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A Valentine's Day Tribute to the Power of Love in Politics

3 years ago
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We are so often reminded of salacious sexual affairs in politics, but on Valentine's Day, perhaps we can spare a few moments to celebrate love?

This should not be a foreign concept to us, and yet the contribution that love makes to keeping the ship of state afloat is too often ignored.

Anyone who watched HBO's "John Adams" knows of the wonderful love affair between our second president and his wife, Abigail. If you have not seen it -- or read of this great American partnership between a man and a woman -- today is a good time to do so.

Abigail was not only the devoted wife and mother of two American presidents, she was also her husband's closest confidante and adviser. One quote from Abigail speaks volumes about her love for the second president: "When he is wounded, I bleed."

Nearly a century later -- on Valentine's Day, 1884 -- Theodore Roosevelt's mother died of typhoid and his wife passed away from complications during childbirth.

In his diary, TR wrote: "The Light Has Gone Out Of My Life." Roosevelt clearly loved his wife, and it is a tribute to him -- and a lesson for all who have loved and lost (or lost loved ones) -- that he went on to do great things, despite such heartbreak.

Jon Meacham's "Franklin and Winston," about TR's cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, includes a quote from the latter, taken from a letter he wrote to wife Clementine during the darkest days of World War II. In it, he says, "I have no one but you to break the loneliness of bustling and bustled existence."

Sometimes, it is only the people who love our leaders who can be most frank with them.

Meacham also includes a letter from Clementine in which she scolds Winston for not being nicer to the men doing secretarial work for him in his office. She warned Winston that with his "tremendous power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm." She later added that "you won't get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They will breed either dislike or slave mentality -- (Rebellion in War time being out of question!)."

Sometimes love also means even presidents must put up with the things that all committed relationships require. Harry Truman loved wife Bess so much that he did what some husbands won't do -- tolerated her mother (who lived with them). Bess Truman's mother never thought Harry was good enough for her daughter -- even after he became president. Harry endured it gracefully, saying when his mother-in-law died: "When I hear these mother-in-law jokes, I don't laugh. They are not funny to me, because I've had a good one."

Some future political leaders experienced love at first sight. Richard Nixon fell so head-over-heels in love with Pat that even when she turned him down for a date, he pointedly said, "Someday I'm going to marry you." It took a lot of wooing, but he made good on that promise.

But aside from Adams, my favorite political romance would have to be that of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

Real love, of course, endures through sickness and health -- and the Reagans clearly had the real thing. PD's Editor in Chief Melinda Henneberger recently quoted some touching lines from Ron Reagan's book "My Father at 100:

Early in my parents' marriage, my father had told his bride she was the first thing he wanted to see upon waking each morning and the last thing he ever wanted to see. Now, in the critical moment, calling on some deep reservoir of strength hidden away in his ravaged mind, he was somehow willing himself to fulfill that desire.

His eyes found the face of the woman who, for more than half a century, had formed the core of his private world. "I love you, honey, I love you" was all she could say -- was all she needed to say. Sometimes eternity is compressed into an instant, the celestial wheel seems to catch and hold -- but only for an instant. The blue flame guttered and extinguished. His eyes dimmed. With a quiet exhalation, my father settled back onto his pillow and died.

(Perhaps this is a fitting time to take a moment of personal privilege and wish my wife, and best friend, Erin a Happy Valentine's Day!)

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