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Top 10 Worst Blunders Made by US Presidents

Being the leader of a country like the US demands a diverse and vast skill set. The most important among them would be that ever-praised talent known as interpersonal skills. We always appreciate a president who knows how to communicate effectively and empathize.

A US president will undoubtedly engage in an infinite array of social functions, many of which have on the guest list the heads of state of other world countries. Mastery of people skills can go a long way for a president, especially when it comes to avoiding a diplomatic blunder at the wrong time.

Even so, more than several US presidents have committed embarrassing or serious screwups for the country and its citizens. Curious to know more? Here are 10 social blunders made by former leaders of our country!

US President Bush
Series: George H. W. Bush Presidential Photographs, 1/20/1989 – 1/20/1993Collection: Records of the White House Photograph Office, 1/20/1989 – 1/20/1993, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1. George H.W. Bush Vomits on Japanese Leader

On January 8th, 1992, US President George H.W. Bush wasn’t feeling too well while attending a state dinner in Tokyo. Things got complicated when the former president vomited right on the Japanese prime minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

He had even vomited before the event. His personal physician, Dr. Burton Lee, had recommended skipping dinner and resting, but Bush had refused. After having a meal of raw caviar and salmon, he fell onto his left side and vomited right where the prime minister’s legs were.

The US president was laid on the floor shortly after the embarrassing event, and he jokingly told his personal physician to roll him under the table until the event was over. After a few minutes, he was on his feet.

2. Bill Clinton Held up Air Traffic at LAX To Get a Haircut

On May 18th, 1993, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) allegedly experienced flight delays. The incident was attributed to US President Bill Clinton, who was getting a haircut inside Air Force One.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s spokespeople, two of the four runways were closed waiting for Air Force’s departure, and several planes circled over the airport awaiting clearance to land. However, information from the FAA via the Freedom of Information Act suggested that there were no changes in the flight schedule or planes left circling overhead on the said date.

The White House never denied the reports of the delays. Instead, the Secret Service strategically absolved the US president of any blame, claiming that the officials never demanded the closure of the runways.

3. Andrew Johnson Wanted a Congressman Lynched and Compared Himself to Jesus

Andrew Johnson was vice president when Lincoln was assassinated, so he became the US leader after the murderous attack. He inherited a divided nation that was still facing the Civil War consequences. Tensions were high, and there were also concerns about another civil war erupting.

Racist violence was pretty common, and there were fears about what the country was planning to do with the former states of the Confederacy and the millions of freed slaves. President Johnson didn’t help matters. He was a sulky and bad-tempered racist who blamed everyone but himself for his problems.

He fought with Congress more than once and even called for the lynching of a congressman at some point. Another time, he compared himself to Jesus while drunk. Congress had enough of him and, in order to impeach him, passed a law in 1867 prohibiting him from firing certain appointees.

They knew the US president would break the law, and that’s what happened. Johnson was impeached in 1868, but the Senate didn’t find him guilty.

4. Richard Nixon and the Secret Service’s Ugly Uniforms

In January 1970, Richard Nixon issued new uniforms to replace the black ones worn by the Secret Service special agents guarding the White House. The US president thought that the old ceremonial uniforms weren’t cool enough, and he had inspired by what he had seen in Europe.

It seemed that he was also hoping that the new uniforms would impress British prime minister Harold Wilson, who was due to pay a state visit. The result? A white tunic with gold shoulders, black trousers, and a black peaked hat.

The uniforms failed to impress anyone and immediately got bad press. One reporter said the agents looked like extras in a movie, while another compared them with guards in monarchical Europe. Even the Secret Service agents didn’t like the new clothes. Ten years later, the uniforms issued by the US president were sold to a high school marching band. That seemed to be the perfect place for them.

President Bush
Photo courtesy of Reddit

5. Can Someone Please Open the Door?

During an official visit to China in 2005, President Bush embarrassed himself when he couldn’t open a stubbornly closed door. He was attending a news session, and a lot of reporters were there.

But before that, he had gone to a meeting with Chinese president Hu Jintao during which Bush had seemed to be in a hurry. A few hours later, the US president’s mood was still somehow odd: he was uneasy and uninterested.

So one of the reporters asked him if everything was ok. Instead of answering the question, the former president asked the reporter, “Have you heard about jet lag?” and then added, “Well, that answers your question.”

The reporter tried to ask more questions, but the US president ended the session and went to the door, which refused to open. He tried opening it for some time but without success. Someone took a photograph, and we have to admit it’s pretty funny.

6. George W. Bush Compared The Spanish Prime Minister to a Goose

In 2001, President Bush was trying to show his Spanish-speaking skills when he unintentionally called Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish prime minister, a goose. During an interview with Spanish television, the US president misspoke Aznar’s name as “Anzar,” which pretty much sounds like ansar, the Spanish word for “goose.”

This isn’t the only gaffe President Bush made. In fact, he also made some during his visit to Spain. He once referred to the Spanish prime minister as president (Spain doesn’t have a president since it’s a constitutional monarchy). In response to the US president’s several blunders, one Spanish newspaper described him as “a little chronic.”

7. John Quincy Adams Greenlit an Expedition Meant To Find the Center of the Earth

Supporters of the Hollow Earth theory believe that the inside of our planet is mainly hollow and contains a cavernous space. According to this theory, inside that space lives a more advanced civilization (should we call them aliens?), and they have their own sun, which is responsible for global warming.

One of the proponents of this theory was US president John Quincy Adams, who even approved an expedition to find the center of the Earth. But in order to do that, he needed Congress to sponsor the trip. The legislative assembly refused as everyone already knew that there wasn’t any space or civilization inside the Earth.

But the former president didn’t give up until he found the financial support for this expedition. In the end, the trip didn’t happen as President Adam’s successor, Andrew Jackson, stopped the whole thing.

US President Carter
Tuntematon, Valkoisen talon valokuvaajat (01/20/1977 – 01/20/1981), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

8. Jimmy Carter’s Incompetent Translator

US president Jimmy Carter made a state visit to Poland in 1977, so the State Department decided to hire a translator to summarize the president’s speeches to his Polish audiences. Steven Seymour seemed to be the perfect one for this role (he was paid $150 per day for his services).

Unfortunately, the guy was a terrible translator. He mixed Polish with Russian, used some Polish words that were out of use, and failed to translate Carter’s statements correctly.

When Carter complimented the Polish constitution, Seymour called it a thing of mockery. When the US president said he wanted to hear the Poles’ opinions and their plans for the future, Seymour stated that Carter desired the Poles “carnally.”

Ultimately, our country became the target of Polish jokes, which made the White House issue an apology.

9. Richard Nixon Plotted To Kill a Journalist

It is well-known that Richard Nixon had a complicated relationship with the press throughout his presidency. They boasted about exposing his shady dealings while he fought back by attempting to retrieve their licenses and censoring them.

He also added journalists to his enemy list and had the FBI prying into their personal lives. This list of Nixon’s contained about 20 reporters whom he wanted to destroy. One of them was Jack Anderson, who had been exposing several politicians for over two decades. Some of them ended up in prison, while others chose to commit suicide.

In 1972, the US president had enough of Anderson after the latter had revealed how Nixon was worsening the Vietnam War. That’s how the former president decided to turn to ex-FBI agent Gordon Liddy and ex-CIA agent Howard Hunt to “fix the problem.”

Both men suggested several methods of assassinating Anderson, including killing him during a robbery, mixing poison with his drugs, or ramming his car. Ultimately, however, they were given a different job: bugging the office of the Democratic Party located in the Watergate Complex. That’s how the infamous Watergate Scandal started, which forced US President Nixon to resign.

10. Richard Nixon Smuggled Drugs

In 1958, Nixon was Eisenhower’s vice president when he unknowingly smuggled drugs through customs at Idlewild Airport from New York (now called John F. Kennedy International Airport).

The former vice president (and ultimately president) was at the airport when he ran into jazz musician Louis Armstrong, who was waiting in the customs line. Armstrong, who was also a US State Department ambassador, had just finished his international tour and had 3lbs (1.4 kg) of drugs in his suitcase.

Nixon walked up to the jazz singer and asked him why he was standing in the line. Before walking together past customs, Nixon carried Armstorong’s suitcase adding, “Ambassadors don’t have to go through customs, and the US Vice President will gladly help you with your bags.”

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