Ronald Radosh, an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, and Allis Radosh, an independent historian, are the authors of a forthcoming biography of Warren G. Harding.
Excerpt from their NYT op ed, published 8-27-15:
THE last year or so has not been kind to Warren G. Harding, who was the 29th president, from 1921 to 1923. Last summer the Library of Congress released his steamy love letters to his neighbor Carrie Phillips. More recently, some of Harding’s descendants had their DNA tested, to see if there was any truth to the claim of Nan Britton, the author of the tell-all book “The President’s Daughter,” that she had borne Harding’s child. They released the results last month. It turns out she had.
Harding’s reputation wasn’t doing well to begin with. From the first poll of historians ranking the presidents, conducted in 1948 by Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr., to the most recent one in 2015, Harding has always come in either at the very bottom of the list, or one above James Buchanan, thanks in large part to the scandals that rocked his administration, which tarnished his reputation even though he had nothing to do with them.
But the low regard for Harding today stands in sharp contrast to how the country viewed him when he was president. He won the 1920 election in a landslide, receiving 60 percent of the popular vote, one of the highest totals ever obtained by any president. He won 37 of the 48 states, with 404 Electoral College votes out of 531. Republicans won on his coattails, gaining a 22-seat majority in the Senate and an unprecedented 168-seat majority in the House.
Harding’s victory was a rejection of the Democrats and President Woodrow Wilson, who had promised, then failed, to keep America out of World War I. During the war, Wilson had greatly expanded the federal government, including intrusive, powerful new agencies like the War Industries Board and a government takeover of the railroads.To pay for it, the Federal Reserve inflated the money supply, causing the nation’s debt to grow from $1 billion in 1914 to $24 billion in 1920. To put a lid on dissent, Wilson introduced the nation’s first “red scare,” when many antiwar dissenters as well as socialists, anarchists and union members were jailed. A Southerner, Wilson also introduced segregation into the federal government.