Respected Politicians Who Were Actually Terrible People

It's no secret that there are plenty of terrible politicians in history. Something about being drawn to politics seems to suggest that you might be just a teensy bit wrong in the head. Horrible and ill-considered policies abound. But every now and then you get that shining diamond in the rough — a politician who doesn't totally suck. They emerge and amazingly do some good for the country, and everyone loves them. They go down in history as heroes and good, decent people.

But history books are selective. It turns out that a lot of those politicians who seemed great actually had some serious personal problems. Maybe they were epic racists. Some of them were criminally deviant. A couple actually had people killed. It's hard to see individuals you looked up to come crashing down in your estimation, but the truth is important. And these politicians deserve to be remembered as the terrible people they were.

Woodrow Wilson hated everyone different from him

Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president and an almost comically racist human being. But wait, wasn't everyone a racist back then? Probably, but Wilson was bad even for back then, so it was pretty terrible. Vox says under his leadership the federal government was resegregated after it had become more integrated than you might expect. He viewed segregation as a "benefit." Wilson also fired almost all his Black employees and unilaterally defeated an amendment at the Versailles Convention recognizing the principle of racial equality. On top of this he wrote a history book that was sympathetic to the KKK that was even quoted in the famously awful film "Birth of a Nation."

Then there was his problem with women. Women who wanted to vote, to be exact. According to the Los Angeles Times, Wilson basically hated women, and women felt the same about him. It is extremely ironic that the 19th Amendment was ratified while he was in office. He was outspoken about his beliefs. He told his staff that he was "definitely and irreconcilably opposed to woman suffrage." Wilson also stated that a "woman's place was in the home, and the type of woman who took an active part in the suffrage agitation was totally abhorrent" to him. Even a woman who just spoke in public made him feel "chilled" and "scandalized." Honestly, he probably would have been a lot happier if he'd been around pre-Civil War.

Winnie Mandela was nuts

When it comes to genuinely good politicians, Nelson Mandela seems to approach sainthood. One of the unexpected things about him is that he got divorced. You'd think a man who could be forgiving after being in jail for 27 years could keep a marriage intact. But according to Australian Broadcasting Corporation, it turned out his wife, Winnie Mandela, was kind of crazy. Their life together survived almost three decades in prison but fell apart in 1996 when it was revealed she cheated on him with her younger bodyguard. Who cheats on Nelson Mandela?!

Winnie was a fighter like her husband and earned herself the title "mother of the nation." But she was involved in some seriously controversial stuff. You did not want to cross Winnie. If she suspected you of being a traitor to the cause, she might order a "necklacing" — putting a gasoline-soaked car tire around your neck and lighting it on fire. And she didn't exactly distance herself from burning people to death, once saying "with our boxes of matches and our necklaces we shall liberate this country."

She was eventually convicted of kidnapping, assault, and fraud. When she became part of the government, acting as a deputy minister, she managed to get fired for insubordination. When she went before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu had some mixed things to say about her — "She was a tremendous stalwart of our struggle, an icon of liberation — something went wrong, horribly, badly wrong."

Lyndon Johnson played power games

Some of Lyndon B. Johnson's jerkish exploits are famous, like the fact that he liked to whip out his "Jumbo" (his nickname for it) and wave it around in an attempt to assert dominance. Or how he would take people out in his car, drive straight into a lake, and laugh at their genuine panic before they realized it was an aquatic vehicle. But Johnson's power games went so much further than that.

You did not want to be a woman in Johnson's world. He needed to control everything about them. One biography says he would pick out his wife's clothes, select her haircut, and force her to wear lipstick. His secretaries received the same treatment, being made to do their hair certain ways, and he even picked out their bathing suits. According to Texas Monthly, he was such a control freak he even told them how much hairspray to use. And they better have wanted to see him naked, because he was naked a lot. One writer said that "what would be sexual harassment today was part of the everyday atmosphere of Johnson's office."

Men had it almost as bad. He once suddenly pulled down his pants and made his chief domestic policy expert check to see if he had a boil on his butt. The Stranger tells how he would make people follow him into the bathroom while he went poop. He was the king of negging and would aggressively feel people up to get in their heads. It worked.

Gandhi believed in honor killings

These days a lot of people have heard of Mahatma Gandhi's weird ideas about the horizontal tango. According to the Independent, he was once referred to as a "dangerous, semi-repressed sex maniac." Despite practicing celibacy for much of his life, he had young, hot women sleep and bathe with him, even when his wife was alive. But the reasons not to like Gandhi go much deeper than that.

He lived in South Africa for over two decades, where the BBC details he let his racist flag fly. He hated the Black population. He wanted them to be segregated everywhere, from hospitals to trains. He almost always referred to them by a racial slur and believed whites needed to stay in charge of the country.

Gandhi was also terrible to women. If you were a lady, you better not do something as unforgivable as experience a natural biological function around the Mahatma, since The Guardian says he believed "menstruation was a manifestation of the distortion of a woman's soul." But it got so much worse. He proudly wrote that women should be held responsible for any attacks they were victim to, and his actions followed through on that. He once cut off the hair of two followers who had been harassed. He even went so far as to say women who were assaulted "lost their value as human beings," and that fathers were within their rights to kill daughters who had been assaulted, y'know, to restore honor to the family.

John F. Kennedy was a terrible husband

While there are plenty of presidents who cheated on their wives, John Kennedy is easily the most famous for it. He could not keep it in his pants. All That's Interesting says many historians have described him as a "compulsive womanizer." He slept with movie stars and secretaries. And it was absolutely terrible because of the pain it caused his wife.

Jackie Kennedy is famous for being the perfect first lady, the ever-dutiful spouse. But Jackie was aware of many of John's affairs, and she was having none of it. According to the book, "Jackie, Janet and Lee" (via People), even senators knew Jackie was always on her husband about his cheating. She made it perfectly clear that she "was sick of it and she didn't like it." In fact, she considered divorce at least twice. The first time was in 1956 when JFK left his pregnant wife at home to go on a Mediterranean cruise. That was probably annoying enough, but when she gave birth to a stillborn daughter, her loving husband couldn't even be bothered to cut his vacation short and come home to her. Every time she thought of ending it, Jackie was talked out of it by her family. Her sister pointed out that their father had cheated on their mother and that worked out all right. Her mom said it was just the price Jackie paid for being married to a powerful man. No excuses, John. You were just a jerk.

Winston Churchill didn't want to help the ladies

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's greatest fight might have been World War II, but a close second was his long-running bout with the suffragists years before. He was absolutely against women getting the vote, and early in his career the ladies singled him out as the guy they needed to attack, in some cases literally. Historical biographer Sarah Gristwood recounts the time in 1909 that an activist came at him with a whip and tried to force him into the path of a train.

So maybe it's not entirely surprising that Churchill wasn't sympathetic to their cause. According to "Being British: Our Once And Future Selves," he said, "The women's suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge, if we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun. Women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands." He considered the lengths women went to — which, remember, included hunger strikes — as merely "henpecking," and that no matter what they did "nothing would induce me to vote for giving votes to women."

But the suffragists didn't give up. They attended his speeches, heckled, and made other disruptions. Christabel Pankhurst was actually arrested after one incident, and Churchill said he hoped sitting in jail would "soothe her fevered brain." In 1910 he was appointed home secretary, which meant it was now part of his job to try and suppress the women's activism. Still, they beat him in the end.

Strom Thurmond was a hypocritical racist

Storm Thurmond was revered enough to be reelected to the Senate for 49 years, the longest-serving senator in United States history, at the time of his retirement. But for all his constituents loved him, he had some terrible views about Black people.

His obituary in The Guardian recounts how Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on a state's rights and segregationist platform and managed to get over a million votes, 39 in the electoral college. And he continued his fight against equality when he got to the Senate. In 1957 President Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed some basic civil rights laws, but Thurmond was having none of it. He filibustered all on his own for a whopping 24 hours and 18 minutes, still the longest speech in Senate history.

But what makes Thurmond much worse than your run-of-the-mill racist was that he was also a raging hypocrite. Because according to The New Yorker, the whole time he was declaring that Black people and white people should be separated in every way, he was hiding a mixed-race daughter of his own. Thurmond was just 22 when he knocked up a 15-year-old Black domestic worker. He ignored his child completely until she was 16, after which he started giving her money from time to time, partially to keep her quiet, as he knew exposure could ruin his political career. And she did stay silent, until 2003 and after her father had died. Apparently, Black people were not good enough, unless Thurmond himself wanted to sleep with them, in which case it was fine.

Nicolas Sarkozy loves money too much

Nicolas Sarkozy was president of France from 2007 to 2012 and perhaps one of the most defining things about him was how much he liked money. According to Vanity Fair he was known as the "bling bling" president. He loved Rolexes and custom-made Italian suits. He divorced his second wife and quickly married the wealthy model Carla Bruni. But his obsession with cash would find him caught up in more than one scandal and facing criminal charges.

Liliane Bettencourt was the L'Oréal heiress and an obscenely rich old lady. When she died in 2017, she was the wealthiest woman in the world with a net worth of nearly $40 billion. But she was also accused of secretly giving hundreds of thousands of euros in illegal campaign contributions to Sarkozy and a government minister. The president taking it would have been bad enough, but it didn't help that her daughter said she wasn't all there in the head when this happened.

But the BBC says this was far from the only illegal money Sarkozy was accused of snapping up. In 2018 he was questioned by the police about taking cash from the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to finance his 2007 campaign. Not only illegal, it was unbelievably shady. Around $6.2 million was allegedly handed over in three suitcases absolutely stuffed full of cash. The Guardian says overall, he was supposed to have received 50 million euros. It sounds like Sarkozy needs to go sit in a jail cell sans Rolexes and think about his priorities.

Ah, good ol' Bill Clinton!

Everyone knows about Bill Clinton's dealings with Monica Lewinsky, perhaps one of the most famous affairs of all time. There was a severe power and age imbalance, but at least it was consensual. That was allegedly not the case with some less famous interactions Clinton had with women.

In 1991 Clinton was the governor of Arkansas and attending a conference in Little Rock. According to Vox, he invited a woman named Paula Jones back to his suite. After talking for a few minutes, he allegedly reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her close. He then ran his hand up her thigh and tried to kiss her neck when she stopped him. But he didn't. Instead Clinton undressed and started ordering her around. She refused, and as she escaped the room her told her to keep what happened quiet.

Kathleen Willey went to the Oval Office for professional advice in 1993. The Atlantic reports that once there, Clinton groped her, grabbed her crotch, and rubbed himself on her.

But the worst accusation comes from Juanita Broaddrick. Another Vox article says she was volunteering for Clinton's gubernatorial campaign in 1978 when he invited her to have coffee in his hotel room. Once there she claims he assaulted her. Clinton was never charged, and everyone just kinda shrugs it off today.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

André le Troquer liked them young

You expect the French to be a little freer when it comes to sex, and this even extends to their politicians. Emmanuel Macron met his much older wife when she was a teacher at his school and married to boot. Francois Hollande had an affair with an actress while he was in office. Jacques Chirac was rumored to have an illegitimate child. But even for the decidedly un-prude French, some things are just going way too far.

In 1959 a scandal called the "Ballet Roses" rocked Paris. According to the "Routledge Dictionary of Cultural References in Modern French," it involved André le Troquer and various other important people. Le Troquer was the former president of the National Assembly, which made him at one point the second most important man in France. These men and women would come together to watch teenagers in what were allegedly ballet recitals but were really terrible "parties" with underage girls. They did wear ballet skirts, so at least that much was accurate.

An article from the time in the Ocala Star-Banner said that the parties were arranged by a former member of France's counterspy service, so you think he would have been better at not getting caught. Some mothers started to get suspicious about just what kind of ballet activities their daughters were up to. Then many of the participants, including the 74-year-old, one-armed, and balding le Troquer were found out and met with charges for things like "lewd behavior."