The Most Embarrassing Blunders In Presidential History

Everyone has embarrassing skeletons in their closets. Maybe you once called a gym teacher "daddy," or wore your shirt inside out for a whole day, or cried out Alec Baldwin's name during a moment of intimate passion. Whatever. We've all been there. But there are the silly, regular, old-fashioned embarrassments that humans suffer, and then there are the humiliations that can afflict an entire country. Moments of embarrassment brought on by having the nation's top leaders show their citizens up on the world stage. Moments like ...

Jimmy Carter says he wants to grope Polish people

Have you ever talked your way into a job that was way beyond your abilities? Not like Steven Seymour you haven't. Seymour was a freelance Russian-Polish translator who spent the '70s doing odd jobs for the State Department. His actual level of fluency was far below what he told people it was. This likely wouldn't have been a problem, had Seymour not decided to take a gig with the potential to cause a diplomatic incident. In 1977, the happy-go-lucky chancer accompanied President Jimmy Carter to Poland as his official translator.

In December that year, Carter disembarked a plane in Warsaw with Seymour at his side, and made what was meant to be a rousing speech affirming America and Poland's shared heritage. Carter started his speech by saying he wanted to understand Poles' desires for the future. Seymour managed to translate this as Carter wanting carnal knowledge of Polish people. Carter went on to say he was happy to be in Poland. Seymour confidently declared Carter wanted to grab his hosts' genitals.

It gets worse. Carter praised the Polish constitution. Seymour said it was a global object of ridicule. Carter said he had left America on a short trip. Seymour said the president had left his homeland, never to return. To top it off, Seymour switched to Russian halfway through, apparently without realizing that only the chuckling KGB agents could now understand him.

Seymour later claimed the pressure got to him, causing him to mess up. But c'mon. When was the last time pressure made you accidentally make a pass at an entire nation?

Gerald Ford pratfalls like a drunk Boris Yeltsin

Boris Yeltsin was such a monumental drunk that people today still use his name to evoke images of klutz-tastic buffoonery. Really, they should be using the name of America's 38th president. Although he wasn't a drunk, Gerald Ford was as clumsy as they come. During his short tenure in the Oval Office, he made a habit of pratfalling with more frequency than an escaped circus clown.

We're not just talking the odd, awkward stumble here and there. Ford had such a commitment to hurling himself headlong down any incline that Saturday Night Live devoted entire shows to it. There was the time in Austria when Ford stepped off Air Force One, slipped on the wet stairs, and went tumbling headlong into the assembled dignitaries below, presumably while the waiting band played comedy sound effects in the background. Then there was the time that Ford managed to fall up the same flight of stairs, defying gravity like a helium-filled klutz.

We're not even close to documenting all of Ford's battles with his own traitorous limbs. He once got hit on the head by a passing chairlift while cameras rolled. He once knocked out a bystander while playing golf. He tumbled down ski slopes, tripped over things, and generally came across a total nincompoop. The weirdest part of all this? Ford was an accomplished athlete who prided himself on his grace and stamina.

George HW Bush vomits on the Japanese prime minister

There is absolutely nothing cool about blowing chunks. No matter who you are and what you're doing, the moment you interrupt to barf everywhere, you're automatically a figure of fun. Don't believe us? Just ask George HW Bush. During the brief term that he was the nation's 41st president, Bush was dispatched on a highly important trade mission to Japan. There, he managed to take everybody's minds off money by hurling his guts all over the Japanese prime minister.

The year was 1992. Japan was still in its Bubble Economy period and seemed like the richest, greatest nation on Earth. Bush's goal in visiting Tokyo was to reach an agreement that would help shrink America's deficit. Hostile press said he was kowtowing to Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. If Democrats thought groveling before the Japanese leader was bad enough, what came next was even worse. At a state dinner, Bush unexpectedly fainted, fell face-first into Miyazawa's crotch, and then vommed all over the poor guy's lap. If anyone in Japan still thought the US was cool, that moment probably shattered their illusions forever.

It turned out Bush had caught a nasty case of gastroenteritis, exacerbated by his decision to play a hard game of tennis immediately before the dinner. Not that anyone cared what his excuse was. Not only did Bush's embarrassing attempt at bile-based diplomacy become comedic fodder in the US, it made headlines across Japan, too. For a while in the 1990s, young Japanese even had a whole new slang word for chundering: Bushusuru, meaning "to do a Bush."

Andrew Johnson's drunk VP speech

Man, don't you sometimes wish politicians today could be more like their classy brethren of yesteryear? Not so fast there, hoss. Turns out that for every post–World War II statesman embarrassing the USA, there was one back in the glory days who was just as cringe-inducing. Just look at Andrew Johnson. Not only would Johnson get impeached and go down as one of the worst presidents of all time, he also made a lousy vice president. And by that, we mean he turned up to Lincoln's 1865 inauguration steaming drunk and proceeded to make one of the worst VP speeches in American history.

Before we get into the ridiculing, we should point out that Johnson was suffering from typhoid fever at the time, and the cure of the day was to drink a glass of whisky. Well, Johnson's typhoid fever must've been heck bad, because the new VP didn't stop at one glass. By the time he took the stand, standing was just about the only thing left that he was capable of. Johnson's Oath of Office quickly descended into an incoherent, 20-minute tirade, bigging up his own humble origins and telling his enemies to suck it.

In fact, Johnson's speech was so humiliating that Senator Charles Sumner described it as "the most unfortunate thing that had ever occurred in our history." Bear in mind the US had just finished an epic Civil War, and that Sumner was a passionate anti-slavery campaigner who'd once been beaten unconscious in the Senate for his beliefs. Wow. Johnson's speech must've sucked.

You say "potato," Dan Quayle says "potatoe"

Know all those "dumbest things said by Dubya/Obama/Sarah Palin" memes? Dan Quayle was the granddaddy of this cottage industry. Vice President to Bush Sr, Quayle was a walking, human-shaped catastrophe of malapropisms, missteps, and borderline-moronic blunders. Snopes credits him with being the true origin of the oft-misattributed quote "I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future." But perhaps no moment was so embarrassing for the White House as the time Quayle tried to spell "potato."

It was 1992, the same year President Bush spewed all over the Japanese PM. Quayle was visiting an elementary school, where teachers let him chair a spelling bee for sixth grade students. Sounds like the sort of easy assignment even a doofus couldn't mess up, doesn't it? Not when that doofus was Quayle. 12-year-old William Figueroa was called to the board to spell "potato." In front of all the cameras, Figueroa dutifully wrote out P-O-T-A-T-O. With the smile of a man blissfully unaware he's about to ruin his career, Quayle asked the sixth grader to go back to the and spell the word correctly, by adding a superfluous "E" to the end.

To be clear, you only spell potato "potatoe" when you're about to make a plural: potatoes. Stick an "e" onto the singular form, and you're mangling the English language. Perhaps the worst part was that even 12-year-old Figueroa knew this. When the press asked him about the incident, the kid declared it "showed that the rumors about the vice president are true—that he's an idiot." Way to stick the knife in, kid.

Dubya's creepy neck massage

If there was a competition for "World Leader Least Likely to Appreciate Being Touched, Squeezed, or Fondled," you can bet your Germanic arsch that Angela Merkel would win it every single time. The German chancellor is so famously staid and famously proper that you'd likely find more favor pinching Kim Jong-Un's adorably chubby cheeks than from giving Frau Merkel a quick backrub. Not that this stopped President George W. Bush from trying.

In 2006, the leaders of the G8 nations were meeting in St. Petersburg to discuss global security, and presumably sacrifice a child to their unspeakable bird god (we're not exactly sure what goes down at these summits). At the end of one meeting, Bush wandered out for some air. As he passed Merkel, he spontaneously crept up behind her and gave her an impromptu neck massage. That was when das scheisse really hit der lüfter.

Merkel responded like a woman who has just had a beehive dropped in her honey-coated lap. In front of cameras from around the world, she threw up her arms, grimaced and looked like she was about to vomit in her mouth. The next day, German newspaper Bild ran the headline "Bush: Liebesattacke auf Merkel" (Bush: Love Attack on Merkel). And you thought post-plastic surgery Gadhafi was the creepiest world leader of all time.

John Adams tells voters his rival is dead

It's an article of faith these days that elections are nastier and more polarizing than they've ever been. Sure, that can feel like the case ... if you only look over the last few decades or so. Go back to the 19th century, and elections then were crazy enough to make the 21st century's spats look like two old grannies squabbling in a tearoom. Like the time in 1800 that Thomas Jefferson called his rival a hermaphrodite and his rival responded by telling voters that Jefferson was dead.

The election of 1800 pitted the incumbent president, Federalist John Adams, against Democratic-Republican firebrand Thomas Jefferson. This wasn't the first time these two rivals had faced each other at the ballot box. The 1786 election featured the same candidates fighting over the same policies, just with slightly less gray in their hair. Imagine the 2020 election rolling around and President Trump and Hillary Clinton just picking up where they left off. It must've been a nightmare for voters.

More than anything, though, the election was a national embarrassment. Both candidates conducted smear campaigns that bordered on the insane. Jefferson hired newspaperman/attack dog James Callender to smear Adams as a closet hermaphrodite. Adams, in turn, had his party operatives spread rumors that Jefferson had unexpectedly died. To top it all off, the system back then made potential presidents and vice presidents run against each other, so when the dust settled, no one had any idea if they'd just elected Jefferson or his VP pick Aaron Burr as leader of the free world.

Al Gore tries to start a mid-debate fight

If a childhood diet of 1980s action movies has taught us anything, it's that no problem can't be solved by punching it in the face (unless that problem is alligators. Trust us on this one). Apparently, former Vice President Al Gore went to the same School of Casual Parental Neglect as we did. During a 2000 election debate, the Democratic nominee decided to show the world how tough he was ... by acting like he was about to start a drunken fight with his opponent, George W Bush.

This cringe-inducing incident took place during a televised town hall debate. Dubya rose and started charming those present with his genial, folksy style, while Gore sat there and harrumphed away. Then, things got weird. As Bush was mid-sentence, Gore got to his feet. Puffed out his chest. Squared his shoulders. And went and stood right up in Bush's face, looking for all the world like he was about to punch his opponent right in the kisser.

Maybe Gore was trying to look tough. Instead, he came off looking like your drunken uncle when he thinks someone's making a pass at his favorite Hooters waitress. It didn't help that Bush turned the tables on Gore's pale Chuck Norris imitation by giving him a nod and a jokey smile, along with a look that seemed to say "can you guys believe this putz?" Those watching at home were probably too busy whimpering with mortification to see Gore's lame attempts to laugh it off.

George HW Bush's golf drive hospitalizes spectators (repeatedly)

Sometimes, former presidents get together and do something for charity. While this is commendable, it can occasionally wind up being both embarrassing for everyone involved and pain-inducing for those who happen to stand too close. Such was the case when George Bush, Gerald Ford, and Bill Clinton convened in 1995 for the bloodiest charity golf tournament in US history.

While we totally applaud the guys for their commitment to good causes, those watching were probably too busy running for their lives to do much in the way of applauding. Over the course of the day Gerald Ford managed to break someone's finger with a stray ball, and Clinton knocked a slice of watermelon straight out of some kid's hands. But the real trouble came when George HW Bush stepped up. In no time at all, the former president's golf skills put two spectators in urgent need of medical attention.

The first time, Bush sliced the ball, sending it careering into a man's leg at high speed. But while the guy recovered fairly quickly (and got a dramatic bruise plus a sweet-ass story to tell), Bush's next victim wasn't so lucky. Like a Happy Gilmore fan who has had a few too many, the 41st president smashed his ball, sending it hurtling off into the crowd at supersonic speeds. It rebounded off a tree and hit a woman on the nose so hard she required multiple stitches. As the New York Times blithely reported, with a borderline-hilarious lack of concern for the victim, at least "Mr. Bush balanced out his blunders, though, with a sweetly sunk birdie on the sixth hole."

Chief Justice Roberts flubs Obama's inauguration oath

Trivia fans: Who are the only two presidents to take the oath of office four separate times? The first one is pretty easy. Only FDR was elected four times. But his fellow record-holder is someone far more unexpected. In 2013, Barack Obama took the oath of office twice when January 20 fell on a Sunday, so he had to take one oath to become president and another a day later for the official inauguration ceremony. This wasn't Obama's first do-over. In 2009, he'd also been forced to take the oath twice, thanks to the hilariously embarrassing public blundering of Chief Justice John Roberts.

The oath is so important that its exact wording is set out in the Constitution. In other words, you kinda need to say it right. Unfortunately for Obama, Roberts managed to bungle it on inauguration day. The president followed his lead, repeating the wrong words. In a breathtaking show of incompetence broadcast live around the world, America had just failed to make its new leader a legitimate president.

When the White House figured out what had happened, they urgently organized a second swearing-in ceremony, to make sure Obama really was the legal Commander-in-Chief. This time, everyone present forced Chief Justice Roberts to go as slowly as possible, probably under threat of an atomic wedgie if he messed this one up, too.