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Warren G. Harding – John Dean

Yes, that John Dean, of Watergate fame.

Dean grew up in the same Ohio small town as Harding.

Harding was a very good student, could do well without a lot of effort.  Roommate in college said he would read his textbook through while facing the wall and when finished, would throw it against the wall and say “God darn, I got you!” Then ace the test.

The woman he eventually married had illegitimate child. She was a maverick.  Author suggests she had the relationship with her child’s ne’er- do-well father as a way of rebelling against her own father.

Her father was a very successful businessman in town. He was very active in his daughter’s life, but very controlling. He forced her out of the house after she became pregnant. She moved in with a friend’s family and taught piano lessons to survive.

He also did not like Harding. Tried to drive him away. Spread rumors that he was part black.

After college, Harding got a job with a newspaper, and eventually became the owner/editor of the hometown paper. He eventually became a state senator, then a federal senator. Republican.

Very much a “people person”.  Very well-liked in the Senate.

Elected president in 1920.  His wife was first first-lady to vote for husband. Won in landslide over Cox.

Had, at best, a mediocre administration. It seems most historians rate him very low, although Dean makes the case that he did reasonably well.  Dean says he had nothing to do with the scandals (Teapot Dome), nor did he father an illegitimate child as was alleged, or commit adultery while  he was married.

Among his achievements:

  • Some excellent cabinet appointees – Hughes at State and Hoover at Commerce (and some really bad ones –> teapot dome)
  • Vocal supporter of civil rights for blacks
  • Led successful conference to reduce arms race
  • Increased tariffs
  • Created the General Accounting office (GAO)
  • Supported various pro-business acts that arguable helped pull the economy out of crisis

A series of scandals that erupted after his death in office (heart attack) stained his administration. Teapot Dome was the biggest. He also backed immigration laws that discriminated against those that would likely vote for  democrats. Reduced taxes, but mostly on the wealthy.

A more negative take: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/warren-harding-child-sex-sandal-121404