Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pennsylvania's First Gay President

Pennsylvania's First Gay President

 

I didn't intend to go back again into Newsweek's deperate-plea-for-attention cover about President Obama as our first gay president, but it's important to make this point. Newsweek's cover isn't only stupid, but it's amost certainly inaccurate. Why? Well, for one thing, do the math. There have been 43 presidents (the discrepancy is because Grover Cleveland could have been our first gay president twice...but probably wasn't) and if you assume that 5 percent of all men are gay, that puts at least two, maybe three, of our commanders-in-chief in the White House closet.

Then there's the matter that almost certainly 100 percent of all U.S. presidents to hail from the state of Pennsylvania were gay:

There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too — he was not far into the closet.

Today, I know no historian who has studied the matter and thinks Buchanan was heterosexual. Fifteen years ago, historian John Howard, author of “Men Like That,” a pioneering study of queer culture in Mississippi, shared with me the key documents, including Buchanan’s May 13, 1844, letter to a Mrs. Roosevelt. Describing his deteriorating social life after his great love, William Rufus King, senator from Alabama, had moved to Paris to become our ambassador to France, Buchanan wrote:

I am now “solitary and alone,” having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.

Of course, Americans were quite capable in 1860 of judging their leaders by the content of their character; voters came to despise Buchanan not because he was probably gay, but because he was a lousy president who dithered while the nation slid into civil war. Meanwhile, over 150 years Pennsylvania has gone from James Buchanan to Rick Santorum. You call that evolution?

About this blog
Will Bunch, a senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, blogs about his obsessions, including national and local politics and world affairs, the media, pop music, the Philadelphia Phillies, soccer and other sports, not necessarily in that order.

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