A conservative news and views blog.

Location: St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Looking back at similar times

Dana Mathewson

For years, we have been conditioned to believe that Warren G. Harding was one of the worst presidents this country ever had. This is mainly because he brought along with him old business friends who saw their chance to make a killing at the country's expense. Mention Harding to most people and, if they've ever heard of him, they shoot back with "Teapot Dome."

Yet Harding was a very effective president. He inherited a mess upon taking office -- the mess of WW I spending left to him by an incapacitated Woodrow Wilson. He made campaign promises to fix things, and at the time of his untimely death some two and a half years into his term he had kept every one. And he had attempted to put in place some civil rights laws, including an anti-lynching law -- these attempts were thwarted by southern senators.

Allis and Ron Radosh have written an excellent appreciation of Harding in The Weekly Standard, which should be read by all. It's here:

FTA: "When the war ended in November 1918, Wilson’s lack of planning for demobilization meant that four million soldiers were sent home under chaotic conditions with little money and few benefits. Demand fell, bringing bankruptcies, business closures, and rising unemployment. During the depression of 1920 to 1921, industries cut back production, many of them running half-time. The drastic drop in wholesale prices hit farmers hardest, causing the price of farmland to collapse. When African-American soldiers returned home after fighting abroad for democracy and couldn’t find jobs, they felt they were once again being relegated to second-class status. The result was race riots throughout the Midwest’s industrial belt.

"Harding promised to heal the nation and return it to prosperity—to “normalcy,” as he called it. He would turn things around by lowering taxes from their wartime highs, reducing the debt, balancing the budget, and making the government smaller and more efficient. Taxes, he thought, had become so high they were counterproductive, preventing the revival of business. Harding had campaigned on this platform, and once in office he faithfully carried it out."


"The policies of Harding and his successor Calvin Coolidge were undone in the 1930s, when President Hoover adopted the statist measures that laid the foundations for what would become the New Deal. With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a new kind of welfare state was created, and progressivism began once again to flourish. Surveying the situation in 1940 after the economy’s downturn and what people were beginning to call a new Roosevelt depression, Dawes penned a warning:

Some day, a President, if he is to save the country from bankruptcy and its people from ruin, must make the old fight over again, and this time the battle will be waged against desperate disadvantages. Against him will be arrayed the largest, strongest, and most formidably entrenched army of interested government spenders, wasters, and patronage-dispensing politicians the world has yet known.

"Dawes was prescient. As the old fight is once again being waged, we can only hope that the president Americans elect in 2012 will be as much of a “reactionary” as Warren G. Harding—and as much of a success."

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