Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Club Review - Hidden Power

Kim Cornetet, me, Melba Jimenez, Gila Meriwether, and Lisa Beckstein

My book club chose to read Hidden Power: Presidential Marriages That Shaped Our History by Kati Marton because Kati was the Junior League's Legacy Luncheon this year. Many, but not all, of us are League members.  We thought it would be interesting to discuss the book after we heard Ms. Marton speak, and it was!

I was fortunate to sit with Ms. Marton during lunch last week and she gave me some discussion questions to use, as I was the facilitator for this meeting.  She gave me eight questions and I added three more.  I think we only got to about three questions during our one hour discussion.  It was perfect that we had both political parties passionately represented.  That was half the fun! 

We met at Lisa Beckstein's beautiful home overlooking Sarasota Bay.  It was a wonder we could even concentrate with that beautiful view!  This is the first time that we met, since I have been a member, that we all sat around the dining table, which I actually liked.  We normally sit casually in a living room setting.  I think there were about 10 of us.

Everyone pretty much enjoyed the book.  It had chapters on the marriages of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. 

Most surprising was the story of Edith and Woodrow Wilson.  I was flabbergasted at their story.  I don't know if I was sleeping during the class where I should have learned about Wilson's presidency, but I had no idea she kept him basically hidden after his stroke and she actually was the one making decisions and running the country.  Did you all know that?

It seemed like MANY of the presidents were basically philanderers.  There was a big discussion about that!  Also, that there were no divorces once they left office.  I wish we did not know about their extra-marital activities.  To me, that doesn't matter one iota in my decision on whether to vote for them or not.  I think we are missing many good people stepping up to run the country because with our 24/7 news cycle, every little thing is made to be a big deal.  I think that sort of thing should be between a husband and a wife, period. 

Speaking of that, Lady Bird Johnson considered LBJ's many mistresses as no big deal, basically as "flies on the wedding cake".  About one month after LBJ assumed the presidency, he told a group of reporters, "Now, boys, let me tell you something.  (Of course they were all boys then!)  Sometimes you may see me coming out of a room in the White House with a woman.  Just remember, that is none of your business."  He wanted the same rules for himself that Kennedy had.

We all felt so sorry for Pat Nixon.  I was in high school during the Nixon administration and I don't recall at all how terribly Nixon had treated her.  He never wanted her in the spotlight and one time when they flew in separate planes, Pat was waiting for him on the tarmac and she approached her husband with open arms.  Sen. John Tower reached her first and gave her a kiss while her husband offered her a stiff handshake.  There were numerous stories like regarding the Nixons in the book.

Bess Truman's feelings about being a political wife could be summarized by this quote," A woman's place in public is to sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure her hat is on straight."  Now those are words to live by. :-) Bess hated living in the White House and spent most of her time back in Independence, MO with her mother and her bridge club.

Of course, anyone who knows me, knows that by far, Jacqueline Kennedy is my favorite first lady.  I have numerous books about her and reference her White House years frequently for matters of style, scholarship, historic preservation, entertaining and just how masterfully she used the media, especially in concocting the whole Camelot thing she designed as part of their presidential legacy.   

I won't go into all the chapters about the more recent marriages, as you probably know a lot about those, but I will say I think if you enjoy presidential history, you'll enjoy this book.

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