You can't reach the White House without being a fantastic liar. While the dude currently squatting there probably holds the record for the most straight-up, shameless, objectively dumb lies ever told by a sitting president, he doesn't have a monopoly in that department. Other presidents and would-be presidents have been caught telling some pretty ridiculous lies that might even make the current guy shake his head ... or start taking notes.
Ronald Reagan Kept Insisting That Stories He'd Seen Or Heard In Media Had Happened To Him
As both candidate and president, Ronald Reagan liked to recount the heart-wrenching tale of a B-17 commander who chose to go down with his plane (and a wounded crewman) rather than jump to safety. The dramatic hook which Reagan loved to deliver went like this: "He took the boy's hand and said, 'Never mind, son, we'll ride it down together.' Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously awarded." A beautiful story, but uh, why would Reagan know the details of a plane crash no one survived? Probably because that's a scene from 1944's A Wing And A Prayer.
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Another time, Reagan told the prime minister of Israel that he'd been part of the liberation of a concentration camp, when in reality he'd only seen film of the event. (His military service never even took him outside the U.S., thanks to his poor eyesight.) But no biggie! It was only lying about the Holocaust. To the Israeli prime minister.
Reagan even lied about how good of a liar he was. At a Baseball Hall of Fame luncheon, he recalled the time he was working as a baseball broadcaster and the wire relaying him the events of the game stopped working, so he improvised a bunch of imaginary plays until the problem was fixed. Of course, by "baseball" he meant "football," and by "himself" he meant "Walter Cronkite," who'd recently told him that story.
John F. Kennedy remains one of America's most popular presidents, but that's probably owed to his dreamy eyes more than his honesty. Now, Kennedy probably wasn't the first president to lie about reading books, but he's the only one who claimed to have literacy-related superpowers. By all accounts, he was indeed a pretty fast reader, but he kept upping the ante whenever he bragged about it.
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At first he would claim that he could read about 800 words per minute -- impressive, but only twice the national average. Not content with merely being twice as good as a normal person, Kennedy later told a journalist that he'd taken a course in speed-reading and could now read a 26-page report in ten minutes. Somehow, that number kept right on climbing, and eventually went up to an insane 2,500 WPM.
Grantlairdjr/flickr"I'm so fast at reading that I'm already up to next year's headlines! Hey, wait a minute ..."
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After all this book-related fibbing, is it any wonder that JFK was eventually shot by a guy working at a book depository? Or is that just another "coincidence?" Hey, we're only asking questions here.
Lyndon Johnson Lied About His Grandfather Being Killed At The Alamo ... And Elsewhere
Lyndon B. Johnson is famous for three things: the Vietnam War, showing people his prodigious other Johnson, and having a wife named Ladybird. But even still, LBJ felt the need to spice up his personal resume with a few slight exaggerations. It's just weird that he chose to do so by lying about the one historical event that Americans are always telling each other they have to remember correctly.
According to LBJ, his grandfather was among the 19th-century Texans brave enough to lay down their lives at the Battle of the Alamo. Johnson frequently told the tale of his grandfather's sacrifice, and nobody dared mention that this was utter bullshit, at least until his biographer asked him about it. LBJ had a pretty good explanation: Grandpa Johnson in fact died at the Battle of San Jacinto, which was even more important than the Alamo, but most people haven't heard of it. So instead of bragging about his obscure historical knowledge like some hipster, LBJ "moved [his grandpappy] to the Alamo."
Johnson is absolutely correct that the Battle of San Jacinto was more important to Texan independence than the overrated Alamo, and absolutely incorrect that his granddad died there. A reasonably skeptical Goodwin checked out this story, and discovered that LBJ's grandfather had in truth perished while fighting the ultimate enemy (old age) on a different battlefield (his bed).
Joe Biden Stole A Guy's Life Story Because It Sounded Cool
Joe Biden spent eight years as the Screech to Obama's Zack Morris, but Biden once had his eyes on the Oval Office himself. He made his most serious run at the presidency in 1988, and was off to a strong start, but began to lose ground to Michael Dukakis. Biden's speeches were lacking that legendary "Dukakis Dazzle," and so his campaign looked for inspiration in the most logical place: the words of a failed British candidate for prime minister.
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Biden was enamored of the speeches of Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, who failed to unseat Margaret Thatcher in 1987, and started citing Kinnock on the campaign trail. After a while, though, Joe got a little "sloppy" with his citations. One day he stopped naming Kinnock, but he kept lifting entire paragraphs from his speeches, including details of his personal life. Biden talked about coming from a family of coal miners (he didn't), and being the first in said family to attend college (he wasn't). He stopped just short of cribbing Kinnock's accent.
Biden also talked about a grandfather who would work 12 hours in a mine and still come home to play football with him -- something that A) didn't happen and B) almost certainly referred to soccer when Kinnock said it. And no American is impressed by a president who plays soccer.
Teddy Roosevelt Once Swore He'd Never Been Drunk. Ever.
When Teddy Roosevelt ran for president again in 1912, the temperance movement was gaining momentum. One newspaper decided to stick it to the former president by claiming "Roosevelt -- gets drunk, too, and that not infrequently, and all his intimates know about it." Faster than you can say "San Juan Hill," Teddy hit the paper with a libel lawsuit. He then stood in front of a court and swore that since "arriving at the age of manhood," he "had never been drunk or in the slightest degree under the influence of liquor." The only buzz he needed was the thrill of the hunt.
W. Emlen RooseveltWhich is impressive, because we're pretty sure Roosevelt arrived at the age of manhood shortly after being born.
Roosevelt went so far as to claim that he had "never drunk a high-ball or cocktail in my life," and only enjoyed "half a dozen mint juleps a year, and certainly no more." Most impressively, he brought in "a spectacular array of witnesses" to defend him, claiming he was as sober as a pope. The one person who was willing to testify that he'd seen Roosevelt drunk at a party couldn't attend the trial, since he'd found himself under an arrest order at the time. Nothing suspicious there. The newspaper threw in the towel after no other witnesses could be mustered. Teddy, who originally requested $10,000 in damages, instead settled for six cents. Or as he put it, "about the price of a GOOD paper" (the newspaper he was suing cost three cents). Hopefully somebody had alcohol on hand to sterilize that burn.