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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Antonio, Vicenta, and FDR

When I was growing up in Puerto Rico I had a large number of aunts and uncles. On my mother's side, they were quite old and most of them considered themselves Republican - I suspect that those who didn't, kept quiet about it. My uncle Antonio, a.k.a. Toño, was particularly intense in his political statements.

Uncle Toño was a capitalist through-and-through, a CPA by profession, and because of that he disliked the New Deal and all it represented, so he had a very jaundiced opinion of FDR. He also thoroughly disliked the Kennedys and considered FDR's nomination of Joseph Kennedy to the Securities and Exchange Commission as "putting the fox in charge of the henhouse". Toño had an excellent memory for trivia and knew that Joe's dalliance with movie star Gloria Swanson (of Sunset Boulevard fame) left Gloria $1million poorer.

How he had stumbled upon that information we'll never know.

Toño delighted in weaving disparaging comments about FDR and the Kennedys in one swift statement and one time when talking about Ted, then the lowest of the Kennedys because of Chappaquidick, Toño brought up FDR and Lucy Mercer, to whom Toño referred as FDR's "amiguita".

My aunt Vicenta, who was the image of propriety and decorum, jumped to FDR's defense. "Toño", she nearly-exclaimed (since actually exclaiming it would have disrupted decorum), "We are not friends of President Roosevelt, but we don't need to insult his memory."

Of course Toño responded with a most indecrous yet erudite retort well outside the bounds of propriety while not descending into foul language or obscenity. Toño was a Puerto Rican equivalent of Christopher Hitchens, with whom he would have shared a number of physical and intellectual traits had Hitchens and Toño been the same age. Come to think of it, maybe that's why I enjoy Hitchens's writing as much as I do. Even as a little kid I loved hearing Toño carry on.

As it turns out, both Toño and Vicenta were correct; in today's Weekly Standard,

It is true that Franklin Roosevelt had an affair-possibly sexual, although no one really knows-with his wife's social secretary, Lucy Mercer; but it took place in 1918, more than a dozen years before FDR was elected president. And far from behaving like lovesick adolescents, Roosevelt and Mercer (who married someone else shortly thereafter) quickly went their separate ways when Eleanor Roosevelt offered FDR a divorce and Roosevelt's mother threatened to disinherit him. Roosevelt chose his responsibilities to his wife and five children over the pursuit of happiness with Lucy Mercer.
Before we continue with the Weekly Standard article, let's ponder this statement for a moment: "Roosevelt chose his responsibilities to his wife and five children over the pursuit of happiness with Lucy Mercer". How times have changed. Nowadays the story would have been either The Brady Bunch or Sayonara, Eleanor.

But I digress.

It is true that, as president, the paraplegic FDR invited Lucy Mercer to the White House on several occasions during World War II (always when Eleanor was out of town) but such visits were entirely chaste, in the presence of his daughter Anna and innumerable friends over cocktails and dinner-and, in spirit and practice, could not have been more different from Bill Clinton's furtive encounters with Monica Lewinsky, or Eliot Spitzer's transactions with Ashley Alexandra Dupré, alias "Kristen."
And I suspect neither Eleanor nor Franklin would have agreed to the "wee wifey standing by her man" act on the podium when apologizing to himself, either.

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5 Comments:

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Erica said...

It surprises me, quite frankly, with all his trysts and alleged sexual dalliances, that Eleanor never beat Franklin over the head with one of his crutches. But, one must always be a lady, and she certainly always was.

An excellent piece of storytelling, by the way. I really enjoyed it, a lot.

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger Fausta said...

Thank you Erica.
I have wondered about Elenanor, too, but we're looking at it from the 21st Century while they were first married a hundred years ago in 1905.

 
At 5:47 PM, Blogger Yehudit said...

Does it say anything about
Eleanor and Lorena Hickok?

 
At 6:56 PM, Blogger Fausta said...

The article I linked to doesn't and I've never heard about Eleanor and Lorena, Yehudit, but now I'll have to google it.

 
At 7:14 AM, Blogger Pat Patterson said...

Years ago one of my graduate advisors used to tell me stories about his years as a dollar-a-year smartass, his term, researcher for the Treasury Department before WWII. He was neither a true believer in the New Deal nor a communist so had a less than adulatory opinion of the Roosevelt's and the New Deal. But he did tell me one anecdote that concerned Mrs. Roosevelt and Miss Hickok. He claimed that the former could stop conversations with a certain look while the latter could stop a conversations because of her looks.

But not once did he infer that there was anythng untoward about Mrs. Roosevelt's relations with any of her friends regardless of the availability of the Hickok letters or newer ideological reassessments of Mrs. Roosevelt. However because of his age, early twenties during this period and his lowly status he admitted that he often knew less about what was going on in Washington than his mother back here in California. Yes, there were people living in California before the war that weren't orange growers or wildcatters.

 

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