Historic Levels, but Not the Good KindRoundup
tags: corruption, presidential history, Teapot Dome, Warren G. Harding
Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter as. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.
One of the day’s biggest stories came from Ohio, where the House speaker, Republican Larry Householder, and four other political operatives, were arrested by federal officials for racketeering. US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers said the case was “likely the largest bribery money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”
Householder and his accomplices allegedly accepted more than $60 million in exchange for a public bailout for an ailing company. The bailout was worth more than $1 billion.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) immediately demanded Householder resign. So did Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken, who tried to spread the blame by saying “Greed, lust for power, and disdain for ethical boundaries are not unique to any particular political party.”
Her words were, perhaps, unfortunate, because her description was one that many people would use for the president. That Trump is right now trying to argue that the Republican Party stands for “LAW & ORDER,” when a Republican leader in Ohio is arrested for a “pay-to-play” scheme is a coincidence that undercuts his message. (“This was pay-to-play,” said DeVillers in a new conference. “I use the term pay-to-play because that’s the term they’ve used as alleged in the affidavit.”)
It was a moment that seemed to crystalize today’s politics: an elected official accepted a huge bribe in exchange for using taxpayer money to bail out a crony’s failing business. It reminds me of the Teapot Dome scandal of 1922, when the Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall, leased the oil production rights from naval oil reserves at Teapot Dome, Wyoming and Elk Hills, California to oil companies in exchange for large financial gifts. When the story came out, Fall became the first US Cabinet official to go to prison.
The Teapot Dome scandal seemed to epitomize the administration of the president at the time, Warren G. Harding, although Harding himself was not implicated in that particular scandal. He had created an atmosphere in which the point of government was not to help ordinary Americans, but to see how much leaders could get out of it.
This same attitude is crippling today’s government as it tries to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Part of the reason that Trump and Republican leaders are hastening people back to work despite the spiking infections is that many Republican-led states do not have social welfare systems in place to support people through more weeks of lockdown, and Republican leaders do not want to develop them.