White House officials have quietly changed an official transcript to hide President Barack Obama’s embarrassing historical error during his international press conference with French President Francois Hollande.
Obama’s error came when he misnamed Alexis de Tocqueville, a clear-eyed Frenchman who explained the subtle miracle of American culture and democracy in the 1830s. His book is a classic, partly because his insights about Americans’ social equality and civic society have become commonplace among centrists and conservatives.
But Obama called him “Alex” in front of the French and U.S. press, and while facing banks of TV cameras.
The White House’s official transcript, however, hides the presidential error by using the correct name. It now says that Obama declared: “Alexis de Tocqueville — that great son of France who chronicled our American democracy.”
Obama’s error was slight, but badly timed, partly because Obama is holding a state dinner for Hollande tonight.
Also, the error is an embarrassment for a president who claims to have been a constitutional scholar, and a judicious student of American history.
It’s also embarrassing for Obama’s many chattering-class supporters in politics, academia and the media, who have tried to portray Obama as exemplar of what they want to see in a president — a nuanced, reflective and careful thinker.