I posted a picture of President Warren G. Harding, along with his slogan “return to normalcy,” because I think that most Americans will soon want our country to return to normalcy and away from the freedom-crushing, fiscally irresponsible and socialistic policies of Barack Obama. The U.S. was tired of the overbearing government activism, intrusions, and curtailment of freedom that was experienced under Woodrow Wilson’s administration and Harding was a welcome relief.
Historians have generally not been kind to Harding, although some have attempted to show that not all the criticism was deserved, and that he (or his administration, at least), in fact, accomplished some quite positive things. Harding was nominated as a dark-horse compromise candidate to break a convention deadlock. Calvin Coolidge was chosen as his running mate.
President Harding is most often remembered for the scandals that some of his appointees got involved in, such as the Teapot Dome bribery scandal, and some others. Harding remarked that he could deal with his enemies, it was his friends who caused him the most trouble. Some had to serve jail time. Harding apparently had several weaknesses that impaired his work as president. He was a good speaker and able to get along well with people, even those in rival factions of his party, but he was not, it seems, a strong leader or visionary. Also, despite his charm and good appearance, and a true liking for people, he had some moral failures leading to extramarital affairs. Most of the political and personal scandals were unknown to the public until after his death, and may very well have contributed to his death. He took office in 1921 and died in 1923, supposedly of a heart attack or stroke, following food poisoning and pneumonia, although no autopsy was permitted.
Probably he thought that America needed a respite not only from World War I, but from the dictatorial rule of Wilson. Under Woodrow Wilson, during the War, it was made illegal to criticize the government or the war effort. Publications that were suspect could have their postal permits withdrawn by a simple government decision. Thugs were empowered to bully people who didn’t seem to conform enough. And business interests grew weary of government controls and taxes they considered too high.
Harding addressed these issues. He had some able and upright men in his cabinet, not just crooks and self-serving cronies. Herbert Hoover, Andrew Mellon, and Charles Evans Hughes made important contributions as Cabinet officers.
Harding helped make sure that America was not going to join the League of Nations, Wilson’s dream project. Wilson was adamant that no compromise was possible on this, although historians believe he could have negotiated a successful conclusion. Harding, along with his successor Calvin Coolidge, led America through an important transition from wartime, through an economic downturn and toward a period of prosperity.
Under Harding, taxes were lowered, protective tariffs were increased, aid was given to Russia (under Hoover’s supervision) that reportedly saved ten million lives, a treaty limiting naval armaments was approved, which saved a great deal of money, and various reforms were implemented.
Some trivia: Harding was the first president to ride to his inauguration in an automobile. The presidential campaign of 1920 was the first to be covered by radio. Harding was the first president to visit Alaska. And he was the first president elected as a sitting U.S. senator. Also, his presidential election victory was by the largest margin up to that time. It is reported that he ran against the retiring Wilson and mostly ignored his Democratic opponent James Cox. He campaigned from his front porch and attracted many people to his home town, including Hollywood celebrities.
We will need (and already do need) a “return to normalcy” from Obamaism, but I hope that a leader more effective than the unfortunate Harding will emerge, someone more like Ronald Reagan, a conservative person of principle with strong political and communication skills, and not an advocate of Liberalism Lite or Slower Socialism.
Some have rated Harding, unjustly I think, as the worst U.S. president. For me, that honor (among presidents who have completed their time in office) goes to Jimmy Carter. He at least proved his ineffectiveness over a full term.
(See Harding biographies at answers.com)