April 14, 2011
Mark Twain famously said a lie can go halfway `round the world before truth gets its pants on. Maybe its time for truth to get out of bed. Novelist Gore Vidal created a minor stir twenty years ago with his claim that President James Buchanan was a same-sexer. Vidal has only been capable of minor stirs. Serious students of American history might be tempted to toss Old Public Functionary to the wolves. After all, poor Buchanan, the only bachelor president, is almost universally regarded as our worst president.
But what was ridiculous twenty years ago becomes a serious problem when the Internet explodes with salacious gossip about our U.S. presidents. Pornographer Larry Flynt unburdened himself to the trashy British tabloid, The Daily Mirror, promising to tell all about American presidents who were less than faithful to their marital vows. Britains gutter press loves nothing better than a sex scandal, unless its a sex scandal that reflects badly on the Yankees.
This perpetual muckraking is intended to do one thing: De-legitimize America in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of her own people. Its just one more way for the left to show that America is not exceptional, not all that special after all.
We should not cover up the real scandals in our history. Oliver Cromwell said he wanted to be painted warts and all. He cared about truth. Too many in the popular culture today, however, have taken the opposite approach: They paint major figures in our countrys history with their wartsthats all.
There have been sex scandals in the White House. The first of these came to light after President Harding died in office. He was alleged, credibly, to have had an affair with a woman not his wife, and to have brought his mistress into the residence. Pathetic, but then most of Hardings administration was pathetic.
Harding pursued naval disarmament to the applause of all the sophisticates of his day. Had he survived a bit longer, he might have beaten Barack Obama to a Nobel Peace Prize. But that wrong-headed policy would twenty years later result in tens of thousands of American and Filipino deaths because the U.S. Navy was stripped of its strength in the Pacific. Isnt that more scandalous?
After Harding, we know that President Kennedy carried on serial adulteries in the White House. These liaisons were unknown during his lifetime and cast discredit on his memory when first revealed in the 1970s. But Kennedy the president took this nation to the Moon, introduced historic Civil Rights legislation, and wisely lowered taxes. Unlike Harding, he has great achievement to weigh in the balance.
Lyndon Johnson was also known to be casual about his marital vows. His White House tapes have been described as a slow-motion suicide note. One of themin which a high school lady frienda fetching blonde-- is being encouraged to come around to the back entrance of the LBJ Ranchis hilarious. The C-SPAN announcer solemnly intones that
Miss Betty Bodacious, or whoever, is meeting with the president to discuss his anti-poverty work. No doubt.
I passed over Franklin Roosevelt. His wife Eleanor enjoyed the company of lesbians if she was not a lesbian herself. FDR jokingly referred to Eleanors pals as she-males. In the last year of the war, he was obviously dying. His daughter Anna arranged some meetings in the White House and on board the presidential train with the sympathetic and tender woman who had been FDRs mistress during the First World War. FDR was in this ladys company when he died at Warm Springs, Georgia sixty-six years ago this week. Eleanor--initially angry with their daughter--became more forgiving. She may have recognized that by closing the door to marital intimacy with her husband, she was not wholly innocent herself.
Then, we have the notorious case of Bill Clinton. He and Hillary had appeared on Sixty Minutes the night of the Super Bowl in 1992. They acknowledged his straying, but gave viewers to believe that was all in the past and should stay buried there. It didnt.
When on January 21, 1998, the morning edition of the Washington Post revealed that a 21-year old intern, Monica Lewinsky, had been involved in a long-term affair with the President of the United States in the Oval Office, Americans were shocked, angered. And we had every right to be. Clintons White House staff, many of them, thought he would be forced out of office that very week. That is what should have happened.
But the Speaker of the House decreed otherwise. He told his partisans that if they stretched the investigation and impeachment out until the November elections, their party would win forty seats in the House. Soon, Americans expressed their disgust with these tactics and rejected the Speakers party at the polls. Instead of picking up forty seats, the House Majority was shaved by five, and the Speaker was bounced out of his chair.
He should have been. For he ignored the grievous danger to American national security the scandal represented. Throughout the Arab world, the controlled news media harped on Clintons Jewish mistress.
Egyptian journalist Mohammed Wahby told Jim Lehrer on PBS Newshour that the scandal was very dangerous in his part of the world, that Islamists would conclude that the U.S. was morally bankrupt and easy prey to jihadist attacks. Saddam Hussein took advantage of Americas distraction to kick out UN arms inspectors that February, just weeks after the scandal broke. Osama bin Laden declared war on the U.S. that same month, but few noticed.
Some of the other, older supposed sex scandals hardly bear notice. But we must, because the media has a way of insinuating lies into the hearts and minds of our people. The most egregious of these has to do with President Lincoln, whom Larry Flynt and other muckrakers think was homosexual. You cannot libel the dead, but you can betray your countrys memory. Thats what this false tale does.
Lincoln shared a bed with Springfield friend Joshua Speed. And with an army officer at the Soldiers Home in Northwest D.C. These muckrakers sneeringly insinuate from this that there was something homoerotic in this arrangement. There wasnt. Lincoln also shared his bed with New York Gov. William Seward on a political trip in 1848. He slept with dozens of fellow lawyers as he road the circuit in Illinois. Its what they did then.
Proof there was nothing salacious in these beddings is provided by liberal historian Doris Kearns Goodwin in her award-winning book, Team of Rivals. Dr. Goodwin notes that in December, 1864, Lincoln named James Speed his attorney general. He sent a letter to the Senate saying: I know James Speed, but not so well as I know his younger brother Joshua, with whom I shared a bed for three years in Springfield. If there had been anything slightly questionable in such an arrangement, Lincoln would hardly have given such ammunition to his political opponents on the Senate Judiciary Committee, then, as now, a brood of vipers.
Some of our presidents were fools. Some were wise men. Some heroes, like John F. Kennedy, were flawed men, who failed to uphold their vows. But in all, five out of forty-four presidents involved in infidelity is an amazing record. No European monarchy and no certainly no Third World dictatorship can come close to that record. We are not perfect, but ours is still the Great Republic. And we have abundant reasons to thank God we live in America.