And it wasn’t William Jefferson Clinton, no sirree. It was one of our most forgettable chief executives, Warren G. Harding.
(Why am I writing about Harding in a Vermont political blog, you may ask? Why, because — as no one has apparently noticed so far — the image at the top of this page is that of Our 29th President, begrudgingly recreating his youthful days as a newspaperman. And good golly, did he go to seed in his later years.)
Later this month, the Library of Congress will make public roughly 1,000 pages of previously-sealed love letters between not-yet-President Harding and his mistress of 15 years, Carrie Fulton Phillips. And they contain some steamy, squicky stuff, to judge by a few excerpts already making the rounds. From December 24,1910:
“My Darling. There are no words, at my command, sufficient to say the full extent of my love for you — a mad, tender, devoted, ardent, eager, passion-wild, jealous … hungry … love … It flames like the fire and consumes … It racks in the tortures of aching hunger, and glows in bliss ineffable — bliss only you can give.”
Apparently Harding’s wife didn’t stir the same “ardent, eager, passion-wild, hungry love” in the breast and/or loins of our then-future chief executive.
It’s been known for some time that Harding was a serial adulterer who makes Bill Clinton look like a faithful Catholic priest by comparison. But these letters ought to destroy whatever shred of dignity there is left in Harding’s reputation. And it ought to shred the credibility of any Republican who grandstands about Clinton’s peccadilloes, or in any way implies that Clinton brought dishonor on the office of the President. That had already happened long ago, in spades, at the hands and/or loins of the Republican Harding.
As for the squick factor, how about this? In the letters, Harding refers to his penis as “Jerry.” In one letter he invites Carrie to an expedition to the summit of “Mount Jerry.” And in another:
“Jerry … came in while I was pondering your notes in glad reflection, and we talked about it … He told me to say that you are the best and darlingest in the world, and if he could have but one wish, it would be to be held in your darling embrace and be thrilled by your pink lips that convey the surpassing rapture of human touch and the unspeakable joy of love’s surpassing embrace.”
The affair continued while Harding was Lieutenant Governor of Ohio and a U.S. Senator; he called it off when he became President, for fear of public disgrace and/or staining the White House furniture. He undoubtedly had other paramours while occupying our highest office, but his handlers didn’t want to take a chance on a long-term relationship becoming public. Especially one with, as the New York Times reports, close ties to pro-German factions during World War I. Indeed, the Times reports that Phillips “had social ties to Germans in the United States who were said to be spies.”
Harding begged Philliips to burn the letters, but she didn’t. Instead, she kept them in a box where they were discovered after her death. And sealed, until July 29. Get your popcorn, folks.