SALACIOUS SMEARS AND RAUNCHY RUMORS — Just Another Presidential Campaign
The nasty war of words between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump sank deeper into the gutter last week with the photographic posting of Melania in the buff and Heidi looking rough. Since when are potential (or actual) First Ladies targets in a political campaign? Unfortunately, since the ink was drying on the United States Constitution.
Without the help of Twitter or SnapChat, Abigail Adams was widely ridiculed. Critics labeled the sweet, diminutive letter-writing spouse of John Adams as “Madame President” and “Her Majesty.” Her sin? Speaking her own mind and offering honest opinions.
Sexpot Dolley Madison!
Dolley Madison (that heroic lady who ran through flames to save the classic portrait of George Washington) was dished as being more than “just friends” with family pal President Thomas Jefferson. The on dit is Mr. Charles C. Pinckney, husband James Madison’s opponent, fanned rumors up and down Pennsylvania Avenue that Dolley had been “sexually available” to the widowed incumbent Jefferson in exchange for his endorsement.
Bigamist Rachel Jackson!
Several years later, Rachel Jackson, wife of Andrew, was publicly labeled a “fat uneducated bigamist.” Well now. Actually, the altitudinally-challenged and less-than-wasp-waisted lady (depicted in cartoons as a “short, fat dumpling bobbing next to her husband”) had never been officially divorced from her first husband. But still….
Mary Todd Lincoln, Best-Gloved First Lady
Mary Todd Lincoln, Abe’s long-suffering spouse, was criticized for undue and lavish spending in war time. It was rumored that, during one four month period, she purchased 400 pairs of gloves. According to my calculator, that meant she could change gloves three times daily.
“Lemonade Lucy,” wife of teetotalling Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, had tongues wagging because she enjoyed sipping a “dressing drink” (and not lemonade!) before joining Rutherford for dinner in the Blue Room.
Frances Cleveland, the devoted 28-years-younger wife of old Grover, triggered titillating speculation when she appeared at the theater one evening with a male escort — not G. She also publicly denied whispers that Grover beat her.
Misunderstood Ida McKinley
The 1896 electorate was convinced that Ida McKinley was “mentally off,” and she did have problems. The loss of her mother and two children during the early years of William’s tenure triggered a form of epilepsy. Whenever she had a fit in public, President McKinley would drape a handkerchief over her head both to conceal the seizure and to calm her down. In addition, rumors ran rampant that she was insane.
Grace Coolidge — Did she or didn’t she?
Salacious scuttlebutt intimated that Grace Coolidge had “intimate liaisons” with various Secret Service agents. Bigger buzz hinted that Eleanor Roosevelt had an affair with a New York State trooper, Earl Miller, when husband FDR was governor of New York. As First Lady, the grapevine reverberated with tales of her secret female lover, journalist Lorena Hickock.
Perhaps the most maligned of all was Kate Smith, wife of Democratic Presidential candidate Al Smith. Because of her humble roots in the Irish slums of New York City’s Lower East Side, his political enemies sneered that Kate’s White House would reek of “corned beef, cabbage and home brew.”
Mrs. Florence T. Griswold, a Republican National Committee member, huffed, “Can you imagine an aristocratic foreign ambassador saying to her, ‘What a charming gown,’ and having her reply, ‘Youse said a mouthful.’”
Slander, rumors and unnecessary cruelty in presidential campaigns are as old as dirt. What’s happening today confirms the adage: History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.