Welcome Rodger McDaniel (LesterHuntBiography) and Host Peterr (FDL).

Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt

Rodger McDaniel — a lawyer who served 10 years in the Wyoming state legislature before entering seminary and becoming a Presbyterian pastor — says in the acknowledgements to Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt, “Honestly, I never so much wanted to write a book, as I wanted to tell this story.” And what a story it is.

The US Senate website describes the bare outline of the story like this:

In the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s politics of fear victimized many people. Chief among them was Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt. Hunt had come to the Senate in 1949, a liberal Democrat from a traditionally Republican state.

Thirty years earlier, Lester Hunt had started out as a small-town dentist. He abandoned dentistry in 1932 as an indirect consequence of his son’s broken leg, for which he had contributed multiple bone grafts. Hunt found that the results of that surgery made it painful for him to stand beside a dentist’s chair for extended periods. His statewide network of contacts, pleasing personality, and limitless energy inspired him to enter Wyoming politics on the rising tide of the New Deal. After six years in the governor’s mansion, he entered the U.S. Senate

Hunt quickly crossed swords with Wisconsin’s Joe McCarthy. Disgusted with McCarthy’s witch-hunting tactics, Hunt publicly branded him “an opportunist,” “a liar,” and a “drunk.” McCarthy privately vowed to get even. . . .

Fifty-five years ago, on June 8, 1954, Lester Hunt surprised supporters by announcing that he would not seek a second Senate term. Behind his decision was one of the foulest attempts at blackmail in modern political history. His son, long recovered from his broken leg, had been convicted a year earlier for soliciting an undercover policeman in Lafayette Square. Two of Joe McCarthy’s Senate Republican confederates informed Hunt that if he did not leave the Senate when his term ended that year, the conviction would become a major campaign issue. Hunt feared a vicious contest that would add to his son’s torments and jeopardize Senate Democrats’ chances of picking up the two seats necessary to regain majority control in 1955. Days later, he entered the Russell Building on a quiet Saturday morning, with a .22 caliber Winchester rifle partially obscured under his coat. In a seemingly buoyant mood, he exchanged pleasantries with an unquestioning Capitol police officer and went to his third-floor office. Minutes later, alone, Hunt pulled the trigger.

Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins fills in the gaps of this outline in vivid detail.

In the foreword by Wyoming’s retired Republican Senator Alan Simpson — a family friend of the Hunts — gives us a glimpse of why this book needed to be written and this story told. Says Simpson: “There is much handwringing going on today regarding incivility in public dialogue. We pine nostalgically for a time when politics was more civil, less nasty, and more decent. . . [But] dirty tricks and the outrageous smears didn’t just begin in this generation.” After noting ugly allegations made against John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and the epic Blaine versus Cleveland nastiness of 1884, Simpson puts the story of what was done to Lester Hunt in 1954 into perspective, calling it “beyond anything even the toughest, meanest, most negative politicians would have recognized as being acceptable.”

Let the record show that Alan Simpson is well-known for his sometimes over-the-top descriptions and characterizations of politicians and their activities. As McDaniel documents, however, in this case Simpson is merely being accurate.

Simpson goes on:

Parts of the story of Lester Hunt’s suicide have been told before, but Rodger’s book adds vital and important facts to the historical record of that tragedy. More importantly, this book tells the story not only of Hunt’s death but also of his life. One cannot fully gauge the venom in those who drove him to voluntarily end his life unless you also know how Hunt lived, his commitment to family, to Wyoming and to the nation.

Lester Hunt’s story is also about the real dangers of demagoguery. . . .

Homophobia was then, and cruelly and unfortunately continues to be, a convenient launching pad for some of the worst kinds of stereotyping and political opportunism. That aspect of McCarthyism is a critical element of the suicide of Lester Hunt. . .

This story must be read and its lessons heeded. It is a parable exposing the risks inherent in a democracy when personal power becomes more important than the good of our country. It teaches that even in politics, the boundary lines matter and the crossing of them “reaps the whirlwind.”

I’ve lived in Wyoming as well as in DC, and have crossed paths with a fair number of politicians, including the late Senator Paul Simon who was a family friend. Hunt’s story drew me in repeatedly, in very personal ways, as places and friends came to mind in the vivid descriptions of Hunt and his day. Hunt wrestled with the same issues that politicians do today, like health care reform, immigration, and conflicts between state and national party interests. McDaniel does not paint an idealized portrait of Hunt, but rather an honest one of a man who took positions on the issues of his day as he saw things at the time. Politicians know that they will be forced to make sometimes difficult decisions with many competing forces clamoring for their votes. Sometimes, as McDaniel documents, those competing forces operate with the tools of blackmail, bribery, character assassination, and extortion.

By the end of the book, three words kept going through my head: It gets better.

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank was outed as a gay man in 1985, and despite calls for his resignation, he weathered an ethics investigation and was repeatedly reelected by his constituents.

It gets better.

In 1957, Joe McCarthy died and Wisconsin elected William Proxmire as his successor. In 1989, Proxmire was succeeded by Herb Kohl, who retired in 2012. Last November, Tammy Baldwin — an open lesbian — was elected to succeed Kohl. Think about that: Tammy Baldwin now sits in the seat once held by Joe McCarthy.

It gets better.

I just wish that someone had said those words to Lester Hunt before he went into his Senate office one Saturday morning, took his rifle in his hands, and pulled the trigger. Instead, he became “one more casualty in Joe McCarthy’s war on democracy.”

Thanks, Rodger, for this book, and welcome to the FDL Book Salon.


[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

94 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Rodger McDaniel, Dying for Joe McCarthy’s Sins: The Suicide of Wyoming Senator Lester Hunt”

BevW September 28th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Rodger, Welcome to the Lake.

Peterr, Welcome back to the Lake, and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Welcome, Rodger — thanks for this book!

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Great book. Thanks for being here.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:02 pm
In response to Peterr @ 2

Thanks…looking forward to the conversation

dakine01 September 28th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon Rodger and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon. Good afternoon Peterr!

Rodger, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but have to say that I had never heard of Senator Hunt before. Or at least, did not remember his story. No idea how I missed hearing about him as I have read a number of articles about McCarthy over the years. Why do you suppose his story has been mostly lost? Are his family members still around and active politically? Have you heard from them since writing this book?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

His story got lost in history because of the nature of his death. In the mid-1950s, there was such stigma about suicide and homosexuality that few wanted to tell the story. His wife fought against having it told till she died.

Lester Jr and Elise Hunt Chadwick, Hunt’s children are still living

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:06 pm
In response to Rodger McDaniel @ 6

I have heard from both and they have expressed appreciation that their father’s life story has been told AND that the truth about his death has also been told

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I was particularly interested in the place of the son. You certainly portrayed what I took to be blackmail re. the last race, I think. Was there a belief that the initial arrest was any sort of set up initially?

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

The Pulitzer prize-winning “Advise and Consent” by Allen Drury was a fictionalized version of this real-life Senatorial suicide. He changed some of the details, but captured the dynamics of life in the 1950s Senate and the dynamics of blackmail and suicide quite well.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

There was some sense that young Hunt had been entrapped…but he was very open with me that he was guilty as charged. Senator Hunt had previously accused the DC Police Department of being corrupt and I looked into whether there was a payback…found no evidence of that

dakine01 September 28th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to Peterr @ 9

Ah. I read that back when I was in high school so have forgotten a lot of details from it over the decades since

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:10 pm

The author of Advise and Consent, Allen Drury, was a UPI reporter covering the senate…he knew all about the blackmail. Instead of writing that story he wrote the fictional account

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:11 pm

As he spoke of the arrest etc, did he seem to feel guilty about how that piece of the story had ultimately involved his father?

Phoenix Woman September 28th, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Lester Hunt’s story needs to be told. Thank you.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Rodger, I was struck again and again by how little some things seem to have changed in Washington since Hunt’s day. You did a great job of giving us the context of Hunt’s suicide, both political context and personal context, and I keep seeing today’s headlines in the activities you recount.

For instance, given the current arguments about health insurance, Hunt’s support for Truman’s health care proposals sounded very familiar. You said his constituent mail ran 10-1 against it, yet he kept pushing it. I loved the response you presented, where he reacted to the way folks threw around “socialism” in political debate, and he listed the programs that republicans tarred with that label from the Senate floor:

Jefferson’s public school system
Women’s sufferage
Income tax
Interstate commerce commission
8 hour work day
workman’s compensation
pure food and drug act
federal reserve act
minimum wage
guarantee of bank deposits
child labor law
securities and exchange act
federal aid to highways
rural electrification administration
soil conservation service
Bankhead-Jones farm tenant act.

He winds this up by saying “In fact, it seems to me every time the government attempts to help the great mass of our people, we hear the cry of ‘socialism’.”

What contemporary parallels jumped out at you as you were researching this book?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:13 pm

He did feel guilt for many years…when I first met him he told me he didn’t think there could have been a blackmail since his trial and conviction were in the papers…the book gave him some sense of he fact that it was not about him but rather about raw politics

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:15 pm

The debate over Obamacare was a duplicate of the debate over Harry Truman’s compulsory health care proposal…complete with all the distortions and lies

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

That’s very helpful; thank you.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Even Hunt called Truman’s proposal “socialism.” He helped defeat it BUT came back saying something more than defeating that bill was needed and wrote what would later become Medicare under LBJ

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Another key part of the story is that at the time, the Democrats had a majority of one in the US Senate. If Hunt could be forced to leave (or enticed with another job), then the GOP would have taken over, since the WY governor was a republican who would have (and did) appoint a republican, and VP Nixon would have had the tie breaking vote.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Can you share some more about Hunt’s entry into the Senate, and what it was that got him on the bad side of Joe McCarthy?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

That is the story…control of the senate was at stake. After hounding Lester Hunt to death, the GOP got control of the senate from June 19-election day the following November when it went back to the Democrats

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Within 3 months of being sworn in Hunt was appointed to a senate committee to investigate whether confessions of Nazi war criminal had been extorted or tortured out of them by American military officers. McCarthy was not on the committee but insinuated himself into their proceedings. McCarthy took the side of the Nazi defenders. He attacked witnesses and the senate committee member, ultimately writing his own report accusing Hunt and the others of a cover-up. From there, the relationship was downhill and very bitter

JamesJoyce September 28th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I find the timing of this story perfect. NSA, CIA, data collection and political blackmail. Thinking of Joe M, I then think of Ted C. TO what end will “Id” control?

Given this tragic example of the consequences of McCarthyism, this story should be sent to every member of Congress asking members if they would like to be the next Lester Hunt, should they be shaken down by another political opportunistic, lying, drug addict, like Joe M?


Thank You Roger!

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Anger fueled McCarthy’s rage, and fear was his favorite weapon. “Be afraid of them!” meaning whoever McCarthy targetted, and also “Be afraid of me!” if you dared to oppose him.

Your picture of Hunt is very different. He did not seem terribly afraid of taking whatever stand seemed to him to be right, nor did he seem to fear being proven wrong or voted out.

Is this about right, in terms of your impression of Hunt?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to JamesJoyce @ 24

I have written a script using the research for the book…it’s reader’s theater “The Trial of Joe McCarthy. We will stage it in DC next month for just that purpose…to educate members of Congress about this stain on their own history…about the price of bigotry and the cost on such demonization as Sen. Cruz uses

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:31 pm
In response to Peterr @ 25

Yes Peterr…Hunt was among the very first people in the country to challenge McCarthy opernly…he was quite principled and McCarthy was just not Hunt’s kind of guy

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Young Hunt also spent considerable time participating in anti-McCarth protests

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

What else can you add about the rise of McCarthy? It seems impossible that he could have garnered so much power….

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Have you heard any reactions to the book from DC folks yet? Given that Alan Simpson wrote the forward, has he told you of any reactions from his former colleagues?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:36 pm
In response to Peterr @ 30

Not from members of Congress…but I have from the GLBT community…they see the story as an important chapter in their struggle for civil rights. The Mattachine Society of DC is sponsoring the mock trial in DC…thye and others are quite interested in airing this hidden piece of history

JamesJoyce September 28th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I wish you success. Congress is in need of a history lesson.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Do you have a date, time, and place for this finalized, that you can announce here, or are things still tentative?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:40 pm
In response to RevBev @ 29

McCarthy came to the senate and floundered…was not well liked even among Republicans, could not get a good committee assignment and was quite frustrated. But when he gave that Lincoln Day speech in Wheeling, W. Va and claimed to have a list of 205 communists in the state department, he made the front pages and his fellow Republicans saw he could get traction. Soon he conflated the Red Scare with a claim that the government was filled with homosexuals whom Stalin was recruiting as spies

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Rodger, you described how not only the threat of blackmail was used against Hunt, but he also had a carrot waved in front of him as well. You found documentation that Eisenhower was ready to appoint Hunt as chair of the Federal Tariff Commission – a six year appointment that paid more than the salary of a US Senator at the time. You record how Hunt turned down this deal, but leave unanswered exactly how much Ike personally knew.

Did your research show who it was that recommended to Ike that this deal be offered?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:41 pm
In response to Peterr @ 34

The Trial of Joe McC will be at the All Souls Unitarian Church 1500 Harvard Street@16th, Washington at 7 PM on October 23rd. Senator Al Simpson will participate…

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:43 pm
In response to Peterr @ 36

I could not find much leading to the Eisenhower offer…a White House staff memo questioned the political feasibility of appointing a Democrat to a plum job…but nothing more

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:45 pm

I have to ask: who will he be playing/reading?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:46 pm

BTW…if you’re in the DC area that night, we need two more jurors!

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:47 pm
In response to Peterr @ 39

The cast includes Trevor Potter former counsel to both GHW Bush and John McCain campaigns. He was also chair of the Federal Election Commission and is the counsel to Steven Colbert’s Super Pac. Potter is the prosecutor. Mindy Daniels, a well-known DC defense lawyer is the defense attorney

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Yeah, finding a memo saying “We’ve been trying to blackmail Hunt out of the Senate, but haven’t gotten anywhere with that so far. Could you please bribe him out of it with a nice appointment?” isn’t terribly likely. That’s what gets said over drinks and cigars somewhere, not put down in writing.

Still, knowing who suggested the deal to Ike would be very illuminating . . .

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

What did you think/learn about Mrs. Hunt? Though very sad, she must have been a strong and stable woman, from what I could tell.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

What’s been the reaction around Cheyenne to the book, both around town generally and among politicians more specifically?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Mrs. Hunt was a rock. She was a full political partner in Hunt’s career. After his death she lived first in Chicago with her son and later with daughter Elise in Spokane. She drove cross country frequently…liked to drive alone. She came to Lander, Wyoming in a covered wagon in the late 1800s…interesting woman

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:53 pm
In response to Peterr @ 44

The reaction has almost universally been, “Wow I had no idea.” This story was hidden even from the Wyoming history textbooks. The premier Wyoming historian knew the story, included it in the original manuscript for his “History of Wyoming.” Mrs. Hunt hired a lawyer and threatened to sue him if he did…so the reaction has mostly been, ” Why did we never hear this story before?”

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

There’s a way that really came thru in the book; not alot of detail. But certainly there and solid. Thanks.

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 2:55 pm

The author must have yielded; such a suit would not likely have been successful…..right?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
In response to RevBev @ 47

It’s painful to imagine what that last year must have been like for her. Her son’s arrest, the threats, someone broke into their home and ransacked it, sitting through the trial…she must have been tough to survive all of that

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 2:58 pm
In response to RevBev @ 48

No, a suit would not have been. The author was a close friend of the Hunts. He took the story to his grave. I found the details among his papers left at the University of Wyoming. He never even shared it with his academic colleagues

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

You did a lot of digging through papers for this. What was the biggest surprise you found?

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Was it all hard to write? It is such a painful story. I appreciated your postscript for a discussion of suicide….so inscrutable.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:01 pm
In response to Peterr @ 51

Eisenhower’s involvement was the biggest surprise.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:03 pm
In response to RevBev @ 52

It was hard to write. As I worked on the chapter I called “The Longest Year” – the story of the year of threats and blackmail, I found myself increasingly saddened and depressed…there were days I had to simply back off and come back to it later. By then I felt I had come to know this man and cared deeply about what they were putting him through

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Any big “I knew it!” moments, when you found something to prove what you had previously only suspected?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Let me add though that it was a joy to write the story of his life. Lester Hunt was a significant person in Wyoming history and not an insignificant player in DC. One cannot grasp the tragedy of his death without knowing of how he lived his life

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:08 pm
In response to Peterr @ 55

Yes…one of the final pieces of research was a trip to Concord, New Hampshire to go through the papers of Senator Styles bridges. Bridges led the blackmail effort. He was the one of the most powerful people in America. The surprise was that I could find so much incriminating evidence remaining among his own personal papers.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

I knew he “did it” and suddenly there it all was in his own files

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 3:11 pm

What a contrast in character. Im not sure we have anyone of Hunt’s character these days…His integrity kept coming thru. One wishes he could have made a different choice.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Absolutely, and that significance and tragedy certainly comes through.

From the defense of New Deal programs to dealing with the Japanese Internment camps — dealing with WY residents, the Japanese internees, and federal officials — to debates over the Grand Tetons, you gave a very full picture of a very full life.

In a way, reading the book was like an old episode of “Columbo” where the criminal is revealed in the opening minutes, but the drama of seeing how Columbo figures it out is what draws you in. In your book, Simpson lays out the end of the story in the forward, but your depiction of how Hunt lived before his suicide makes the book quite strong.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:14 pm

For those who are interested in primary sources, I just discovered earlier today that Hunt’s papers at the University of Wyoming are available online.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:15 pm
In response to RevBev @ 59

Yes…Lester Hunt was exactly what we want and need in government. Never any hint of scandal, devotion to the job…but it’s all changed so much. The corrupt influence of big money, the 24/7 news cycle with entire networks devoted to a narrow political agenda. Hunt didn’t like the senate much when he first arrived. Governors get to make decisions, senators get to have debates…so he was frustrated. Can’t imagine how much more frustrated he’d have been today.

It occurred to me that if he had lived, he would have been in the middle of the decisions that bogged us down in Viet Nam…and I think he learned enough from Korea to have been an opponent of Viet Nam

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

It makes you wonder what’s in McCarthy’s papers, that are sealed until (if I remember correctly) after his daughter’s death.

BevW September 28th, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Is there a depository of McCarthy’s papers?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:16 pm
In response to Peterr @ 61

This is my first book; first experience sorting through another person’s personal papers, letters, diaries, photos…what a journey!

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:17 pm
In response to BevW @ 64

McCarthy’s estate donated his papers to Marquette University under a contract that deprives historians of seeing them until his daughter dies. One can only imagine what will be found then

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Would you say a bit more about how you think of his suicide? To save his family, no other options….What seems to be the most compelling thing?

Teddy Partridge September 28th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Thank you for this great book, which I’ve only just begun to read. I’m interested to know what reactions you get from younger readers, some of whom must be absolutely baffled by the stigma attached to homosexuality in those times. Do these readers, who have grown up in a world where celebrities and politicians are out, have any understanding of the world as it once was, not so long ago?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:25 pm
In response to RevBev @ 67

I think there were a number of reasons. First, his brother committed suicide in the same manner 2 years earlier. That seems to open the door for suicide in families. Second of curse is the year of enormous stress. He blamed himself for his son’s ordeal because he came to believe that if he has resigned earlier, his son would have never gone to trial. Then he announced and withdrew. BUT THE FINAL STRAW was McCarthy’s press conference the day before Hunt died. By then Hunt had endured it all and had come to grips with not running for reelection. That wasn’t enough for his enemies. Now McCarthy said he intended to investigate a Democrat who had been involved in “a bribe.” Hunt knew Bridges believed there had been a bribe behind the initial dismissal of the charges. I think that was the moment when he decided there was only one way to protect his family from the inevitable.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:26 pm
In response to RevBev @ 67

And as a followup, did you see any of the four notes Hunt left on his desk, or have those disappeared?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Great question…most often they focus instead on the idea that they have been led to believe that the 50s were kinder and gentler times and they are surprised at the vile of the Hunt story. However, they also relate to the continuing struggle for gay rights and are interested to learn why that struggle has taken so long

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:29 pm
In response to Peterr @ 70

The suicide notes “went to the grave” with Mrs. Hunt. Lester Jr told me he had read them but they said little more than “this is not your fault.” Suicide researchers greatly discount the usefulness of suicide notes in determining the cause

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Have you heard from any high school history teachers in Wyoming about how this might change what they teach about a major leader in their state?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Yes and college profs as well. It is now being used at the University level Wyoming history courses. I have received many invitations to speak to hs classes. We’ve had many hs students take part as jurors in the mock trial

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Right. My question was more in a realm of academic interest.

I’ve written about suicide at FDL in the past, and in one of those posts, I said this:

Desperate times and desperate circumstances lead desperate people to take their own lives. Suicide has many causes, and it seems that each victim has his or her own mix of issues and pressures that led them to kill themselves. Whatever the specifics of each case are, the two aftereffects of suicide are the same in every case: someone is dead, and the lives of their family and friends and neighbors are twisted with grief and often guilt.

That, too, is part of why I made the connection with Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign, aimed at LGBT youth who might feel helpless and hopeless and turn to suicide.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Have you given those class presentations yet, or are the invitations still too recent? Can you say more about the students and their reactions?

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:39 pm
In response to Peterr @ 75

You are absolutely right. There is never a single cause but the common thread is the belief that “those I care about will be better off if I do this.” My guess is that with young people the act is more impulsive. They do something today they might not have done if they had waited another day.

With Hunt I think there was a lengthy deliberation, up and down, until that McCarty threat came and all the avenues were closed

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Thank you again for these answers; my system had just gone down.;)

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to Peterr @ 76

I have given several. Student seem very interested. The idea of a high level elected official killing themselves is a big hook…that may happen in movies but happens so infrequently in real life that it is a grabber. They also zero in on how they view the nasty politics of our times

BevW September 28th, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Rodger, with today’s fast news cycles and social media – do you think Sen. Hunt may had decided not to take his life, but fight back?

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Did you learn anything more about the man who had held the gun for him the day he went to his office? What a startling thing to happen.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

That was my sense as well.

From Lester’s point of view, things were not only out of his control, but increasingly and more painfully so. You mentioned that Welker had printed 25,000 flyers he was preparing to send to Wyoming voters about Lester Jr and his trial, and it’s safe to assume that Lester Sr. knew about this. Given how much Lester Sr cared about his family (think about the bone grafts for Lester Jr, for example), the idea that he committed suicide to spare them the pain that things like these flyers would cause is certainly plausible. Add in a dose of “If I hadn’t gone into politics, or run for the US Senate, my family wouldn’t be threatened like this” guilt, and it becomes even more plausible.

(By the way, did you ever see one of these flyers, or did they all get disposed of when Hunt died?)

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to BevW @ 80

Had a “data error” had to log back in…Today is so different…it’s hard to imagine a “scandal” that (1) could stay under the media radar; and (2) would leave someone open to that kind of blackmail. Part of it is the change in media attitudes. Hunt’s journalist friends who knew the story acquiesced in his beseeching not to tell it. Not likely today. Bill Clinton survived as have others today…when half a century ago they would not have.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:48 pm
In response to RevBev @ 81

That was one place where the “My how things have changed!” bells went off for me. The idea of a US senator calmly walking into the senate office building with a rifle under his arm, and being greeted casually by various building personnel is indeed a thing of the past.

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to RevBev @ 81

I read his police statement but could not locate him…that certainly shows how much has changed!

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:49 pm
In response to Peterr @ 82

I never saw a flyer in any of Bridges papers. Welker didn’t save any papers

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

The irony is that I am sitting in a McDonalds talking about Joe McCarthy listening to FOX News repeatedly run Ted Cruz stories! Not that much has changed

BevW September 28th, 2013 at 3:51 pm

As we come to the last few minutes of this great Book Salon discussion,

Rodger, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book, and the life of Senator Hunt.

Peterr, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Rodger’s website and book

Thanks all, Have a great weekend.

Tomorrow: Dickson Despommier / The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century; Hosted by Paul Hardej, FarmedHere.com

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

Rodger McDaniel September 28th, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thanks everyone…been fun

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Give yourself a break….;)I liked your book very much and thought it very well written on such a difficult subject. Thank you for the book and for this discussion. When JFK was shot, I read almost everything for awhile, really looking for a different outcome. This feels sort of the same way; I wish there were another ending. I appreciate how complete your narrative was for telling the events….still, very sad.

CTuttle September 28th, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Mahalo, Rodger, Peterr, and Bev for another excellent Book Salon…!

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

One other positive thing about this book, completely unrelated to Hunt’s suicide, is the picture you give of your state and its history. Many folks who’ve never lived in Wyoming have an image of the state that is shaped by Dick Cheney, and are amazed to learn that Wyoming not only has Democrats, but has had Democratic elected leaders. Hunt’s visibility during the hearings with Estes Kefauver was truly amazing.

Wyoming was blessed to have a leader like Hunt, and is blessed today by this book that tells his story in a way much fuller than has been told in the past.

Peterr September 28th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Thanks for coming, and I’d love to hear how the readers theater goes in DC!

RevBev September 28th, 2013 at 4:02 pm
In response to Peterr @ 93

Thank you, Peterr, Good job.

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