What Was The Worst Political Joke in U.S. History?

There are many candidates for this distinction, but the consequences were certainly devastating for Gov. John Gilligan (D-OH) in 1974. He is shown in 2009 with his daughter, Obama’s HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. She is a former Kansas Governor and they are the only father-daughter governors in U.S. history.
The 1974 election occurred in the wake of the Watergate scandal, which had forced President Richard Nixon’s resignation. The scandal allowed the Democrats to take 49 seats from the GOP in the U.S. House, and increased their majority above the two-thirds mark. One of the few bright spots for Republicans was Gilligan’s defeat for re-election.
Gilligan was an advocate of the first state income tax, and it was passed during his tenure. It was the major issue in the campaign, and Gilligan made it worse when he visited the state fair. He was asked if he was planning to attend the sheep shearing contest, and responded “I don’t shear sheep, I shear taxpayers.”
The comment was repeated endlessly and Gilligan lost by fewer than 1500 votes. Jack Germond of the Washington Star believes the joke may have also cost him the presidency.
He wrote: “Even before the returns were in from the 1974 elections, I had 1976 all figured out. After Watergate, Americans would be sick of anything connected to Washington, so the Democrats would nominate a governor.
“I even knew which one, John Gilligan. . . . My scenario fell apart, however, when Gilligan lost his campaign. . . Gilligan’s quick mouth didn’t help matters.”

WITNESS TO HISTORY: Lola Aiken Turns 100


There are several events this weekend to mark the 100th birthday of Lola Aiken on Sunday. She is the widow of the late Governor and Senator George Aiken (R-VT), and was his Chief of Staff for 30 years before their June 1967 wedding. She kept her job after the wedding but was no longer on the payroll.
He was 20 years older and they married after his first wife died. The Senator was often described as a man of few words, but that has never been true of his second wife, who was a major political power in her day.
In October 1974, just two months after he assumed office, President Gerald Ford was the guest speaker at “George Aiken Day” in Burlington. The President acknowledged her influence by saying “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”
In March of this year she sat in the State Senate balcony as they passed a resolution noting Sunday’s milestone:
“And whereas the members of the legislature wish to pay special tribute to a most endearing and gracious Vermonter whose life has been of historic magnitude.”
They were not exaggerating. Aiken was Governor for four years (1936 to 1940) and then served 34 years in the U.S. Senate (1940 to 1974). His last re-election was 1968 when his total campaign spending amounted to $17.04, enough to pay the postage for mailing in his petitions. She says “He didn’t break his neck to get people to know him.”
The faculty at the state university ranks him as the most influential Vermonter of the 20th century. Senator Aiken died in 1984 at age 92.
He was a moderate Republican who was a fiscal conservative but liberal on social issues. He was pro-abortion before Roe v. Wade. The terms hawk and dove were frequently used during the Vietnam era when the Senator was described as a “wise old owl.”
She has obviously seen many major changes. When she started working for him in the late 1930s there were almost 12,000 dairy farms in Vermont, but they have been reduced to just 900 today.
Vermont was then one of the top five GOP states in the nation. It was one of only two states to vote Republican during the 1936 Roosevelt landslide. Today Vermont is one of the top five Democratic states.
There was no real Democratic Party in Vermont until the 1960s, and to enter politics during Aiken’s formative years, you had to be a Republican.
Democrats controlled the Senate for 30 of Aiken’s 34 years on Capitol Hill, but he was regarded as one of the most powerful and influential lawmakers. A major reason was that everyone knew his best friend was Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT).
Lola Aiken said her husband’s friendship with Mansfield was based on comfort and trust: “They could talk to one another about anything, and they never revealed what they talked about. It was wonderful to be around them because they were not trying to get people to notice them.”
Mansfield and Aiken had breakfast every day and went on many trips together. Mansfield’s biographer says Aiken was his only true friend.
The moderate wing of the GOP was far more powerful in those days, and she says “things were not as partisan and there were far fewer single-issue groups”.
She has continued to serve as Honorary Chairman of numerous GOP campaign committees.
Lola and George Aiken were definitely moderates, but they were always loyal Republicans. Aiken opposed the 1964 nomination of Barry Goldwater in the primaries, but he always supported the GOP ticket in the fall.
When veteran Sen. James Jeffords (VT) left the GOP in 2002, Lola told the Rutland Herald he had made a major mistake. She said no provocation would have forced Mr. Aiken to leave the GOP.
She remembers being in the White House when FDR was President and seeing Harry Truman cry soon after he took office. Her stories about Eisenhower reveal he was never a politician.
She says “John F. Kennedy was not the forceful type. He was popular and amiable, but he was not a driver of legislation. Johnson was the operator, and got things done.”
Lola recalls how Aiken was one of just three Senators who were at Andrews Air Force Base when Kennedy’s body arrived from Dallas.
Aiken was also one of the few lawmakers who were invited to the Oval Office after the Gulf of Tonkin attack. Unlike today, none of them spoke to the news media.
She was married to a legendary statesman, but Lola Aiken had a successful and important career in her own right. She was a witness to history and she made a difference.

TRIVIA QUESTION: How Did Howard Hughes Stop The Great Publishing Hoax of 1972?

ANSWER: After a 1946 plane crash in Beverly Hills, Howard Hughes went into seclusion. He recovered from his injuries but had a long term addiction to pain killers. For the next three decades he was well known for his refusal to meet with anyone.
The top executives of his major companies (Hughes Aircraft, RKO, TWA and the Hughes Medical Center) never met him. Hughes owned seven casinos in Las Vegas and had over 8000 employees in the state, but despite repeated demands, he refused to meet with the Nevada Gaming Commission. He finally left Nevada after five years to avoid them. Continue reading

The Way They Were: When Elizabeth Taylor Married Nick Hilton


Elizabeth Taylor, 18, and Nick Hilton, 23, were married on May 6, 1950 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. This article is based on observations in “Elizabeth Taylor: The Last Star” by Kitty Kelley and “A Passion For Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor” by David Spoto.

Without the star power of Elizabeth Taylor, the GOP probably would have lost the 1978 U.S. Senate race in Virginia. Her then husband, John Warner, was elected with 50.2% of the vote. Taylor participated in numerous party functions in those years, and Republicans should be grateful to her. Her vigorous support of Israel is also admirable, and she was associated with many charitable endeavors, especially AIDS research.

She also volunteered to join Bob Hope on his USO tours. Her obituaries this week prominently noted her eight relatively brief marriages. Her first marriage lasted only eight months, and it essentially ended on the honeymoon. It was nevertheless a notable event for being the most newsworthy wedding in Hollywood social history.

Taylor signed an MGM contract at age 10 during the golden age of the studio system. From that point on her education was limited to three hours a day at the inadequate school house on the movie lot. Even as a senior citizen her spelling was poor.

The word sexy was always spelled as saxy by Taylor, but no one would correct her. College was not an option for the movie star. Taylor achieved fame at 12 with her starring role in National Velvet which won two Academy Awards. At age 18, Taylor married Conrad (Nick) Hilton, Jr, on May 6, 1950, and it was truly the wedding of the year with celebrities begging for an invitation.

Hilton’s father was founder of the hotel chain and had a 1950 net worth of $125 million (over $1 billion today). The senior Hilton was then 63 and had just divorced Zsa Zsa Gabor, 37, and was dating MGM dancer Ann Miller, 27.

The wedding took place exactly one month before the release of Taylor’s acclaimed movie Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracey.

Publicity for the wedding and the movie were intertwined. MGM paid for the lavish reception at the Bel Air Country Club, as well as the $3,500 wedding dress. At the reception Taylor had lengthy conversations with Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and Sheilah Graham, the reigning gossip columnists of the 1950s. Hopper’s headline was “I am so glad I waited for Nick.” Parsons quoted her as saying “Nick and I are now one forever and ever.”

  • Their 14 week honeymoon was immediately marred by too much attention. Everywhere they went the crowds were enormous, and the MGM publicity machine kept it that away. When the couple arrived in New York City they stayed in the plush presidential suite of the Waldorf Astoria, which is still the headquarters of the Hilton chain. After a few days they departed on the HMS Queen Mary for three and half months in Europe. When they arrived on board there was a handwritten note from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor asking them to dinner that evening, which they accepted.
  • Beginning in Monte Carlo and throughout Europe, Taylor devoted two hours a day to signing autographs and posing for photos. The stories about marital discord began three weeks into the marriage as the couple pursued separate activities in Europe. She was shopping, on the beach and water skiing without him, and he was gambling without her.
  • The marriage did not survive the honeymoon and when the Queen Mary arrived back in New York, Taylor immediately checked into a hospital. Hilton told his mother-in-law that Elizabeth was hysterical, and the mother of the bride promptly told her daughter to “grow up.”
  • In NYC the couple gave Louella Parsons an exclusive interview which resulted in an article saying everything was perfect with the newlyweds. They both told Parsons they were very happy, which was far from the truth. The couple then returned to Los Angeles but the marriage was beyond repair.
  • A bridesmaid said Taylor had mood swings and was frequently depressed. She “required 100% total attention, and Nick was not capable of that.” Taylor was at a brunch with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh when a screen writer arrived an hour late. She picked up a cake and smashed it into his face.
  • Two months later Taylor spent a week at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. This began a pattern which remained for the rest of her life. Anytime she encountered emotional strain, Taylor headed to a hospital. She claimed to have exotic illnesses and was always preoccupied with medicine.
  • When she left the hospital, Taylor immediately filed for divorce, and charged her husband with “extreme mental cruelty.” Her action was not contested.  She cried in front of the judge and said Hilton had used abusive language and left her alone on the honeymoon.
  • The wedding presents included two mink coats and a $65,000 ring. All the presents were placed in storage when the honeymoon began, and the plan was to have them sent to a new home in Bel Air. That never happened and the presents remained in storage for 22 years. Taylor also held on to her stock in the hotel chain. It split several times before she sold it for $141,000.
  • For the rest of his life the hotel heir would be referred to as “playboy Nicky Hilton.” He did not speak to the press, did not criticize Taylor, and said he was immature at the time of the wedding. The media described him as an alcoholic, a gambler, a drug abuser, self centered and spoiled. He was always described as the cause of the break-up, but in hindsight it now appears there were two sides to this failed marriage, and it is doubtful either the bride or groom was blameless.
  • Hilton’s later girlfriends, Natalie Wood and Joan Collins, both portrayed him as devout Catholic who would never marry outside his religion. He always carried rosary beads and gave Wood a crucifix. Hilton made Taylor sign a prenuptial agreement which said their children would be raised Catholic, she would not use birth control and she would not seek a divorce.
  • Five years after the divorce, Hilton wanted to be remarried in the Catholic church. This was not possible because Taylor refused an annulment. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 42 in 1969. His death occurred more than a decade before the birth of Paris and her sister Nicky Hilton, who was named after him.
  • Taylor’s CNN obituary yesterday concluded by noting:

No leading film actress today, not even Angelina Jolie, can claim to have an off-screen life as riveting, as tumultuous, and as entertaining. When people call Elizabeth Taylor the “last star,” they speak of her as the final member in a glorious parade of personalities — Gable, Cooper, Dietrich, Hepburn, Wayne, Tracy — whose magnetism grew solely in dark rooms smelling like popcorn and illuminated on a big screen. No one could claim her place in that line now. No one should.

The Government Shut Down: We Need Another Daniel Webster

This note was written in 1996. Ted Kennedy's brother John F. Kennedy devoted a chapter to Webster in "Profiles in Courage." JFK also chaired the committee which selected Webster as one of the five greatest Senators of all time. The other Senators were Henry Clay (KY), John C. Calhoun (SC), Robert LaFollette (WI) and Robert Taft (OH). Their portraits are on display in the Senate Reception Room.

The major issue on Capitol Hill this week is Friday’s expiration of the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. If the debt is not cut or the ceiling raised, the government would have to be shut down on March 4th. The situation is similar to the 1995 confrontation between President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich when the government was shut down twice. Continue reading

The Great Speakers and the Failure of Nancy Pelosi

The Republican Party did not realize it then, but they were about to give up power in the House of Representatives for 60 of the next 64 years. On March 4, 1931, Speaker Nicholas Longworth (R-OH) approached the rostrum for the last time. The first person on his feet was Jack Garner (D-TX) who would be his successor. Then every Democrat and Republican stood up and the applause was thunderous. Continue reading

Remembering Laurence (Larry) Fay by Gregg Hilton

Larry Fay and I are on the extreme right, and as usual, our liberal friend Rich Bartmon is on the left!

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

After a fall on December 13th, Larry Fay of Katonah, New York has died of a brain hemorrhage. His funeral was on Saturday. I met him in the 7th grade and we had many adventures together. We were on the Cross Country team for the next six years where he was the captain and wore number one on his running shirt.
Larry had two homes and was a successful and talented architect from a prominent family. His father who died two years ago was a Goldman Sachs partner during its glory years. Continue reading