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Q of the day

I received an email from author Al Weisel, who recently blogged about the passing of Lady Bird Johnson. He recalls an action she took in the past that has some relevance to the recent incidents with David Vitter and Bob Allen.

I was very sad to hear of the death Lady Bird Johnson, a woman who served as First Lady with uncommon grace. I thought I would share a story about her that not many people know about, which comes from a piece I wrote about the Walter Jenkins scandal. Jenkins was one of Johnson’s closest aides and when he was arrested for a gay liaison in a YMCA bathroom on the eve of the 1964 election Lyndon Johnson was afraid that it would have an impact on the campaign. Lady Bird was more concerned about doing the right thing:

In the hours after he learned of the arrest he said little publicly, releasing only a perfunctory statement to the press announcing Jenkins’ resignation. Lady Bird Johnson, however, knew exactly what to say. Against her husband’s wishes, she issued her own statement of compassion and support for Jenkins. It was the only time she publicly defied her husband in their 39 years of marriage.

In a White House recording of a telephone conversation, Lady Bird tells Johnson that if “we don’t express some support to him, we will lose the entire love and devotion of all the people who have been with us.” Though he tries to dissuade her from getting involved, telling her patronizingly, “We have the best minds working on it,” she refuses to budge. Finally she responds, in a voice dripping with honey and heartache: “My love, my love, I pray for you along with Walter. You’re a brave, good guy, and if you read some things I said in Walter’s support they’ll be along the line that I just said to you.” Her emotional statement, which began, “My heart is aching today for someone who has reached the end point of exhaustion in dedicated service to his country,” transformed the climate surrounding the scandal. In its wake, a host of newspaper editorials recommended compassion for Jenkins.

So, for the Q of the day:

The Jenkins incident involved a different era and a different political party, but many of the issues are still relevant today, particularly for Republicans. This is a party that has chosen not only to portray itself one of narrowly defined “family values,” but to go out of its way to demonize anything outside of that fundamentalist worldview as evil. When you have incidents of the sort that David Vitter or Bob Allen were involved in, it’s hard to have Lady Bird’s compassion, particularly since Jenkins wasn’t involved in hypocritical political behavior; he was “just” closeted. We’re living in an era where Faux News and the rest of the MSM spent 24/7 on the Bill/Monica BJs and The Starr Report.

Should there be compassion instead of scorn for individuals caught in such incidents, or has the political battlefield and rank hypocrisy made it impossible for these pols — or homophobic, hypocritical Dems, for that matter —  to elicit any sympathy? Why yes or no?

Given that I expect a lot of no votes out there, share more than snarky reasons why the scorn is deserved.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding