Monday, February 15, 2016

President's Day: Warren Gamaliel Harding, America's 29th President

Ol' Number 29
I've been trying to use President's Day to spend some time at least Wikipedia-ing the non-All Star Presidents of the United States.  As in any period, the pool of folks in play trying to be President and who actually win out (and what they do when in office) can tell us a lot about the times in which they lived.  So, with the batch of cartoon characters we've currently got gunning for Leader of the Free World, I really look forward to books written about this era, which will be called America's "WTF? Era".

In the wake of World War I and the iffy conclusion of the Woodrow Wilson presidency,* an unlikely Republican took the nomination on the 10th ballot of the GOP convention in the summer of 1920.  back then, party folks showed up at a real convention and really placed ballots.  The convention was not a televised advertisement.  A lot of dirty laundry got aired and political fortunes were won and lost overnight, and if I could reduce the election cycle to four months, I would gladly opt for the old-style form of corrupt politics over today's corrupt politics.

Once selected, Warren G. stayed home and ran a "front porch campaign", something I think 99% of America would fully back if it would mean the news cycle would stop shouting at us.

Born in Ohio in 1865, Harding started off his career as a newspaperman, putting out a paper even as a student.  He became involved in politics, running for local office and losing, but later became part of the Hanna machine from Ohio that drove toward a McKinley Presidency.  Once in place, he ran for Lt. Governor of Ohio** and won.  In the division between hard-line Republicans and the reformers led by TR, Harding tilted conservative but was politically savvy enough to work with the progressives, backing Taft in his TR-anointed run for the Presidency and was able to build some political capital.

He ran for Governor of Ohio in 1910 and lost, but in 1914 - with direct election of Senators now a reality - Harding ran and won.  This led to a 1916 role in the GOP convention and more prominence.   When the 1920 election seemed nigh, TR was to break custom and run again (running for a third term but only a second election as his first term had occurred after McKinley's assassination).  However, TR died suddenly in 1919, leaving the field wide open.

And, of course, Harding was nominated, ran and won.

Two years into his term, he dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 57.

His presidency is mostly remembered for The Teapot Dome Scandal, a phrase we all know, but we always have to look up to remember what the hell it was, and then refusing to join The League of Nations, which the U.S. had strongly backed under Wilson and which may have helped prevent World War II had the League succeeded.  So, good job, Warren.

If you can't remember what Teapot Dome was, it's because it's the sort of thing that happens so often as a matter of course these days that it wouldn't even be an "above the fold" sort of thing.  Basically, the Department of the Interior gave no bid contracts to oil companies from federal lands.  Yeah, I know.  That's, like, a Tuesday in DC these days.

Harding will also be remembered not just for looking like an angry and confused high school principal, but for having an affair that produced a child, all of which became very public in the wake of his death.

President Harding, everyone.  They're not all heroes, these guys we call Mr. President.

*Nothing pisses me off more than the folks trying to paint Edith Wilson as some sort of hero for hiding Wilson's debilitated state from the public and government.

**a lot of familiar names start popping up here if you've done much reading on Taft.  Dick, Foraker, etc...  all involved in various ways of Taft's political career.

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