Monday, May 14, 2012

Always with the Halos

I don't ever recall seeing any other president presented with a halo. Our current president gets one on the cover of Newsweek, along with is possibly a historically inaccurate assessment:

There has long been speculation that our first gay president was actually James Buchanan, although the evidence is circumstantial:

Anyone who bothered to look into his living arrangements, says James W. Loewen, an adjunct professor of sociology at Catholic University. Of course, in his new book, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (The New Press), Mr. Loewen is speaking of the first Buchanan with Presidential politics in his blood, James.

Mr. Loewen, author of the best-selling Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (New Press, 1995), sets out in his new, self-described “rant” to dispel the myths that befog the American landscape. In a chapter titled “You’re Here to See the House,” he recalls asking a tour guide at Wheatland, Buchanan’s mansion near Lancaster, Pa., whether the 15th President was gay. “He most definitely was not,” came the outraged reply.

This new book isn't so new, by the way -- it came out in 1999, but just to finish the point:

“Most likely was,” insists Mr. Loewen. Buchanan’s long-time living companion, William Rufus King, was referred to by critics as his “better half,” ‘’his wife,” and “Aunt Fancy.” Around Washington, the pair were known as the “Siamese twins,” slang at the time for gays and lesbians. And when King was appointed envoy to France, in 1844, Buchanan lamented to a friend that “I have gone wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any of them.”
And there was an important historical component to this relationship:

The relationship may have been more than romantic. Mr. Loewen speculates that Buchanan, a native of a fiercely anti-slavery section of Pennsylvania, developed pro-slavery views out of sympathy with King, who served as a Democratic Senator from Alabama.

“It’s important to know that some of our leaders have been gay,” says Mr. Loewen, explaining why he outed a man often counted among the 10 worst Presidents. “To know that gay people did things, good things and bad things. You can’t just claim the heroes.”
By the way, back in Wisconsin, Rufus King has a high school named after him (in Milwaukee) and one of the streets that leads directly to the state capitol in Madison is King Street, which was named in his honor. This isn't surprising, since Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1848 and King was clearly an important person in that era.

In the meantime, I'm amazed how many pictures there are of Obama with a halo:

And this:

And this:
And this:
And if you want to see more, lots more, click the link.


Brian said...

One pub quiz night, when the theme round was "First Ladies", I named my team "James Buchanan was His Own First Lady."


I'm a pretty big fan of Andrew Sullivan's. I enjoy the fact that he's willing to make public his ongoing process of opinion making, which means that he sometimes is forced to change his mind and admit to prior mistakes. I think he's a pretty solid writer. And I particularly admire his habit of giving air time to his strongest critics.

But, man...he's been gushy over the president this week. I'm kind of embarrassed for him.

Mr. D said...

"James Buchanan was His Own First Lady."

Kinda like one of my favorite quiz team names, the epically tasteless "The Lighter Side of Betty Ford."

Bike Bubba said...

Is that a halo around Obama's head, or is he about to be abducted by aliens? "Nano-nano, Mr. President."

As Brian notes, the hagiography for Mr. Obama indulged by media types--not all of whom have the "pundit" shield owned by Mr. Sullivan--is really putting the kibosh on the idea that the mass media are not in someone's corner, to put it mildly.