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.
Dean of Watergate fame and author of the memoirs Blind Ambition and Lost Honor does his best to make Warren G. Harding's lethargic life and scandal-laced presidency sound interesting. Throughout his entire pre-presidential career including stints in both the Ohio state senate and the U.S. Senate Harding was, for the most part, nothing more than an amiable nonentity. No bill of any consequence bore his name nor did he champion any measure worth recalling. Elected the nation's 29th chief executive in 1920 by an overwhelming vote in a postwar reaction against Wilson's foreign policies, Harding was the first president born after the Civil War. He was destined to die in office in 1923, but even before his death, he allowed the infamous Teapot Dome fiasco (based largely on dubious dealings conducted by the most notorious of Harding's many mediocre appointees the anticonservationist secretary of the interior, Albert B. Fall) to occur. In an attempt to give Harding his due, Dean points out that he did at least bring to an end President Wilson's longstanding practice of excluding blacks from federal appointments. As well, in a speech of rare passion and boldness delivered in Birmingham, Ala., he called for political, economic and educational equity between the races. His most permanent domestic accomplishment, however, was as dull as it was necessary: the creation of the Bureau of the Budget. Dean (and Arthur Schlesinger's American Presidents series) is not to be faulted for the fact that Harding's life is a yawn but a yawn it is.