On a “Meet the Press” program, Tim Russert asked the distinguished panel what the public should look for in a presidential candidate. Historian Doris Kerns Goodwin replied that the best way to predict the future is to study the past – the candidate’s background, qualifications and voting record. The best example was the presidential election of 1920 involving Republican Warren G. Harding and Democrat James M. Cox. The election was a referendum on the administration of Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations. Cox, a newspaper publisher, served seven outstanding terms in the US House, followed by two terms as Ohio governor, where he instituted many lasting reforms: he created the first state budget system in the nation, reorganized the state judicial system, regulated utilities, reformed the tax structure, required lobbyists to register, built modern schools and improved transportation. His presidential platform included approval of the League of Nations as “the only practical way to maintain the permanent peace of the world.” Cox traveled 22,000 miles to deliver nearly 400 speeches.
Harding looked and sounded presidential as he delivered the keynote speech at the 1916 Republican National Convention, however, his entire Senate career was undistinguished. He disliked confrontation. He never introduced a single bill of significance. During his first campaign for the Ohio State Senate, Harding met Harry Daugherty, a power broker in Ohio politics, who said to himself, “Gee, what a great-looking president he’d make.” For the next 21 years, Daugherty steered Harding into the White House. As candidate for the US Senate, Harding avoided the hot issues of Prohibition and women’s suffrage. He had the poorest attendance record in the Senate – he was present for less than 1/3 of the roll call votes. He even missed the critical vote on sending the 19th Amendment, enfranchising women, to the states for ratification. He remained “aloof” on the discussion over the 18th Amendment, establishing Prohibition. His boldest effort was to, follow a leading senator in “destroying the League of Nations.”
Harding conducted his presidential campaign from his front porch, while entertainer Al Jolson, in supporting Harding sang, “We need another Lincoln.” Harding defeated Cox in a landslide. In almost every presidential poll, Harding rates as our worst president. His administration was America’s “most corrupt, including the infamous Tea Pot Dome.” Harding engaged in adulterous affairs with women while Senator and President, including trysts in the White House. When confronted by complex matters, Harding acknowledged that he was “not fit for the office of President.” Harding died in office after his refusal to confront the coming scandals. Some historians believe that his wife Florence poisoned him. Her last words at his funeral were, “Warren, they can’t hurt you anymore.”
Sources: Wikipedia, “Warren G. Harding” : The New York Times Magazine, “The Letters That Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want To See” by Jordan Michael Smith : H History, “Warren G. Harding” : Minnpost, “Welcome Back, President Warren G. Harding” by Robert Moilanen : Trivia – Library.com, “U.S. President Warren G. Harding Quotes From And About Harding.”