Thursday, December 2, 2010

Warren Gamaliel Harding

Term: 1921-1923

Party: Republican

Nickname: Eyebrows...not really...but he doesn't have any apparently.

The United States had just gone through a terrible World War, or known at that time as the War to End all Wars. Citizens of the U.S. were officially sick of dealing with outside powers. Luckily for them, as soon as Woodrow Wilson suffered his stroke in 1919, the Progressive Era was done. People wanted a president who would bring the focus back to the United States. What they got was Warren G. Harding. Harding did look right for the job. He declared that he wanted the country to be put back into normalcy, a word which he made up, which refers to a return to the political and economic isolation that had characterized the U.S. before the First World War. Harding handily beat his progressive Democratic adversary, James M. Cox. It might be for the better that we didn’t have a President Cox. This election was landmark in a few ways. First, it was the first time that a sitting senator became president. Second, it was the first election where all women could vote. Third, it was the first election to have the election results broadcast from the radio.

From the get-go, Harding was overwhelmed by the job of President of the Free World. He confessed that he didn’t know what to do or where to go. He was more than happy to rely on the Republican Congress for directions. Wartime controls were eliminated, taxes cut, tariffs raised, and immigration tightened. Things were looking up for Harding, and he remained immensely popular going into 1923. What the public didn’t know was how corrupt Harding’s administration was. His Interior Secretary Albert Fall, accepted bribes from private oil interests for naval petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming, and Elk Hills, California. Harding did not take place in the scheme, but he knew of it, and did nothing for fear that it would damage his reputation. Several other scandals surfaced during Harding’s administration, but the biggest, the Teapot Dome scandal, didn’t become public knowledge until after his death. In 1923, Harding, while on a national tour with his wife, died of heart failure. By the time a sensational book by a woman alleging to have been Harding’s former mistress-and mother of his illegitimate child-surfaced in 1930, Harding’s reputation was already sullied.

Grade: F

Harding is almost always listed as the worst president, or the second to last. He got a few things done, but that was more of Congress’ doing than his own. He allowed his administration to run free with corruption and did nothing to stop it out of fear for his own reputation. Harding literally had no idea how to be president and relied on Congress the whole way. He is even quoted as saying that he was not fit to be president. Plus, he had really creepy bushy eyebrows.

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