Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Warren Harding: Do We Need Him Today?

By David Bozeman
Yes, that Warren Harding. November 2nd marks the birthday of the historians’ perennial choice for the worst president ever. Tea Partiers are embracing the folksy, budget-cutting Calvin Coolidge, who assumed office upon Harding’s death in 1923, but only a few prominent conservatives have dared to try reviving the legacy of our 29th president, tainted forever with the stench of Teapot Dome and other scandals, along with all-night poker and sexual debauchery.

His reputation as a failure is so ingrained in our collective memory that detailing a rebuttal of his supposedly sleazy tenure is clearly not possible in this tiny space. Suffice it to say, the scandalous dealings of his Interior and Veteran’s Affairs secretaries reflect his poor judgment, and his moral shortcomings are as emblematic of the 1920’s as flappers and bootleg gin. But the worst president ever?

Proof that the Harding name can’t get a break is that his wife Florence is generally considered the worst of all first ladies. In a just world, this strong, trail-blazing patriot (an advocate for veterans, she referred to them as her “boys”) would be extolled as a role model and forerunner of such activist presidential wives as Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton. But the die was cast shortly after the president’s death, and later generations accepted as gospel the proclamations of the historians.
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