Curtis Graves, Nadine and Bob Eckhardt with daughter Sarah, and Sid Hilliard at the Pilgrim Congregational Church, circa 1967. credit, was no LBJ. Whereas Lyndon lived for acclaim and power and money, Bob just wanted to be left alone with the law. LBJ valued Lady Bird’s discreet, tactful efforts because he understood their necessity to his career. But Eckhardt seemed blind to the politicking Nadine did on his behalf. Or even worse, he saw it as something useful but of no particular value, like doing the laundry. “He couldn’t change,” Nadine writes. “I lost patience with his helplessness and after years of being a wife/staffer, I lost respect for him. Actually, it was more complicated than that. I was losing respect for myself for putting myself in such a position:’ The position in which Nadine found herself was captured succinctly by journalist Myra MacPherson in 1975’s The Power Lovers: An Intimate Look at Politicians and Their Marriages, a book that would cause considerable mischief for the Eckhardts upon its publication. Here MacPherson recounts a particularly The talk shifted to political wives; [Bob Eckhardt joked] that the best campaigners are those who are ‘simply not engaged in helping the opposition. I’m inclined to think a man alone in a campaign would be better.’ Surprising to his audience, he said that a nice, warm, friendly wife with no ambition or ideological bent can often make the best political wife. Nadine was sitting quietly, but hardly containing herself. She is a strong personality, vivacious, with a strong ideological bent, reads politics avidly, discusses it avidly, and has an avid opinion. When Eckhardt mentioned one ‘perfect’ wife who ‘loved’ politics and fit the pattern he had just described, Nadine asked with a shade of innocence, ‘Why is she perfect?’ Because she does it so well.’ She replied, ‘Well, “good, supportive” wives are not necessarily happy.’ He seemed somewhat perplexed at the interjection of the word `happy’ into the conversation. ‘I didn’t say they were happyI said they were tremendous assets.’ She said, ‘I don’t think they are really assets. Did you ever see her really smile? Did you ever see her happy?’ He said, ‘I’m not talking about happy, honey, but about assets. If Bob Eckhardt wasn’t LBJ, Nadine was no Lady Bird. She didn’t have a temperament suited for hero worship or public humiliationboth helpful character traits for Washington wives. In another passage, MacPherson quotes Nadine as saying, “Those wives don’t even realize their egos are suffering. It’s a kick to have people say, ‘What a speech you gave, instead of, `Oh, I think your husband’s wonderful. I answer that I think he is too, but I also feel, holy hell, so am I.” Unlike Lady Bird, access to power and money appears never to have motivated Nadine. And though for a while she’d enjoyed working as Bob’s campaign partner, she was beginning to feel exploited. If her choice truly was, as her husband related it to MacPherson, between being a supportive wife and being a happy person, then JANUARY 9, 2009 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 33
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The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.