Our Terrible First Gay President

Well, you learn something new every day: I accidentally hit on a link at Salon, and found myself reading a May 2012 piece by sociologist and historian Jim Loewen and discovered there is a tremendous amount of evidence that the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was gay.

Loewen treats the rather widespread ignorance of this fact as symptomatic of a “buried history” of the United States motivated in no small part by a belief in ineluctable progress. But I’d say there may be another factor at work in this particular case. At a time when progress towards LGBT equality is making large strides, who would want to reclaim James Buchanan as a unheralded pioneer? The main historical debate about the Pennsylvania Democrat who sat fecklessly as the nation drifted towards a Civil War is whether he or the scandal-ridden Warren Harding was the worst president ever (yes, I know giving George W. Bush that accolade was a lefty blogospheric meme a few years ago, but historians so far don’t agree). It’s hard to imagine anyone carrying banners of him in a Pride march, and I’m sure the next gay president will do better.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.