Political bastards, then and now
Brian Thornton understands that in the world of bastards party affiliation hardly matters. He’s written a book identifying the type with a steadfast bipartisan eye.
Sparing no punches, “The Book of Bastards: 101 Worst Scoundrels and Scandals from the World of Politics and Power” (Adams Media, $12.95 paper) sweeps the searchlight through American history and finds targets from our earliest day right up to the present, including such figures as Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford and John Edwards – Nos. 99, 100, and 101.
The wonder is that Thornton, a Seattle-based teacher who has stood before students at every level from sixth grade to college, finds only 101 bastards in our more than 200-year history. I smell a series.
Among amusing early-day scoundrels is David C. Broderick, the only senator killed in a duel. He made a fortune in California in 1849 selling $10 gold coins that contained only $8 of gold. He used his money and wiles to land a seat in the California State Senate, then moved on to the U.S. Senate in 1857. “He could be vindictive, even cruel, and he had a terrible temper,” Thornton writes. In 1859, he got incensed by comments a former friend and now political adversary made of him and let his gripes be known publicly. His opponent, David Terry, challenged him to a duel, and after Broderick’s pistol discharged prematurely, Terry let him have it – and down went the senator, bastard No. 34.
Closer to our times, Strom Thurmond makes the list, at No. 57, for his racist views while hiding the existence of his daughter by his family’s 15-year-old black maid.
Daniel Ellsberg notches a spot at No. 66 for leaking the Pentagon Papers and winning Henry Kissinger’s wrath as “the most dangerous man in America.”
Bill Clinton earns a ranking at No. 81 for the philandering that nearly destroyed his presidency. Hillary Clinton comes right after him, at No. 82, for her short temper and sharp elbows and imperious nature while pushing health care reform during Bill’s administration and then reinventing herself as a U.S. senator and even overcoming her bashing of Obama during the presidential campaign to win the secretary of state slot. As Thornton puts it, “Now that is one successful bastard, regardless of gender!”
The list wouldn’t be complete with a few other names: Dick Cheney, No. 88; George W. Bush, No. 90; Eliot Spitzer, No. 96.
Many catch Thornton’s ire for their sexual peccadillos, making one wonder how anyone with an ego and a lust for power escapes the list.
Even our own Father of the Country loses on that count: “Not only was the ‘Father of the Country’ a horny bastard trying to score with his best friend’s wife, he was also perpetually on the lookout to ‘improve his situation.’ Speculating in land, romancing girls from wealthy families, and eventually marrying the richest widow in the colony, George Washington was a man on the make before he was the ‘Man on Horseback.’”
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