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Warren Harding, Right and Wrong


Ah, holidays. There is a particular kind of fun that emerges only on slack days, as witness the two emails from readers below. Warren Gamaliel Harding, still stirring passions some eight decades after his death.  Who’d a thunk it?

What Harding got right:

To hell with Mencken (which was probably the case)….

Sure, Harding may not read incredibly smooth, but take this paragraph: “We can reduce the abnormal expenditures, and we will. We can strike at war taxation, and we must. We must face the grim necessity, with full knowledge that the task is to be solved, and we must proceed with a full realization that no statute enacted by man can repeal the inexorable laws of nature. Our most dangerous tendency is to expect too much of government, and at the same time do for it too little. We contemplate the immediate task of putting our public household in order.”

I’m willing to cut some slack to anyone who’ll put that into a speech.

What Harding got wrong:

Underrated? In my opinion Harding was remarkably similar to another recent President with the same characteristic corruption, laissez-faire attitudes toward the economy and foreign policy, and, um, carnal appetites.

From NR’s own Florence King, circa 1998:

’The other Harding family scandal was Warren’s insatiable appetite for female flesh. His transitory hits included farmers’ daughters, sporting-house girlies, and maids, but he also seduced [his wife] Florence’s childhood friend, carried on with the widow next door, and had a 14-year affair with Carrie Phillips, wife of a Marion businessman. ‘Stimulated by risk, he made love to Carrie on the Phillips’s kitchen table, in the yard, and, when the two couples sailed to Europe together, on the deck a few feet from Florence’s cabin.

’He also left a paper trail. “Warren’s recklessness in writing love letters seems at times almost pathological, as if he were secretly hoping to be destroyed by them.” One particularly steamy letter to Carrie was written on Easter Sunday while Florence dressed for church…’

’The difference between the two Presidents [Clinton and Harding] is found in the poem Warren wrote to Carrie Phillips: “I love your knees, their dimples kiss/I love your ways of giving bliss/I love your poise of perfect thighs/When they hold me in paradise.”

’It’s not Keats but it’s normal.’


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