Various and sundry behaviors by the Republican clutch of presidential hopefuls don’t bother me much. My family–ancestors–had some experience with the quirks of governors. Sam Houston, for example, spent his honeymoon*** (the first–he married three times) at Travellers Rest, my five-greats grandfather’s home south of Nashville.
Houston’s wedding night was memorable enough to have earned a place in family lore. His young bride was caught by surprise? unable to hide her revulsion? unwilling to hide her revulsion? at the old war wound in Houston’s groin that oozed and stank to high heaven. Caught off-guard? Shamed? Unmanned?–Houston freaked out and cowered, crouched, naked and gibbering, in the corner of the house’s best bedroom all night long.
Not unusually for a frontier home, even one as fine as Travellers Rest, really there was only one bedroom. Most of the household, including children and house slaves, slept catch as catch can. So the non-consummation of the Houston marriage was a memorable occasion for everybody. The lack of privacy in the homes of the plantation South, by the by, must have been the reason that newlyweds typically spent the first year of married life in a hotel.
Before I lose myself in past prurience, let me get to the point. Houston, alone among American politicians the governor of two states, Tennessee and Texas, was, despite the irregularities of his personal life, terrific at his job. As Governor of Texas, for example, he tried to keep the Lonestar State in the Union. He knew that the Confederacy would fail; he knew that many lives would be lost in the process; he warned his costituents of both. When Texas voted to secede, nevertheless, Houston, sparing his fellow citizens bloodshed, refused the offer of Union troops to bring the state to heel. Then he resigned the governorship and retired to a part of Texas that reminded him of the hills of Middle Tennessee.
The life of Sam Houston is a corrective for the American tendency to delve for signs of political acumen and leadership among the fits and starts of personal behavior. What is different about this presidential election is that THE TIMES THEMSELVES are applying the corrective. The weaknesses that did in Edmund Muskie and Gary Hart–well, people have more important things to worry about right now. If Herman Cain were displaying as much knowledge of world affairs and governance as he does charm and wit, voters wouldn’t care if the man had been keeping a harem. If the man convinced us that he could fix the American economy and bring back jobs, we’d let him bring a wife AND a mistress to the White House. For some reason, likely because “sex sells stories,” political writers haven’t seen the shuffling of priorities here.
Herman Cain killed his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination with his confusion over which nations have nuclear weapons, which nuclear power. He crossed a line in the sand for us voters: we try not to elect a president who looks like he/she will embarrass us on the world stage.
Rick Perry has the looks to play President in a movie, and since the political sideshow has always been entertainment, it’s no wonder he kicked up a lot of excitement upon entering the race. But really, folks. And by “folks,” I mean media folks. Did everybody have to rely on the Texas Monthly article chronicling Perry’s ten straight wins and darn good luck to inform their views? Couldn’t somebody have done a little research into the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race, when Lonestar Republicans had become kinda disenchanted with Perry? Wasn’t anybody curious why?
Texans love their boots, and Perry owns any number of really cool pair. He’s the Imelda Marcos of cowboy footwear. (The 9/11 commemmorative set are my favorite.) But even Texans, as the 2006 election (particularly the nominating contest) showed, have their limits. Boots take a person only so far.
My husband was one of those who succumbed initially to the Perry charm. (To be fair, he doesn’t spend time in Texas as I do.) “Perry’s going to get the nomination!” Knowing that I had been saying since January 2009 that Mitt Romney would be the next Republican nominee (I got my first Romney email the day after the Obama Inauguration), my husband bet me a long back rub, our standard bet, that Perry would prevail. For the last month, said husband has been teasingly querulous. “Which one of us bet what? Are you SURE I’m the one bet on Perry?”
I just got my own comeuppance. A week ago, suddenly I snapped my head up from the computer screen. Oh my god. Every Republican I know loves the History Channel. Newt Gingrich will win the South Carolina primary for that reason alone.
Republican voters are gonna do a Newt. Unless his mouth runs away with him. And that possibility is what makes politics in the age of iPhones so interesting.
[***Note: Biographies of Sam Houston place his wedding and honeymoon at the bride’s parents’ house. However, biographers are relying on secondary sources here. In the nineteenth century, even newspapers were often only secondary sources–a reality worthy of a blog post–note to self. Anyway, I am relying on not only family memory but also original documents at Travellers Rest.]
Link for Texas Monthly article: http://www.texasmonthly.com/2011-09-01/feature7.php