Pages and talk shows, Bill Clinton's libido is...

ON OP-ED

January 03, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ON OP-ED pages and talk shows, Bill Clinton's libido is often compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt's. Nonsense.

Clinton has had many trysts with numerous women in which his only interest was sex. FDR had one great affair, and for about the last 25 of their 30 years it was non-sexual.

The woman was Lucy Mercer. She was Eleanor Roosevelt's social secretary during World War I, when FDR was assistant secretary of the Navy. Lucy and Franklin fell in love and became intimate. Eleanor said quit seeing her or get a divorce. FDR was on the verge of divorce when his mother said she would cut off his allowance, upon which the ambitious FDR depended in order to devote full time to politicking.

So Lucy married another man, and FDR, soon stricken with polio, pined for her till she was widowed and they began to see each other occasionally in the 1940s. She was with him the day he died.

In some ways -- probably in every way -- this was more painful for Eleanor than had FDR been a Hugh Hefneresque Bill Clinton, treating numerous women merely as subjects and objects.

FDR's style of philandering affected history for the better. He was something of a brilliant lightweight until the 1920s. More than one observer has concluded that two things changed him into the kind of man who could lead the nation successfully through two of its greatest crises (Great Depression, World War II): his polio and his broken heart. They matured and strengthened him enormously.

So FDR is absolved of adultery while president. But what about Eleanor? Eleanor?!

You thought the hot rumor about Eleanor was that she was a lesbian, right? In fact, stories to that effect have been around a long time. ER certainly spent a lot of time with women of whom that was also said. Her letters to one close friend, Lorena Hickok, are as passionate and romantic as any love letters you'll ever read. But if I understand Hickok's biographer correctly, that just reflected Eleanor's literary style. It was "companionship" and nothing else that kept Eleanor and Lorena close through the years.

Now, Earl Miller. He was the handsomest and most virile state trooper in New York. When FDR was elected governor, Earl was on the mansion staff. He became Eleanor's bodyguard and intimate. He quit eating with the other troopers and joined the family table. He was solicitous and took her side against her husband and children when family squabbles erupted.

He was a very attentive escort, first in Albany, then in Washington, after FDR was elected president. Earl and Eleanor were alone together a lot. Naturally there were rumors. When Miller was divorced, his wife named Eleanor as co-respondent. This was dropped, but one Roosevelt son later wrote that he thought his mother "may" have had an affair with Earl, and in any event he was the "one real romance in mother's life outside of marriage."

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