Every American president has had a penis. The possession of a generative member is, in fact, the one trait they all share. Some have been Whigs, some Democrats, and some Republicans. There have been slave-owning presidents and abolitionists, bearded presidents and clean-shaven ones, Easterners and Southerners. Almost all have been white, but at least one has been black. Yet all have been men.
With the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the first penis-free president, it’s not surprising that her Republican rivals want to remind the world that their genital anatomy is the traditional norm.
Donald Trump’s claim during the Republican debate in Detroit that he was amply endowed might have shocked many, but it belongs to a venerable history. Structurally, the president occupies the same position in American politics as kings and queens do in monarchies. The monarch’s body is, traditionally, the microcosm of the state, hence closely monitored. It’s not just of prurient interest to know whether the king is sleeping with the queen (or a consort). It’s a fact upon which the fate of the realm, and the royal lineage, hangs. Hence the ancient tradition of royal gossip, which in the American republic has been replaced by a concern for the presidential penis.
It’s not an accident that during the vicious presidential campaign of 1800 Thomas Jefferson accused John Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Hermaphrodites are, of course, defined by their sexual organs.
The Founding Fathers created a framework for American politics that resulted in a repeated focus on the the penises of aspiring presidents and presidents alike. Was Abraham Lincoln interested in sleeping with black women, as Stephen Douglas alleged? Did Grover Cleveland have a child outside of wedlock? Did John F. Kennedy have more mistresses than there are stars in the sky? Such questions have been the very fabric of American public life.
Lyndon Johnson was always eager to let those around him know that he had an unusually large penis. Reviewing a biography of Johnson in the New York Review of Books, historian Marshall Frady noted:
He early became fabled for a Rabelaisian earthiness, urinating in the parking lot of the House Office Building as the urge took him; if a colleague came into a Capitol bathroom as he was finishing at the urinal there, he would sometimes swing around still holding his member, which he liked to call “Jumbo,” hooting once, “Have you ever seen anything as big as this?,” and shaking it in almost a brandishing manner as he began discoursing about some pending legislation. At the same time, he would oblige aides to take dictation standing in the door of his office bathroom while he went about emptying his bowels, as if in some alpha-male ritual assertion of his primacy. Even on the floors of the House and Senate, he would extravagantly rummage away at his groin, sometimes reaching his hand through a pocket and leaning with half-lifted leg for more thorough access.
Thanks to various sex scandals, we have detailed descriptions of Bill Clinton’s penis. According to Robert Bennet, Clinton’s lawyer in the Paula Jones case, “In terms of size, shape, direction, whatever the devious mind wants to concoct, the president is a normal man. There are no blemishes, there are no moles, there are no growths.” The Independent offered a more prosaic account: “His erect penis is about five inches long, has the circumference of a quarter ... and heads off at an angle, presumably rather like a finger bent at the joint.”
Americans might be cringing at Marco Rubio’s nudge-nudge-wink-wink comment about Trump having “small hands” and Trump’s reassurances that both his hands and penis are in good shape. Yet this locker-room banter belongs to an old tradition running from Adams to Bill Clinton. The only way to stop American presidents from alluding to their penises is to elect a woman, which is likely to happen in November.