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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama Quote Rumors

Q: Did Obama urge supporters to help him change “the greatest nation in the history of the world”?

A: No. Obama never said what’s being attributed to him in a number of chain e-mail messages. The line was meant as a joke about John McCain, Hillary Clinton and politicians in general.


This came to me in an e-mail [with the] subject “Idiot Quote of the Century”

Barack Obama: ‘My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world.

I hope you’ll join with me as we try to change it.’


This one keeps going around, even though it was thoroughly debunked months ago.

The origin of this quote is the National Review Online, the Web site of the magazine founded by the late William F. Buckley Jr.. The magazine did not attribute the remark to Obama. According to an item posted Jan. 28 on the NRO blog The Corner, it came from an anonymous contact overseas who was making fun of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate John McCain and of politicians in general, regardless of party.

NRO blogger Mark Steyn wrote:

Mark Steyn, Jan. 28: Three weeks ago, after New Hampshire, when Hill and McCain and the gang were all bragging about being “agents of change,” a (non-U.S.) correspondent of mine e-mailed me his all-purpose stump speech for this primary season:

My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world. I hope you’ll join with me as we try to change it.

Steyn’s item was headlined “Barracking Barack,” so it was meant to make fun of Sen. Obama’s “change” theme as well. But there is no hint that the author was attributing this “all-purpose stump speech” to any particular candidate, or even to Democratic candidates exclusively.

People who keep circulating this “idiot quote” could easily discover that it is false. It was debunked by Snopes.com, the urban legends site, back on March 15, and a simple word search using Google or any search engine quickly brings up the truth of the matter.

Furthermore, Steyn himself offered this account in a syndicated column dated June 7, expressing amusement that anyone would think Obama would be “dumb enough” to utter such a statement:

Mark Steyn, June 7: A few months back, just after the New Hampshire primary, a Canadian reader of mine – John Gross of Quebec – sent me an all-purpose stump speech for the 2008 campaign:

“My friends, we live in the greatest nation in the history of the world. I hope you’ll join with me as we try to change it.”

I thought this was so cute, I posted it on the Web at National Review. Whereupon one of those Internetty-type things happened, and three links and a Google search later the line was being attributed not to my correspondent but to Sen. Obama, and a few weeks after that I started getting e-mails from reporters from Florida to Oregon, asking if I could recall at which campaign stop the senator, in fact, uttered these words. And I’d patiently write back and explain that they’re John Gross’ words, and that not even Barack would be dumb enough to say such a thing in public.

Steyn is of course no fan of Obama, and he went on to say that Obama had “come awfully close” to making the parodied statement during his victory speech on June 3 at the close of the final Democratic primary elections. Here’s what Obama actually said on that occasion:

Obama, June 3: This was the moment – this was the time – when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals. Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

This is not the first time that an attempt at humor has been converted into a widely circulated chain e-mail that falsely puts outlandish words into Obama’s mouth. We still get numerous inquiries about a bogus message quoting Obama as saying the National Anthem conveys a “war-like message” and should be swapped for something such as “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” That one started as a satirical article posted by a conservative writer in Arizona in October of last year, and we debunked the viral e-mail in an Ask FactCheck item posted April 22.

— Brooks Jackson