The Strange Life and Death of President Harding
What makes the case of Warren Harding interesting is the cast of characters surrounding him, as well as the president himself. While there have been scoundrels around the presidency throughout American history, none have been quite as colorful as those around Harding. John Dean (of Watergate fame) recently wrote a book that maintains that George W. Bush is worse than Dean's old boss, Richard Nixon. Even Nixon, for all of his problems, was distinctly above the mediocre as a man and as a president. Some of the associates of Ronald Reagan were a bit odd, particularly during the Iran-Contra affair, but none rose to the level of idiocy of Fall, Daugherty, and Forbes. Warren Harding, witless and genial, takes the prize for gathering around him the most disreputable bunch in 20th Century American politics.
It is tempting to draw parallels. Florence Harding and Nancy Reagan share a preoccupation with astrology, horoscopes, and the occult, and both provided steely support for their husbands. One could remark on the proclivities of other presidents to engage in sexual dalliances --- indeed, at least half dozen presidents from
But, in the last analysis, such parallels would be pointless. The times, the people, and the country during the period 1920 to 1924 constituted a special set of circumstances wherein a well-meaning bumbler and his disreputable underlings could construct a national farce.
But his failures were many. His successors --- Calvin Coolidge, the dour do-nothing, and Herbert Hoover, the bright but unsuccessful technocrat --- inherited a federal government and policies that would eventually lead to the Great Depression. The fact that the Teapot Dome and other Harding-era scandals would drag on through both the Coolidge and
Whatever ones view --- critic or apologist --- a significant mystery remains. How did Warren Harding die? Any conclusion must be murky because evidence is either lacking, or, when available, contradictory. Is this simply a case of a genial mediocrity who didnt know how to take case of himself, and paid the price with a stroke? Or is it something more sinister --- a gullible politician who became aware of what was going on around him, and had to be silenced?