In Defense of the (Relatively) Great Warren G. Harding
The latest ratings of presidential greatness tells us more about the priorities of historians than it does about the presidents. The following were rated as the greatest presidents: Lincoln, Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.
There is merit to the high rating for Washington. As to the others, they include a president who did nothing to stop lynching, needlessly prolonged the Great Depression, sent a ship of Jewish refugees back to their doom in Germany; another president, who fried thousands of Japanese babies (thus violating all the dominant theories of just war); yet another president who shredded the ancient constitutional right of habeas corpus; and finally a president who openly defended war and imperialism.
Between them, they brought the United States into three major wars which resulted in over a million American deaths.
Rated by the historians in the"worst" category, by contrast, is, you guessed it, Warren G. Harding: a president who successfully promoted economic prosperity, cut taxes, balanced the budget, reduced the national debt, released all of his predecessor's political prisoners, supported anti-lynching legislation, and instituted the most substantial naval arms reduction agreement in world history. Go figure.
For a sample of Harding's comparative good sense, listen to this audio of his best known speech.
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David T. Beito - 2/19/2009
I prefer to call it Obama's War now.
William Stepp - 2/16/2009
It dawns on me that, since the Vietnamese called the "Vietnam War" the American War, maybe libertarians should call the "Iraq War" the American War. Of course, you'd have to have a Roman numeral after it, maybe a big one, which could lead to foggy confusion.
A new meaning for the "fog of war."
William Stepp - 2/16/2009
This appeard Nov. 10, 2004, on another website.
Last evening I had an audio-video seance with former president Warren G. Harding, who is in fine form and sends his kind regards. I was eager to hear his views on politics, especially on both the recent election (first time elected!) of the titular head of the Bushiban, and the conduct of the Iraq war.
I was surprised (but shouldn't have been) to learn that he resigned his membership in the GOP after the invasion of Iraq. He was an antiwar stalwart and fiscal conservative to the core and would no more have thought of invading Iraq than of running up a massive budget deficit. He's a regular reader of antiwar.com, which gladdened the cockles of my libertarian heart. He's also a big fan of "Anonymous," the CIA analyst and author of the devastating book on American imperial hubris.
As a fairly strict constructionist of the Constitution, he is deeply troubled by W's record, and in particular by the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security apparatus, both of which he thinks could be made much worse in the years ahead. He also mentioned the high-handed and what he thinks of as the illegal detention of the prisoners at Guantanamo, who haven't yet had their day in court. He cited the harrassment and detention of several American muslims, which reminded him of President Wilson's ghastly civil liberties record, which he reversed tout court. Warming to this subject, I mentioned that in some respects he deserves to be regarded as an architect of American civil liberties, and had a better record in this regard than every other president of the 20th century. A modest man, he pooh poohed that notion as he poured himself a bourbon and lit up a Cuban stogie. No, no, I protested, "your record is as good as that of any president in history." And so it was.
Although he disagreed with him on some fundamental issues, he spoke with genuinely high regard for the great socialist presidential candidate and champion of civil liberties, Eugene V. Debs, who was unjustly sentenced to prison by Wilson, but whom he pardoned and later received at the White House.
He admired Debs' courage and unswerving devotion to principle. "They don't make 'em like that anymore," he said. Bourbon too, he laughed.
Would the current president do such a thing, he asked (and not just rhetorically) about his pardon of Debs?
He spoke nostalgically about the American Republic, which he learned to love as a boy. "What's this Jesusland State I'm hearing about?,"
he inquired. "And a National ID--what in blazes is that?" He stated that the concept of a National ID is foreign to his thinking, and smacks of dictatorship. Did the Taliban have such a thing, he wanted to know?
Turning to the economy, he wondered how the GOP could have squandered a more or less balanced budget and turned the government's account into a massive deficit in such a short time. "Wholly irresponsible," he cried out, "wholly irresponsible." "An actual crime against the people, with no justification whatsoever." Strong language from a former president, I said. This kind of calamity demands strong language, he replied with only a little indignation.
Sound government depends on sound finances, he stated. The budget should be in balance at all times, save for the most dire emergency, the kind that imperils the Republic and the people at home.
Who was I to gainsay this?
"You know, we had a couple small scandals in my administration, but I was not personally involved in them, and the guilty parties were punished in accordance with the law." Yes, I know.
"But, without excusing or minimizing them in any way, they were nothing
compared to what the current administration has done to the Constitution, to the American people, and to the world."
"If I had done what your president has done," he continued, "I would have been impeached by members of my OWN party." "And I should have been!," he thundered.
"Your president has betrayed the trust of the people in the highest office in the land, of the greatest country in the world."
"A Republic, if you can keep it."
Republic of Jesusland?, I asked.
God help America, he said, softly.
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