How have the private lives of American leaders affected policy and history? How much knowledge is enough? We wanted to write a book that connected the personal and the private to the political.
So if the story was something that was just Chester A. We wanted to see how the mistress maybe was involved in policy, and if that was the case, if she had an effect on policy, she made it into the book. Do you think this is a function of power and the convergence of power, politics and ego? Yeah, I think politics attracts a certain personality type.
That and traveling a lot open up a lot of opportunities, so that you see, for example, the divorce rate of the incoming freshmen class of congressmen: They have like a 30 percent divorce rate after the first two years in office. Opportunity and personality type have a lot to do with it.
We were accused of: They had a huge ego, and in order to feed that ego, they did it with the conquest of young women or men. I found out that was prevalent in those that we ended up exposing over the years. Redemption always seems possible in politics.
You write about a number of presidents who had redeemed themselves, or did redeem themselves after being outed after having affairs and so forth, and hookers, and all the other stuff. People could forgive Bill Clinton. They never will forgive Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he was a dog.
It was probably a regular occurrence. What is not attributable in American history, in the key moments, to sex? But we are saying that in each of these cases, sex played a major role in how the history unfolded.
This book is the corrective of that, bringing the sex back into the politics. Larry, you have particular respect for the Kennedy era.
I saw an interview that you did where you said that you had revelations about the Kennedys, and I think you should buy [the book] just for that. It was devastating for me to work on the chapters with Kennedy, because I grew up in that era. Definitely, they were feeling good in that administration.
I want to explain to you what bothered me. Why did he have to go with the starlets like Marilyn [Monroe], Angie Dickinson, Marlene Dietrich, and on and on — a laundry list of Hollywood conquests that he was interested in?
These rendezvous were not very well thought out, or planned. They were just careless. First of all, I am the first person to defend a philandering president. I think if you can fight two wars and balance a budget at the same time, you deserve to sleep with whoever you want to. His wife Jacqueline, the first lady, women in this country thought of her as royalty. Her approval ratings were through the roof.
Jackie could do no wrong. There was something more tacky than that. She, Jackie, according to your book, was sleeping with Aristotle Onassis — whom she had been sleeping with before her husband died — two days after he died, in the White House. In , the Republicans had already begun to gear up for the re-election campaign that Kennedy intended to run. They were about to smear the administration with [charges of] lax morals. One of the women that they knew about was Ellen Rometsch, who was from East Germany and a prostitute who frequented the White House swimming pool parties that the Kennedys would throw.
Rometsch into the Senate chamber and grill her on her relationship with the president. Here you have the president of the United States carrying on an affair with a prostitute from a communist country. You can see how this could have doomed the Kennedy presidency.
So how do you stop the Senate from going forward with an investigation? There was one man who could stop the Senate, and that was J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI. Number one, make me FBI director again, and number two, give me written approval and permission to wiretap and bug Martin Luther King Jr.
Edgar Hoover was at the forefront of this entire operation. Walter Winchell, a well-known radio commentator in New York, was friends with Hoover because of the information he could get, as was Drew Pearson, a very famous columnist in Washington. When [Hoover] wanted to leak a story, he went to one of them. He could be so deadly; a career could just evaporate overnight. You know something had to be going on there. In fact, Roosevelt was the first president who used Hoover, right?
Hoover was very useful to presidents if they needed to have something shut down. So he worked with presidents, not only against them. The problem is that no one could criticize J. Edgar Hoover, even though he was director of the FBI. He refused to acknowledge the existence of the national mafia syndicate.
You have these women who stood by their men in a sense. A lot of them did. A lot of the wives of presidents past have: Hillary Clinton did, Maria Shriver did in , probably regrets it today. Then, a lot of them traded that for some power. The women come out as having a certain kind of power in these relationships. They want the power too. There was a politician in San Francisco — I will not reveal who it is — many years ago who we found out, as reporters, had a very active night life.
Was married, with kids; two reporters went out and followed this guy for two weeks and filled their notepads with the most eye opening kind of activity — you know, three in the morning, in a Volkswagen in the shadow of Grace Cathedral. But we decided at that time, again 20 years ago, that the politician showed up for work every morning and did his job.
Therefore, what he did on his own time, however scandalous, was not a story. Would we be better off to going back to those days? Sunshine is the best transparency. Now we hear that our government agencies talk about transparency.
Problem is, you never see it. Life changes, technology changes, but the problem really is not the technology. American people have to become brave enough to create a revolving door in Washington, D.
On the issue of the changes of technology and how that has opened up the sex lives of presidents and politicians as never before: One of the interesting things that we talk about in the book is how, with the Founding Fathers and in the early 19th century, the press was filled with stories of the sexual affairs and private lives of presidential candidates and first ladies.
That continues and intensifies in the Cold War, but once the Cold War is over, then there is this sense of: America is the best nation on earth. We got burned by that. Does it reflect a character, a personality? Is bad behavior a character trait that we ought to apply when judging someone as a politician?
You know, the sad part of it is, most people are pretty good about judging people. Jimmy Carter is one president that we can definitely say was entirely loyal, but an awful president. So there you go. If he did, he was awful slick. What I found interesting is that Jefferson and Washington were the only two Founding Fathers that never freed their slaves. When George Washington married Martha, she was 27 years old and had two kids by a previous marriage.
They wanted desperately to have more children. After the Revolutionary War, Washington was the most popular man in the country. He was a hero, a legend, he was everything the colonies believed in. If he wanted to be King George instead of president, he could have been. Commonwealth Club The leading national forum open to all for the impartial discussion of public issues important to the membership, community and nation.
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