A Blog Dedicated to the Study of the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, and history of the environment.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Warren G. Harding
When Indiana governor Mitch Daniels delivered the Republican response to President Omaba's state of the union address I couldn't help think of another mid-western paragaon of conservativism, Warren G. Harding.
I always felt Harding has received a bum rap by historians. Sure there was the Teapot
Dome scandal, the worst case of corruption in the White House before Watergate replaced it at as the crime of the century, and Harding should justly be condemned for that. Many other knocks on him, however, seem overly gossipy. These stories circulated in abundance after Harding's death in 1923. There are stories that he fathered a love child, drank in the White House, had no clue what he was doing, and he suffered from a downright murderous wife (and that was only one theory of his death). Presidential conspiracy theories did not orginate in Dallas in 1963. Historian Robert Ferrell has done some good work debunking many (emphasis on not all) of the stories negative concerning Harding. Historian Robert K. Murray made a demonstrated some of Harding's positive attributes as a president. While niether inflate his significance, their combined (and uncoordinated) vision is of a more constructive leader than is normal.
Harding played an important role in American politics, one that has not received due attention. He was the first conservative president in the modern sense. What I mean is that he ran on a distinctly anti-liberal (or anti-progressive) platform promising to undo some of the work of his predecessors. Campaining on the slogan of "Normalcy," he wanted to turn back the clock to the start of the century, presumably to right after the Gold Standard Act of 1900 and before the assassination of fellow Ohioan William McKinley in 1901. Harding campaigned on cutting taxes, reducing business regulations, and rejecting global security organizations. This platform would work appeal to conservatives just as well today.