Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Um, No

We have a "Slate Pitch" article here that argues that Warren Harding - who is in the news because of his sexy-time letters to his mistress - was not as bad as he's made out to be.

The author's argument seems to be that Harding signed a bunch of decent legislation - the Sheppard-Towner Act, the Budget and Accounting Act - to offset the bad - the Fordney-McCumber tariff, the Mellon tax plan -  and the ugly - the persistent and pervasive scandals of his administration.

The argument that he was relatively racially progressive is also kind of vacant.  The author suggests that Grant, too, gets poor marks for the corruption, despite being a racial progressive.

But we DO knock LBJ for Vietnam - which killed quite a few African Americans - in balance with his civil rights legislation.  But LBJ actively worked for civil rights.  Harding was simply "better than Wilson" despite the fact that many of Wilson's programs were good for ALL Americans, including African Americans.  Wilson was a segregationist, but so was Harding.  Harding also met with Klansmen in the Oval Office, something even Wilson didn't do.

The one area where Harding deserves credit is his pardon of Eugene V. Debs.  But no one doubts Harding's kindness (except perhaps his wife).  It was his ability as President that was lacking - something Harding himself admitted to.

When we look at Nixon's presidency, there is a tendency to credit him for certain things that Congress did: the EPA, the Clean Air and Water Act and so on.  The fact is that Nixon didn't care about that.  If giving Congress some domestic leeway kept him free to pursue his global power politics, so be it.  Giving Harding credit for a mildly progressive Congress pursuing administrative reform via the Budget and Accounting Act seems to be giving the roster the credit for the dawn.

Harding was not a forceful leader, he was not a visionary president.  He was a genial, somewhat dim avatar for the Republican Old Guard, led by Andrew Mellon, to roll back the income tax, protect wealth and undermine the progressive reforms of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

He was a nice man, but he was a lousy president.

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