Blogs > Liberty and Power > The "Madness" of Defending Warren G. Harding: Who is the Ideologue?

Jun 13, 2004 11:38 pm

The "Madness" of Defending Warren G. Harding: Who is the Ideologue?

My good friend Ralph Luker wonders whether Keith Halderman, Gene Healy and I are prisoners of ideology or possibly worse! Why? Because we defended the theory that Warren G. Harding was a"near great" (possibly"great") president. Contra Ralph, I didn't argue he was the"greatest" (Keith and Gene can speak for themselves).....but that is a small detail I suppose

Certainly, Ralph has a right to call our claim all wet (or even to speculate if we deserve a suite in the Shady Rest Sanitarium for the treatment of revisionmania). However, it is worthy of note that he did not even try to refute the specifics of our argument, much less address them. Which argumentative approach better fits the methods of an ideologue?

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David T. Beito - 6/14/2004

I rather like Silent Cal but Harding has certain advantages. Unlike Coolidge, for example, Harding struck important blows for world peace (the Washington Naval Treaty) and for civil liberties (the release of Debs, etc). He also had a better civil rights record. He not only supported anti-lynching legislation but defended the rights of blacks in a controversial speech that he gave in the South.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/13/2004

If your proposition were that David Beito deserves ranking as "near great" or even "great" as a historian, I'd be right there on your side of the argument. And, if you must be put away, I'll be among those demanding that it be only in the finest facility.
But, David, libertarian values stand almost all received wisdom on its head. The Harding administration was marred both by widespread corruption at the highest levels; and by personal scandal on Harding's part. It's a bit like getting the worst of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in one administrative head.
Oddly, perhaps, I agree with you that Woodrow Wilson's positive state was shadowed by some really troubling aspects, but greatness rarely if ever lies in inactivity. Why isn't Calvin Coolidge, then, greater than Harding? Greatness lies in positive accomplishment: modeling a national government (Washington); saving the nation from disunion (Lincoln); leading the nation and the world in economic crisis and confrontation with totalitarianism (Roosevelt).

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