US Presidents’ Top 10 Mistakes: Faux Pas Edition

Being the leader of a country like the United States requires a vast and diverse skill set. Chief among them would arguably be that ever-vaunted talent known as people skills. A US president will inevitably engage in an endless array of social functions, many times with the heads of state of other world nations.

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Mastery of social skills can go a long way for a world leader, especially in the realm of avoiding a diplomatic screwup at the wrong time. Nevertheless, more than a few presidents have committed faux pas that caused embarrassment for the US and its citizens. Here are ten embarrassing social blunders committed by US presidents.

10 George H.W. Bush Vomited On The Japanese Prime Minister

On January 8, 1992, President George H.W. Bush turned himself into the butt of the joke after he vomited on the lap of Japanese prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa during a state dinner in Tokyo. President Bush wasn’t feeling too well and had even vomited before the dinner. His personal physician, Dr. Burton Lee, advised him to forgo the dinner and go to bed, but he refused.

After taking a meal of raw salmon and caviar, he fell forward and vomited on the legs of the prime minister sitting beside him. First Lady Barbara Bush jumped out of her chair and held a napkin to her husband’s mouth while a Secret Service agent quickly supported him to stop him from falling. President Bush was laid on the floor, and he jokingly told Dr. Lee to roll him under the table until the dinner was over. A few minutes later, he was on his feet.

The Japanese media hid the footage of the incident to prevent any embarrassment for the president, but it ultimately made it to the airwaves.[1] Japanese people formed the word bushusuru (“to do a Bush”) to refer to someone who vomits.

9 Bill Clinton Gets A Haircut On An LAX Runway

On May 18, 1993, Los Angeles International Airport allegedly experienced flight delays, which were attributed to President Bill Clinton getting an haircut inside Air Force One. Two of the airport’s four runways were shut down in preparation for Air Fore One’s departure, and according to spokespeople for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), several airplanes circled overhead as they awaited clearance to land. Air Force One itself remained on the runway with its engine running.

However, information retrieved from the FAA through the Freedom of Information Act indicated that no flight was delayed or airplane left circling over the airport on the said date.[2] There’s definitely more to this, since the White House never denied earlier reports of the delays. Instead, White House officials tactically absolved President Clinton of any blame, stating that the Secret Service never requested for the closure of the runways.

8 George W. Bush Could Not Open A Door

In 2005, President George W. Bush embarrassed himself when he was unable to open a door during a state visit to China. He was having a news session with reporters when one asked him whether he had a problem, since he looked uninterested and uneasy and seemed to be in a hurry during an earlier meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao. Instead of answering the question, President Bush asked the reporter if he had ever heard of jet lag before adding, “Well, good. That answers your question.”

The reporter wanted to ask more questions, but Bush quickly ended the session and walked for the door, which refused to open. He struggled with the door for some time but remained unsuccessful. An embarrassed President Bush then confessed, “I was trying to escape. Obviously, it didn’t work,” before passing through another door.[3] Someone took a photograph of the incident, and it is more than ridiculous.

President Barack Obama suffered a similar fate while trying to enter the White House. The door refused to open despite his efforts, and he started whistling and pretending that he wasn’t embarrassed while he continued to struggle with the door. The door still didn’t open, and he left it for another that was open.

7 Andrew Johnson Called For The Lynching Of A Congressman And Compared Himself To Jesus

Andrew Johnson only became president because he was the vice president at the time of Lincoln’s assassination. He inherited a divided country that was recovering from the just-concluded Civil War. Tensions were high, and there were fears that another civil war was in the works. Racist violence was common, and there was unease regarding what the country was going to do with the millions of freed slaves and the former states of the Confederacy.

President Johnson himself did not help matters. He was an unrefined, sulky, and bad-tempered racist who blamed everyone except himself for his problems. Politicians described him as someone who was worse than one could have ever thought. He often fought with Congress and once called for the lynching of a congressman. Another time, he got drunk and compared himself to Jesus.

Congress had enough of him, and wanting to impeach him, they passed a law in 1867 that forbade him from firing certain appointees. Congress knew Johnson would break the law, and he didn’t disappoint, as he soon fired the secretary of war. He was impeached in 1868, but the Senate didn’t convict him. For one, the next presidential election was only a few months away. Besides, if Johnson were removed from office, he would have been replaced by Benjamin Wade, another radical fellow who was always hungry for a fight. This was a man who appeared at the First Battle of Bull Run with a squirrel gun despite being a sitting senator.[4]

6 George W. Bush Called The Spanish Prime Minster A Goose

In 2001, President Bush was trying to prove his Spanish-speaking prowess when he unwittingly called the Spanish prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, a goose. In an interview with a Spanish television, he misspoke Prime Minster Aznar’s name as “Anzar,” which sounds like ansar, the Spanish word for “goose.” In response to this and several other gaffes, one Spanish newspaper described President Bush’s Spanish as being “a little chronic.” He often jumbled words and missed the proper pronunciation and accent.

President Bush committed another gaffe when he erroneously referred to the Prime Minister as president. Spain is a constitutional monarchy and not a republic. It has a king. Even though the prime minister is referred to as the president of the government of Spain, he is not a president in the usual sense of the word. Spain’s King Juan Carlos kept up with President Bush’s gaffes. During a meeting with President Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, he referred to Mrs. Rice as arroz. Arroz is the Spanish word for “rice,” as in the food.[5]

5 Richard Nixon Issued Ugly Uniforms To The Secret Service

In January 1970, Richard Nixon introduced new uniforms to replace the black ceremonial uniforms of the Secret Service agents guarding the White House. Nixon felt the old uniforms weren’t cool enough, and he had gotten the idea of these cooler uniforms from what he had seen in Europe. He was also hoping to impress British prime minister Harold Wilson, who was being expected for a state visit, with the new uniforms.

The result was a white tunic dress with gold shoulders, matched with black trousers, a black peaked hat, and a sidearm. The uniform was anything but fancy. It managed to impress no one and immediately generated bad press. One reporter said the agents resembled ushers, while another compared them to the Nazis. A third said they looked like extras in a movie.

One reporter went the political route and compared the uniforms to those worn by guards in monarchical Europe. Such, he said, was intolerable in a democratic United States. Even the Secret Service agents were not fans of the uniforms. The agents hated them so much that they were soon phased out and put in storage. Ten years later, the uniforms were sold to a high school marching band, which was the sort of thing they were suitable for.[6]

4 John Quincy Adams Approved An Expedition To The Center Of The Earth

Proponents of the Hollow Earth theory believe there is a space in the middle of the Earth. Inside that space is a more advanced civilization with their own sun, which has been blamed for global warming. This advanced civilization (do we call them aliens?) is also guilty of coming into our part of the Earth, which explains several UFO sightings. Believers say there are three ways to reach the Inner Earth. One is through a hole at the North Pole, another is through a hole at the South Pole, and the third is through a hole in the Himalayas.

One of the followers of this theory was John Cleves Symmes, Jr., who even planned an expedition to find the hole at the North Pole. Along with James McBride, he lobbied Congress to sponsor the expedition. Congress refused, since everyone already knew the Earth was not hollow, and there was no civilization in the middle of the planet. However, President John Quincy Adams agreed that Congress should fund the trip.[7] James McBride later funded the trip, but Symmes was stopped by President Adams’s successor, Andrew Jackson.

3 Jimmy Carter’s Incompetent Translator

For a state visit to Poland in 1977, the State Department hired a freelance translator to translate President Carter’s speeches to his Polish audiences. The translator was Steven Seymour, and he was paid $150 a day for his services. Unfortunately, Seymour was terrible at translation. He mixed Russian with Polish, used Polish idioms that were out of use, and mistranslated Carter’s statements. In the end, the US became the butt of Polish jokes, and the White House issued an apology.

When Carter mentioned departing from the US, Seymour informed the audience that the president had left the US and will never return. When Carter praised the 1791 Polish constitution, Seymour said it was a thing of mockery. When Carter said he wanted to know the opinions of the Poles and what they wanted in the future, Seymour said Carter desired the Poles “carnally.” In a similar vein, Seymour also had President Carter telling his audience that he was “happy to grasp at Poland’s private parts.”[8]

Seymour also called Poland the “fatherland of ten million Americans” rather than the “ancestral home of more than six million Americans” that Carter originally said. Seymour was later relieved of his translation duties and was replaced by Jerzy Krycki, who learned to keep quiet when he did not understand what Carter was saying.

2 Richard Nixon Wanted To Assassinate A Journalist

President Nixon had a cat and mouse relationship with the press throughout his tenure. They took pride in exposing his dirty dealings, while he fought back by censoring them and attempting to retrieve their licenses. He also added reporters to his enemy list and had the FBI snoop into their private lives and find out if they were homosexuals. Nixon had a list of 20 journalists he wanted to destroy. The first was Jack Anderson, who had been exposing him for over two decades, since long before he became president.

Anderson himself was a radical fellow who always managed to lay his hands on classified documents, which he would expose on television. His revelations earned some politicians jail time and drove others to suicide. Nixon had enough of Anderson in 1972, after the latter exposed how Nixon was worsening the Vietnam War. Nixon turned to ex–CIA agent Howard Hunt and ex–FBI agent Gordon Liddy, who he called “plumbers,” since it was their responsibility to fix “leaks.” Anderson had become a leak, and Nixon wanted him fixed.

Both men suggested various methods of assassinating Anderson, including ramming his car and making him run into a barricade. Other ideas included mixing poison with his drugs and killing him during a robbery. The men even met with a CIA physician who suggested that they put a pill in Anderson’s drink. Ultimately, however, the men were given a different job: bugging the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Complex. This led to the infamous Watergate Scandal that forced Nixon to resign.[9]

1 Richard Nixon Smuggled Marijuana Past Customs

In 1958, Richard Nixon was the vice president when he unknowingly smuggled drugs past customs at New York’s Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport). Nixon was at the airport when he met jazz musician and US State Department ambassador Louis Armstrong, who was standing in the line awaiting customs. Armstrong had just returned from an international tour, and inside his suitcase were 1.4 kilograms (3 lb) of marijuana.

Nixon walked up to Armstrong and asked him what he was doing in the line. Armstrong said he had just returned from an international tour and was waiting to be checked in by customs. Nixon carried his suitcase and told him, “Ambassadors don’t have to go through customs, and the Vice President of the United States will gladly carry your bags for you,” before both men walked past customs. When Nixon learned the truth several years later, he exclaimed, “Louie smokes marijuana?”[10]


Written by Oliver Taylor

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