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Master of self-depreciation

July 24, 2009

In the July 6, 2009 issue of TIME, FDR is showcased with great flourish.  As in, what can our current politicians, specifically Obama, and the common man, learn from him?  No chronicle of FDR’s life would be complete without a blurb about his dear wife Eleanor.  Due to Amanda Ripley’s article about Eleanor, some information that was sketchy to me became solidified.  Let me give you the time-line:

  • March 1905 – Franklin and Eleanor marry; 5th cousins, once removed.
  • 1910 – FDR was elected to the New York State Senate
  • 1918 – FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy
  • March 4, 1933 – FDR gave his first Presidential Inaugural Address
  • Great Depression,
  • Great Depression,
  • Great Depression,
  • WWII.
  • April 12, 1945 – FDR suffers a stroke and dies.
  • 1962- Eleanor dies from tuberculosis in NYC.

Seems pretty straightforward, right?  First, let me insert one more date, and three pieces of information.

  • 1918 – Eleanor unpacks FDR’s suitcase and finds his love letters from her secretary, Lucy Mercer.
    She suggests a divorce, he offers separate bedrooms and that he will never see Mercer again.  So it’s the separate bedrooms and no Mercer. 
  • During FDR’s presidency, Eleanor lived in NYC’s Greenwhich village in a house owned by two lesbians.
  • 1945- When FDR died, Lucy Mercer was by his side.

After reading the 1918 bit, I must admit to doing the math.  FDR and ER were only married for 13 years before he had an affair, well, before she found out about it, anyway.  And, even though he said he would not see Mercer again, she was by his side when he died, from a stroke.  One that killed him within three hours.  Unless she had a turbo jet in her possession way back in 1945, she was probably in the very near vicinity.  So, even if the affair started around 1918 with a brief hiatus shortly after 1918, it was an affair that lasted at least 25 years.  FDR and ER were married for 40.  Sickening numbers if you ask me. 

All right, so what am I getting at?  Well, Ripley mentions that when FDR and ER met, he liked her because she did things like teach children in the slums of the Lower East Side, a hobby far different from his other female contemporaries.  She liked him because he was young and good-looking and asked her to dance, even though she was shy and awkward.   And then he broke her heart, just like that, 13 years after they were married.  And within 15 years, she was living with lesbians.   And we all know the rumors that she was, quoting from the movie Wedding Crashers, “a real carpet-muncher.”

My take on Eleanor’s life?  I think she was in love with FDR.  But, she wasn’t good at being a mother, mostly due to a rough childhood.   She wanted to pursue her own social justice and political agenda, which she gave up during that 13 year time span.  So what do you do when the man you love breaks your heart by cheating with some secretary slut?  You move to progressive Greenwhich Village with some lesbians, and ward off men with a 10-ft pole and do something!  There’s nothing like heartbreak-fueled accomplishments.

In the article, Ripley touches on the impact that Eleanor’s work had on FDR’s polices.  Eleanor said she was merely a “spur.”   For this reason, Ripley calls Eleanor a master of self-depreciation.  And I couldn’t agree more.  Although I’m sure her First Lady status aided her pursuits later on (although, I believe she would have been accomplished either way,) I would have told FDR to screw his political career, I want a divorce, I don’t want to be associated with a scumbag like you.  But, she sucked it up and stayed with him.   Self-depreciation at its finest.  Like I needed another reason to hate men.

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