If you’re like me, you’re cringing every time you turn on the news, open a newspaper, or stare at the tabloids in the checkout line. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, this country’s politics are a mess. While we keep reminding ourselves this isn’t normal, scandal IS more normal to the office of the president than we think.
Sure, if you didn’t suffer living through Nixon and Watergate, you at least have heard the story (or seen the movies) of the break-in at the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, how cash was traced to the Committee to Re-elect the President (Nixon), and how President Nixon was caught lying about the fact he knew about it. A president lying under oath was grounds for impeachment, but Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, before he could be impeached, giving us the never-elected Gerald Ford. That’s the biggest official Presidential Scandal to date, but by far it’s not the only one.
Sure, Clinton’s affair caused a major row, but flings among presidents are almost as common as presidents eating cheeseburgers. John F. Kennedy’s affairs were kept out of the press, but half the country was winking at his activities. Harding, FDR, Eisenhower, Jefferson, and Lyndon B. Johnson were all known to have had affairs of heart while in office, and not one of them was ever brought up on charges. Cleveland, however, had not only one but two scandals that caused an uproar.
Yes, But Did You Hear About That Cad Cleveland?
The first was a secret surgery to remove a cancerous growth on the roof of his mouth. America in 1893 was caught in a severe Panic – the pre-1930 name for a Depression. Cleveland felt that a president with a potentially life-threatening issue could further destabilize the people and the economy, so he chose to have the surgery in secret – on a boat traveling the shores of Long Island! Because it caused a bit of disfigurement, he attributed it to having two bad teeth removed (I saw a display on it at the Mutter Museum once). That wasn’t the worst though.
Cleveland was president during the Victorian era, whose straight-laced propriety and denial of anything related to sex, including body parts, haunts us in a weird duality to this day. And in that era of moral decorum, Cleveland was routed out as having had a love child in 1874, before he married his wife. Not only an illegitimate child, but he had the mother locked up in an insane asylum, and farmed the baby out to another couple! Even though it made a huge scandal at the time, he freely admitted it, and it didn’t stop him from being elected not just once, but twice, proving that moral flexibility is nothing new, either.
Men of power get to the top position by wielding their power, and the office of the president is no different (I suppose we could let Jimmy Carter off the hook. He’s an anomaly to the rule, and no doubt why he was a somewhat wishy-washy President and often considered not strong enough during the Hostage Crisis. People just wanted to get away from Watergate). It doesn’t matter what party platform you’re running on, mainstream or not, chances are somebody somewhere is going to dig up a scandal on someone, and if not, the elected just might create one of their own (such as Reagan and Iran-Contra). It’s nothing new, and it’s not likely to go away again in the future. So grab some popcorn, and school yourself on these hot-button scandals of the day (Check out the movies of All the President’s Men, Frost/Nixon, Argo, and Mark Felt ) :
- The Gatekeepers : How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency – Chris Whipple
- Grover Cleveland – Henry F. Graff
- What Really Happened: John Edwards, My Daughter, and Me – Rielle Hunter
- The Years of Lyndon Johnson : The Path to Power – Robert Caro
- The Secret Man : the Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat – Bob Woodward
- Once Upon a Secret : My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath – Mimi Alford
- The Teapot Dome scandal : How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country – Laton McCartney
- Our Man in Tehran – Robert Wright
- The Hemingses of Monticello : an American Family – Annette Gordon-Reed