BLOG: Warren Harding, America's greatest president?

Tom Jackson
May 15, 2012

Warren Harding, a native of Marion, Ohio, who was the country's leader 1921 to 1923, usually is not considered a great president.

Harding is often associated by historians with the Teapot Dome scandal and other scandals. His secretary of the interior eventually became the first cabinet member to go to prison (for accepting bribes for valuable oil leases.)

 But Gene Healy makes a case for Harding in "The Cult of the Presidency," a delightful book I'm currently reading. (The ebook is currently free and available here.)

Healy writes that Harding's administration was marked by peace, prosperity and respect for civil liberties and draws a contrast between Harding and his predecessor, Woodrow Wilson:

"By 1924, federal spending had been cut nearly in half, leading to large government surpluses. And Harding’s good nature and liberal instincts led him to overrule his political advisers and pardon 25 nonviolent protesters that Wilson had locked up, including Eugene Debs. 'I want him to eat his Christmas dinner with his wife,’ Harding said.

Healy's book also refers to a study by two Ohio University economists, Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway, which ranked the presidents according to whether they increased or lowered government spending as a percentage of the gross national product. According to how they tweaked their rankings, the pair ranked Harding either No. 1 or No. 3 among all U.S. presidents.

Their essay was published as part of a book, "Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom," edited by John Denson. It's available here as a free PDF.

Harding was, according to Wikipedia, the first newspaper publisher to be elected president. The reporter who sits next to me used to work at Harding's newspaper, the Marion Star.

 

Comments

buckeye15

I didn't know you were such a fiction buff, Mr. Jackson.

44846GWP

Every President had his good and bad points.

Factitious

Available free at THE CATO INSTITUTE, LOL!  Worth every penny! The poster children for right-wing extremist lunacy! They want to sell all our national parks, and all our government buildings, and lease 'em back!

Wikipedia's article Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States charts 17 surveys by notable scholars from 1948 (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.) through 2011 (Institute for the Study of the Americas), and the aggregated results puts Harding at rock bottom. (It has a pretty cool interactive chart you can sort by any of its 21 different columns.)

Of the the nine surveys prior to 1999, only one had him better than worst (second-worst.) After that, for whatever reason, regard for him changed abruptly if slightly and the likes of Buchanan, Johnson and Pierce apparently made him look better; from 1999, he averaged 3.75 from the bottom, but you can't really call that a trend, because in 2008 he peaked at 7 and the most recent two survey had him at third from the bottom.

Republicans might be pleased to know that Abe Lincoln wins #1 hands-down, and the most recent president to make it into the top ten was Dwight D. Eisenhower at #8 (but perhaps less pleased to know that Ike ties with Jackson, a Democrat.)

Democrats might be pleased that Franklin D. Roosevelt is in solid second place. Three, four and five, respectively and more neutrally, are Washington (no party), Jefferson (whatever, R's happy to claim him), and Teddy Roosevelt (accidental R, way too liberal today's Neocons.)

Dubya ranks 34. Bill Clinton ties with Bill McKinley at 20. H.W. Bush ties with Taft at 22. Ron Reagan's 17.

As a big of as Red Herring, if you're wondering about to-early-to-score Barack Obama, the single survey that ranked him put him at #15. The most recent survey doesn't rank incomplete terns, but "had he been included, he would have attained eighth place overall."

 

 

origen

@Factitious

Its weird that according to Wiki that the top two presidents were the same ones who arrested and interned americans. Sorta odd that those who claim to love freedom so much would vote for those who incarcerated american and completly suspended the constitution. With this trend Obama will be number 1 as soon as assasinating americans goes into effect. Just saying.

(Wiki isnt the greatest of Data provider especially for opinions on people.)

BytheBy

Just so you know "factitious", a  monkey could have been President during Clintons terms and ended up 20th.

Clinton rode that wave known as the internet bubble like the #1 ranked surfer in the world.

obama at 8th or 15th? That would as generous as his social spending.

jas

Two monkeys actually were president in the 1920's - Harding and Coolidge. It's interesting to note that the policies of George W. Bush very much mirror the policies of Harding and Coolidge - tax cuts for the wealthiest and deregulation - the results were also the same. Economic Depression.  Believe it or not, Romney wants more of the same. Some people and political parties never learn from their past mistakes.

6079 Smith W

@ jas:

You gotta quit watching MSNBC and reading the Daily Kos; they're scrambling your brain.

Hoover raised taxes:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revenue_Act_of_1932

 Also:

In response to the crisis, Hoover established several new agencies and also funded public works projects in the hope of stimulating the economy and getting the nation back to work."

http://www.trumanlibrary.org/hoover/hooverbio.htm

New agencies and "stimulus"? Reads more like Mr. Obama's failed attempts.

News Flash:

Mr. Obama officially kicks off his re-election campaign today! He's been so quiet. LMAO!

 

jas

Smith - Hoover did exactly the same thing Bush did at the end of his term when faced with the economic crisis but it was too little, too late. Lest you forget, the first stimulus package was passed with Bush in office and at his insistence.

Yes, Obama is campaigning but it is not nearly as funny as Bush's phony "Mission Accomplished" banner and campaign speech from an aircraft carrier. Pure hokum but some morons bought it.

6079 Smith W

@ jas:

I ain't gonna defend Mr. Bush and his profligate ways. But Mr. Obama is a spendthrift on steroids with little to nothin' to show for it.

Better study past econonomc depressions like the one in 1920. Why did that one end so quickly without govt. intervention?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depression_of_1920%E2%80%9321

Historically, borrowing, printing, taxing and spending one's way to economic health does not work.

 

The Big Dog's back

 "Nothing to show for it"? Really? Places hiring, businesses expanding, people spending money!

jas

Smith -  If as you say : "Historically, borrowing, printing, taxing and spending one's way to economic health does not work." then why did Reagan increase the federal deficit more than all the presidents before him combined? He told us that deficits don't matter then proceeded to try to spend us out of the Recession. The problem with both Bush and Obama is that they tried to duplicate the failed policies of Reagan. Call it what you will but Reaganomics, trickle down economics, or even supply side economics doesn't work and never has. The belief that it does and implementing policies consistent with that belief is what has lead to our current economic mess. 

 

6079 Smith W

jas writes:

"He (Mr. Reagan) told us that deficits don't matter,"

Got a link to a first person quote on that or are you just spewing your usual nonsense?

What was TRA86 all about if not to reduce the deficit?

 

KURTje

Glad you brought facts to the table T.Jackson.         Thanks to DNA testing it has been proven that Warren committed adultry also.               He was/is like so many others.............human.

6079 Smith W
@ Mr. Jackson:   Under Harding's Admin. crony capitalism became evident; now it's just better hidden by the American ruling class.    Interesting historical fact:   Marion, OH is the birthplace of both WGH and Norman Thomas, a socialist who was a perennial candidate for POTUS.  

One of my favorite rather prescient NT quotes:

“The American people will never knowingly adopt Socialism. But under the name of 'liberalism' they will adopt every fragment of the Socialist program, until one day America will be a Socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.” – Norman Thomas

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Thomas

 

tk

Will Rogers told a story about being at the White House to visit with President Harding.  He said, " Mr. President, would you like me to tell you the latest political jokes?"  President Harding replied, "No need to Will. I already know 'em.  In fact I appointed most of them."

coasterfan

In the 1860's, Republicans were the liberal party, so it's interesting to note that our #1 rated president would today be a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal Democrat. Not surprised at all that Obama scores wayyyyyyyyyy higher than his predecessor. A rutabaga would've scored higher than W.

 

6079 Smith W

@ coasterfan:

Wait a few decades or centuries on History's judgement, not recent popularity polls of little-to-no consequence.

Go back 100 yrs. and Mr. Obama would be a "dyed-in-the-wool" Socialist.

 

The Big Dog's back

 I bet Joe McCarthy was your hero eh winnie?

6079 Smith W

@ Doggie Troll:

And Joe Stalin is your big hero.

 

McCarthy was right - there were Soviet agents in the State Dept. and many levels of the U.S. govt.

KGB records proved it.

How in the h*ll do you think that the Soviets developed the A bomb and H bomb so soon after us?

 

However, you don't want to forget the Dems and their House Un-American Activities Committee.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_Un-American_Activities_Committee

 

The Big Dog's back

 No, actually Saul Alinsky.

FruGalSpender

thank you tom for the free e-book web page. i will read it later. you probably never hear of all of the good work that you do. you are a asset to any newspaper. thank you again for your blog and reading information. the sandusky register is lucky to have you.

6079 Smith W

@ Doggie:

I stand corrected. Mr. Obama has a lot to show for his "efforts": 

http://www.usdebtclock.org/