joke wasn’t broadcast but leaked out anyway — far enough that Soviet military forces briefly went on alert.

George H. W. Bush

Read my lips: No new taxes.

—Republican presidential candidate George H. W. Bush at the GOP national convention, August 18, 1988

Bush won the White House, beating Democrat foe Michael Dukakis, and true to his word, he didn’t approve any new taxes. But he did agree with Congress to increase some old ones, and doing so helped dash his reelection hopes in 1992.

Bill Clinton

I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie a single time. Never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people.

—President Bill Clinton, January 21, 1998

If this wasn’t an outright lie, it was first cousin to one. On August 17, Clinton told the nation that his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was “not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.” But he also insisted there had been no cover-up, and he was later acquitted by the Senate of impeachment charges brought by the House of Representatives.

George W. Bush

We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories . . . and we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.

—President George W. Bush to a Polish TV interviewer, May 29, 2003, in justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq

The existence of weapons of mass destruction, also known as WMDs, was Bush’s chief justification for the invasion of Iraq. Trouble was, none were ever found. As a consolation prize, U.S. forces did find Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was eventually hanged by the Iraqi people.

Barack Obama

I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go.

—Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, campaigning in Oregon, May 9, 2008

Obama meant to say 47 because he wasn’t going to Hawaii or Alaska. But because no misstatement is so innocent that it can’t be parsed by conspiracy theorists, a rumor spread that Obama was showing his allegiance to Islam by inadvertently referring to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has 57 member countries. He wasn’t.