Obama’s Car Invention Myth


I’ve been glad to see Obama getting dinged around a little for the line in his speech about how the United States invented the automobile. What I wish more people appreciated was that he’s been using this line on and off for a while now. Way back during ThinkProgress’ October 15 debate live-blog I noted:

Obama said America invented the automobile industry. In fact, the first market-viable car was developed by Germany’s Karl Benz. The first automobile was invented in 18th century France and the first internal combustion engine was invented in 1806 by a French-speaking Swiss man (this is why we use the French word “automobile”).

Obviously, this isn’t a really big deal in the scheme of things. But I do think that one thing this country needs is to become a little bit more mature about our place in the world. We’re the richest, mightiest nation on earth and we’re close to the top in land area and population size. A ton of stuff was invented here, a ton of first breakthroughs were made here, Henry Ford is a very important figure in the history of the car industry. But this can be taken too far. I recall that back during his 2000 convention speech, Joe Lieberman suggested that “only in America” could a Jewish person get nominated for Vice President even though France had a Jewish Prime Minister back in the 1930s. The kind of solipsism and hubris of that statement, or of made-up tales of automobile invention, ill-befits a country that wants and needs to play a role of genuine leadership on the world stage.