Tina Brown would like you to think that our 44th commander in chief is the "First Gay President." Jim Loewen would like you to know that title actually belongs to our country's 15th leader, James Buchanan. After taking a moment to smack Newsweek for the "cheap sensationalism" of its buzzy cover, Loewen imparts a history lesson. "Buchanan was gay, before, during and after his four years in the White House," he writes for Salon. And the country was well aware of it. (Not convinced? Consider this line from an 1844 letter Buchanan wrote: "I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.")
But Loewen's intention isn't just to give you a new trivia tidbit: It's to explain why Buchanan isn't lauded as such, and what that means. Quite simply, our "touching belief in progress" is the problem. "We must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century! Buchanan could not have been gay then, else we would not seem more tolerant now." Loewen urges us to embrace a more complex national history, one in which "we all moved backward" for about 50 years beginning in 1890, particularly in terms of race relations. "If we can rid ourselves of the fantasy that we are always getting better, then maybe we can create a nation that actually becomes more tolerant," he writes. "Then we might—again—elect a real gay president." Click for his entire column.