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A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes This a Useful Notes page. A Treatise of Schemes and Tropes
Woodrow WilsonWarren HardingCalvin Coolidge


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"I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends, my goddamned friends, they're the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!"
Warren G. Harding, who kept less than scrupulous company.
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"The only man, woman or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors is dead."
E. E. Cummings on Harding's death.
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President from 1921 to 1923, Warren Gangsta Gamaliel Harding was elected (on his birthday!) with the widest popular vote margin in US history. These days, he's considered one of the worst failures to hold the office.

Harding also had a tendency to mis-speak. His speech was nicknamed "Gamalielese" for the likes of this:

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Many have argued people only voted for him because he "looked presidential". He emerged from a classic backroom deal at the 1920 Republican Convention and then ran the first modern campaign.

Notable events in his presidency? Harding campaigned on a platform of "a return to normalcy", and so led the US back into an isolationist phase from which it wouldn't emerge until the later days of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He set up what became the Department for Veterans' Affairs, created the Washington Naval Treaty limiting naval fleet sizes and appointed William Howard Taft as Chief Justice. Harding was especially infamous for how many of his appointees engaged in large-scale corruption.

However, he also did many things that could be considered positive. For example, the aforementioned Washington Naval Conference, which was hosted by the United States under Harding, was intended to stop another World War (it only failed when Japan later adopted imperial ambitions that couldn't be fettered by the treaty). He also did not start, or otherwise engage in any major armed conflicts, and helped secure Panama's independence through diplomatic means. The crash of 1920 was solved within the first year of Harding's administration, which then lead to the "roaring 20's". Additionally, he was the one of the few presidents in the past century to actually balance the federal budget, while managing to lower taxes--something routinely demanded by American voters but usually considered by realistic economists to be Unwinnable by Design. Also, he freed several political prisoners, including the outspoken leftist anti-war activist, Eugene V. Debs.

Harding was a heavy drinker, but agreed to stop drinking (at least in public) to provide an example to all the Americans who were happily ignoring Prohibition. (It didn't work.)

According to one account, Harding himself once lamented that he was unfit to hold office.

In July 1923, while traveling through Canada after visiting Alaska, Harding developed food poisoning, then pneumonia, which then brought upon the stroke that killed him in San Francisco, California on August 2.

Due to the administration's perceived corruption, Harding is often a front runner on many "worst presidents in American history" lists, though several observers have noted there was never any evidence Harding knew what was going on.

Warren Harding provides examples of the following tropes:
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The first director of the Veteran's Bureau, Charles Forbes, was hand-selected by Harding. During his tenure, Forbes sold off pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down, including much-needed hospital supplies for wounded veterans. Harding ordered him to cut it out, but Forbes ignored him. When he found out, the six-foot-tall President lifted Forbes by his neck and throttled him until help arrived.
  • Black Widow: Rumors persisted that he was poisoned by his wife.[1]
  • Da Editor: Took control of the ailing Marion Daily Star in the 1880's. He retained ownership all the way up to the last leg of his Presidency. In fact, he planned to retire back to running the paper directly.
  • The Gambler: An anecdotal account of Harding has him saying, "We drew to a pair of deuces, and filled," regarding his lucky nomination. (That is assuming he actually said it.)
  • Mediation Backfire: Attempted to avoid another war with the Washington Naval Conference; not only did it ultimately fail to do that, it ticked off the Italians (which probably help lead to them to turning towards fascism) and actually helped Japan secure its grip on Asia by ensuring that they would be the main naval power in the East.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: For a president, aside from looking like one, he's actually pretty undistinguished, a fact even he admitted.
  • Self-Deprecation: Realistic version. He once lamented he was unfit to actually be the President. His actual record (see below) argues he was far more capable than he claimed of himself, but given how he regretted some of the crooks he later discovered he had unwittingly put into their positions later, he wasn't entirely wrong about his self-doubts.
  • Vindicated By History: Historians who actually bothered to investigate beyond the surface impressions of his administration being corrupt have found he wasn't all that bad. Yes, he did have corrupt associates (many of which Congress signed off on, so it's mostly their fault, not his, and they hadn't done anything illegal when they were approved), but Harding was never proven to have the slightest involvement in their schemes, and even tried to intervene to stop them when he discovered their shenanigans (see Beware the Nice Ones). His actual record was that of a workaholic who did a reasonably good job, it was just the reputation of the crooks he was surrounded by that was unfairly stuck to him posthumously.
Warren Harding in Fiction:

Literature

  • In the novel Carter Beats The Devil, Harding's death occurs shortly after seeing the titular magician perform, which gets Carter investigated by the Secret Service. The ending reveals that Carter helped Harding fake his death, and the former president retires to a retreat for Carter's similarly-retired performing animals.
  • In America (The Book), a segment written by Stephen Colbert states that he was the worst President. Colbert writes that the reasons for this are well-documented, so he just proceeds to insult him.
  • In Gore Vidal's novel Hollywood, it's hinted that Harding is either Born Lucky or Obfuscating Stupidity much of the time. Once elected, he reveals himself to much more devious than anybody in Washington had suspected.

Live-Action TV

  • On a later episode of The Colbert Report, in response to Barack Obama bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia (and George W. Bush holding his hand as they walked), Colbert lamented that Presidents didn't use to respect foreign leaders -- as evidenced by a photo of Harding giving the former king a noogie.
  • A small role in Boardwalk Empire. His mistress has a fair bit of screentime as well.

Video Games

  • In the Civilization series, "Warren G. Harding" is the third worst score ranking you can achieve (the second and first being Ethelred the Unready and Dan Quayle respectively). And who is listed immediately above Harding? Nero.

Notes

  1. In truth, he death was due to untreated heart conditions that weakened him to the point he had a stroke, and his workaholic tendencies did not help this at all.
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