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Warren G. Harding by John W. Dean
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Arthur Schlesinger chose John Dean, President Nixon's White House counsel during the Watergate scandal, to write the biography of Warren Harding for the American Presidents series. An account of one of the most infamous, scandal-ridden administrations by one of the group caught up in the more recent scandal-ridden administrations. Really? Surprisingly enough, though, this is a good book! Dean has done the research - he's gone beyond the gossip and the overblown histories that have been published to source material released early in this decade - to put together a more accurate picture of a man known more for his tarred reputation than for his actual self.

Warren Harding was a second tier politician in the Ohio machine who was known for not making enemies of anybody. He traded on his good looks, inoffensive spirit and connections through his newspaper into first an Ohio legislature seat, then into the US Senate. In the Senate, he didn't really do much, but had a great reputation with other Senators. Then after Woodrow Wilson realized that he wasn't going to be able to run for a third term in 1920, Harding managed to use the same tactics to jump into the Republican nomination as a deadlock breaker, then into the Presidency itself. Harding loved to "bloviate" - flowery speeches in formal sounding language were his specialty - and actually brought the term into general use in the English language. He also liked his poker and his liquor, but not nearly as much as the House on K Street stories would later lead folks to believe.

Harding didn't accomplish much in the way of legislative agenda while in office. But he did pick some very good Cabinet members - Charles Evans Hughes and Herbert Hoover, for instance. These were able to get the country back on track economically after the war, and attempted to lead the world in naval disarmament. Unfortunately, he also selected Albert Fall at Interior and Harry Daugherty for Attorney General, leading to the Teapot Dome oil reserve scandal, and others. Just as multiple scandals were starting to come out, Harding died of a heart attack while on a trip to Alaska and the West Coast. The timing was perfect to allow the consequences of the scandals and investigations to completely color later historical evaluation of Harding.

If we can believe Dean, Harding was neither the corrupt politician he's often portrayed nor the clueless puppet that loved poker and women in smoked-filled back rooms. Yes, he had a long-term affair in his younger days. Yes, he made dome bad choices of friends. But he's also not the poster child for political corruption he was later made out to be. Dean's account is very good and is worth a look for those who want a more true picture of the man Warren Harding. ( )
4 vote drneutron | Dec 26, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805069569, Hardcover)

President Nixon’s former counsel illuminates another presidency marked by scandal

Warren G. Harding may be best known as America’s worst president. Scandals plagued him: the Teapot Dome affair, corruption in the Veterans Bureau and the Justice Department, and the posthumous revelation of an extramarital affair.

Raised in Marion, Ohio, Harding took hold of the small town’s newspaper and turned it into a success. Showing a talent for local politics, he rose quickly to the U.S. Senate. His presidential campaign slogan, “America’s present need is not heroics but healing, not nostrums but normalcy,” gave voice to a public exhausted by the intense politics following World War I. Once elected, he pushed for legislation limiting the number of immigrants; set high tariffs to relieve the farm crisis after the war; persuaded Congress to adopt unified federal budget creation; and reduced income taxes and the national debt, before dying unexpectedly in 1923.

In this wise and compelling biography, John W. Dean—no stranger to controversy himself—recovers the truths and explodes the myths surrounding our twenty-ninth president’s tarnished legacy.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:36 -0400)

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