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If you need a break from the angry and divisive rhetoric of this political season, you're probably ready to laugh and gasp at the antics of American political leaders of the past. Alternatively, if you yearn for a return to a simpler time of civility, competence, and decorum, you may be shocked to discover no such time really existed. Either way, you can explore it all in Political Suicide: Missteps, Peccadilloes, Bad Calls, Backroom Hijinx, Sordid Pasts, Rotten Breaks, and Just Plain Dumb Mistakes in the Annals of American Politics by Erin McHugh.
From Andrew Jackson to Rod Blagojevich, Warren Harding to Anthony Weiner, it's hard to overstate how amazing, bizarre and dumb the actions of our nation's elected leaders have been throughout history. Some scandals involve bad decisions, some show true corruption, and others the embarrassing and humiliating public baring of private peccadilloes. Modern recording equipment leave evidence on tape that would have been mere rumor in the past, and today's smart phones just seem to make things worse for everyone involved. And the old lesson that "the cover-up is worse than the crime" is one that has to be learned again and again.
* The "Petticoat Affair" was a battle among the wives of some of the most senior men in in Andrew Jackson's Cabinet, as they worked to socially ostracize Secretary of War John Eaton and his wife Peggy, who had grown up in her father's boarding house and bar in Washington and was considered to be "unfit" for DC society. It led to the complete reshuffling of Jackson's Cabinet, the rise of Martin Van Buren - eventually to the Presidency, and the loss of Vice President John C. Calhoun's dream to succeed Jackson. Reflecting later, Jackson said he would "rather have live vermin on my back than the tongue of one of these Washington women on my reputation."
* The Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s involved bribery, no bid contracts, the first Cabinet Secretary to ever be sentenced to prison, and a break-in at the office of the Senator overseeing the subsequent investigation. Imagine what the social media coverage would be like today.
Erin McHugh is a former publishing executive and the award-winning author of more than twenty books of popular nonfiction, trivia, and history, including Like My Mother Always Said...: Wise Words, Witty Warnings, and Odd Advice We Never Forget and A Good Book for a Bad Day. She has written for Bloomberg News, TimeOut New York, and GreenSource, and is a contributing writer at Better Homes & Gardens. She lives in New York City.
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