Commentary

Christensen: On sexual politics and NC’s place in political history

rchristensen@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2013 

  • Meet the columnists

    Columnists Rob Christensen and Barry Saunders will be at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh’s Ridgewood Shopping Center at 7:30 p.m. Monday to talk about their columns.

If anybody looked old school, it was North Carolina Sen. Clyde Hoey with his swallowtail coat, a flower in the buttonhole and his flowery speeches. His Sunday school lessons given at Edenton Street Methodist Church were broadcast statewide.

But despite being among the most popular Tar Heel political figures of mid-century North Carolina, Hoey had a reputation among political insiders for womanizing and wandering hands.

Hoey was elected governor in 1936 and served in the Senate from 1945 until his death in 1954. Hoey was a mainstream political figure – the brother-in-law of Gov. O. Max Gardner and the favorite governor of Thad Eure, the longtime secretary of state.

People cluck over modern sex scandals and wonder what has become of morals. But yesterday’s politicians were little different. What has changed is how the media cover such activities.

It was a man’s world back then. Male politicians, male reporters and male editors. If a male politician got out of line back then – well, what a card! If a woman was sexually harassed back in the 1940s, she was expected to be a good sport. The private lives of politicians were not the grist for news coverage.

Bobby Baker, the political fixer for Lyndon B. Johnson when Johnson was Senate majority leader, talked about Hoey’s misbehavior in a series of interviews with Donald Ritchie, the Senate historian. Excerpts of that interview were recently published by Politico in an article called “Sex in the Senate.”

Few people know more stories of what was going on behind the scenes in Washington than Baker, who came from Pickens, S.C., to Washington in 1943 as a teenage page. Baker, who served 18 months in federal prison for tax evasion, is now 85 and living in Florida.

Here are other N.C. nuggets from Baker:

• With scandal closing in on Johnson, President John F. Kennedy planned to dump Johnson as vice president in 1964 and replace him with N.C. Gov. Terry Sanford – a promise Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy made to Sanford, Baker said.

• In 1960, Baker got a call from Sen. B. Everett Jordan saying he had “a very bright Harvard graduate” named Elizabeth Hanford who wanted to work on Johnson’s vice presidential campaign. “I said I would talk to the Leader and tell him that you called. And he immediately agreed and she was a joy.” The graduate in question eventually married Sen. Bob Dole, served in two presidential administrations, as president of the American Red Cross and one term in the U.S. Senate.

• In charge of a Southern swing for Johnson in 1960, Baker called N.C. Gov. Luther Hodges and asked if he would permit a school holiday and if he could get 40 high school bands to greet Johnson during his tour. Hodges liked the idea. “So the headline in all the papers the next day was, ‘Senator Johnson gets tumultuous welcome in North Carolina.’ It shows you the power of music, and having people associated with you who know what to do.”

Christensen: 919-829-4532 or rchristensen@newsobserver.com

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