Larry Flynt and David Eisenbach's "One Nation Under Sex"
The new book about the scandalous romances of American politicians suggests that sex is essential to politics.
This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.
"I think it was a toss up between Jack Kennedy and Warren Harding -- who actually bedded the most women in the White House," says Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler Magazine. Flynt has teamed up with Columbia University professor and historian David Eisenbach to write a book about the sex lives of American historical figures: "One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History." Bill Clinton turns out to be an average joe in the history of American politics.
Although sex scandals are great gossip, the book argues that these leaders' affairs had a reach outside of the bedroom. Eisenbach expands:
Something I realized was that it's not just private -- that actually, the sex lives and the affairs often had an incredibly important impact on history and political history. And that was the key to this book. This is a serious book; it's got some titillating stories in it, but at the end of the day, we see that wars, elections, and economic policies often turn on sexual affairs.
The affair between Woodrow Wilson and Edith Galt is an example of how far these affairs reached. According to the professor, an earlier affair almost destroyed the married President's chances of election in 1912. Two years later, and shortly after Wilson's first wife died, Wilson married Galt, and she became an unofficial political advisor to the President. Eisenbach explains what happened next:
The key here is that when Wilson has a paralyzing stroke and he is incapacitated, she takes over the White House and serves, essentially, as President without the press knowing, the Vice President knowing, Congress knowing, and this is at the pivotal moment when the Senate is voting on the Treaty of Versailles that would have committed the United States to the League of Nations. But Edith refuses to compromise on the Treaty of Versailles, and Wilson is in no capacity to compromise, and as a result, instead of the Vice President coming in -- Thomas Riley Marshall -- and compromising with the Senate to get that passed, the United States does not join the League of Nations, and of course, the rest is history.
Of similar importance to American history is the story of Benjamin Franklin's romantic life. According to Eisenbach, "It was his reputation as a ladies' man that kind of enabled him to sell the cause of American freedom to the French people and the French court. I mean, he slept with the right women."
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