mary todd lincoln, the modern right, what’s sad and what’s rabidly insane

“Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882), wife of Abraham Lincoln, in formal dress. Mathew Brady Photograph ca. 1860-1864” Brady was one of, if not the most well known U.S. photographer of the 19th Century. While he did not invent the style to become known as photojournalism, he would be considered one of the founders of that movement.

Was President Lincoln’s wife bipolar or just ahead of her time?

Was she actually mentally ill or merely an eccentric with an ahead-of-her-time independent streak? The latter would be a tidy 21st-century conclusion, but the real answer is not so pat. Her supporters, including W.A. Evans, the author of the 1932 biography Mrs. Abraham Lincoln: A Study of Her Personality and Her Influence on Lincoln, being reprinted later this month, would say that Mrs. Lincoln was unfairly maligned. Many of her most serious troubles were financial, not emotional.

To state the obvious, since so much of our experience is colored by the times in which we live Mary Todd Lincoln today might at most appear on Dr. Phil with a shopaholic problem in regards to her finances. Her constant badgering of her financial manager to send her allowance and later lobbying Congress for a pension, have an air of entitlement about them. One that cannot be explained away with the tragic deaths of her sons and husband. Her tendency to spend lavishly started early in her marriage to Abe. Would this make headlines today. We’ve had brouhahas over then Senator Hillary Clinton’s cleavage and First Lady Michelle Obama’s sleeveless outfits. So there’s no reason to believe that Todd would not be scrutinized by today’s media as much as she was by the newspapers and magazines of her day – and yes they had surly gossip columnists back then too. Though considering her strong willed personality she would no doubt  also use the media to fight back.

And that was before her trial for insanity. While recent biographers have made the case that Lincoln was a quirky proto-feminist who did not behave the way women were supposed to in the 19th century, her pattern of manic shopping sprees, bizarre religious fervor, and prolonged depression tracks with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In the period leading up to the trial, she became involved with a spiritualist sect known for inducing trances and hosting noisy seances. When she returned to Chicago after a chaotic period of travel, her purchases escalated.

Her only surviving son Robert did have her brought to trial and declared insane. Though the combination of behaviors did seem to accelerate over time and would likely be considered bipolar today, its arguable that in today’s culture she would have been declared outright insane. Modern courts would have probably granted Robert power of attorney and he would put her in some custodial care such as an assisted living facility. Ronald Reagan was not mentally coherent during the last years of his life and no one thought it necessary to have him declared officially insane by the courts.

Ruth Graham mentions Nancy Reagan’s consultation with an astrologer during her stint as First Lady. Let’s mark up that kindly brief reverence to word count restrictions on columnists. Nancy was enthralled with astrology in much the same way Mary Todd was caught up with spiritualism. As strange as some may find Todd’s fascination with spiritualism ( also something of a fade then – remember that the very rational Sir Arthur Conen Doyle believed in fairies from the nether world) to my mind relatively harmless in comparison to Nancy Reagan’s reliance on astrology and using it to influence nuclear policy,

SDI  supporters  assert that their program forced the Soviet Union into  defense  spending  it  could  not  afford,  thus hastening   its   demise,  but  Gorbachev  spent  little  in response, did not consider a defense of his own and, by  the Washington  summit of December 1987, told Reagan, “If in the end you have a system you  want  to  deploy,  go  ahead  and deploy  it.”  The  two presidents signed a treaty abolishing U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles  of intermediate  range  (the INF Treaty) worldwide– on Dec. 8, 1987 at 1:45 p.m., the  awkward  hour  prescribed  by  Nancy Reagan’s astrologer.

[ ]….and here, 1988- May 5: Donald Regan’s memoir, “For the Record” is published. In it he reveals that Nancy Reagan relied on an astrologer to dictate her husband’s public appearances.(Regan was a Secretary of the Treasury and Reagan’s Chief of Staff)

Was the modern tolerance for the Reagan’s beliefs and behavior about cultural progress, of which feminism is part, or was it more about modern power and privilege. Modern powers and privileges that extend, not exclusively, but mostly in one direction, Not Good and Pawlenty

Three months after the launch of his Freedom First PAC, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty with his interview in Esquire took another step towards a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. But while the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza lauded Pawlenty’s “stinging critique of GOP,” in words and deeds the man who calls himself “T-Paw” is just the latest in the growing ranks of interchangeable conservative demagogues. From his Tenther fantasies and stimulus grandstanding to his simultaneous calls for making the Bush tax cuts permanent and a balanced budget amendment, he’s almost indistinguishable from the rest of George W. Bush’s would-be heirs.

It starts, as they say, with the company you keep. This week, Governor Pawlenty told Esquire that Barack Obama was a “movement liberal.” Rejecting the notion that the President “rises to the level of being a socialist,” Pawlenty also insisted, “I don’t think name-calling is helpful.” Sadly, Pawlenty’s November kick-off event for his Freedom First PAC featured the usual has-been actors-turned reactionaries Kelsey Grammer, John Ratzenberger and Jon Voight.

In sharp contrast, this is an angry room. Jon Voight, one of the evening’s speakers, is comparing the Democrats with the Nazis: “At this hour,” he says gravely, “it’s very similar to the hour during the forties when we were facing the evil of Nazism…”

(Two months earlier, the conservative columnist Rod Dreher pleaded with Republicans to “call off the clowns” after Voight “accused the president of trying to depose God and deify himself — as, according to the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist will do.”)

Apologies to Perrspectives for taking such a big snip, but to put all the aberrancy in context required a few paragraphs – and believe it or not the rest of Perr’s fine reporting on Pawlenty gets even stranger. For more of Pawlenty’s fixation with tentherism read here, Pawlenty May Invoke The 10th Amendment To Block Minnesotans From Receiving Federal Health Care. For today I’ll just say two words about the tenther movement’s fractured interpretation of the 10th Amendment – Civil War. Mary Todd’s personal behavior was erratic and I probably would have found it personally irritating, but  here we have political advocates and their sycophants pushing a public policy agenda based on the current president being the “Antichrist” and the next Hitler – I try to keep up, maybe I missed all the death camps. No wonder Angelina is said to be on bad terms with her father. Generally today’s Democrats are ideological descendants of Thomas Jefferson – the founder of the Democratic Party, while today’s conservatives have little in common with Abe Lincoln. That  Mary Todd Lincoln had a sale of her old wardrobe which was described by one writer as “Only the advocates of free love, actresses, and Madame Restell, the Manhattan abortionist who dispensed French pills from her brownstone, were so notorious,” seems merely sad and quaint by comparison to the imbecilic public bed wetting of Pawlenty, Grammer, Ratzenberger and Voight.