Some time ago, I labeled Warren Harding as perhaps the one president who would never be upstaged for incompetence and administration corruption. After all, Harding was a hard-drinking womanizer who cared nothing for letting others run his administration, and he cared little about the fact that he was the hand-picked front man for the den of thieves who would bilk the country under his watch.
For those who don’t know, Harding’s presidency was orchestrated by powerful oil men who sought to gain billions by winning access to drill United States oil reserves. It all seemed perfectly legal until one man who knew too much ended up dead and a tenacious lawman started to unravel the conspiracy. In the end, it was only a fortuitous heart attack that spared Harding public disgrace, impeachment, and conviction for treason.
OK. I don’t want to raise Harding’s status in any way. But, at least Harding was nothing more than a duped pawn in the game to subvert the government for the gain of private interests. The big money machine that runs Washington now seems to make Hardings of almost everyone, even the squeakiest of clean candidates.
In his book, So Damn Much Money, Robert G. Kaiser makes the point that everyone and everything in Washington is now for sale. Most of what can simply be described as influence-peddling has been given a veneer of lawfulness and respectability from which Harding might have benefited if he had lived in the modern age. Now, everything that was once done behind closed doors is done out in the open.
The whole idea of reform of the vote-buying system is fraught with legal conundra. Essentially, where does one draw the line? All citizens are, by fiat, lobbyist groups of one. They all have the right to address their congressmen and women with their grievances. They all have a right to try to elect people that will be good for their own bottom line. And, by law, there is nothing that says that a person can’t devote an entire fortune to swaying an election or a vote in the direction that person wants it to go. So, how are we going to deny people with deep pockets from influencing our government?
Harding still ranks near the bottom in my book, mostly because he lacked any moral values that could translate into positive governance. The fact that he was bought and sold by powerful men with an agenda no longer carries much weight, inasmuch as it doesn’t stand out from the modus operandi of the crowd. Or, to put it another way, there is not longer any way to rank any modern President among any of those from the past, because there are no more self-made presidents. They are all now made by committees and consensus. Their views are tempered by polls and focus groups. Their resolve to stand their ground is eaten away by blackmail and slander–real or threatened–that seems to mean more to a titillated public than whether there is merit in their issues.
I believe that there are Teapot Dome scandals every day that receive little or no press. The majority of Americans no longer seem to care about corruption, since the majority of Americans are corrupt. They know that the system is broken and that it is easier to try to find a way to take advantage of the system than it is to fix it. The pressure to go with the flow soon overtakes most who consider trying to right the wrong.
For those who wish to fix the system, let me posit this slim hope. Perhaps all who now mimic Harding in their approach to government will also die of heart attacks, leaving the political and ethical landscape uncluttered for the rest of us. All we have to do is outlive them, and hope that our country does, too.
- Once center of scandal, ‘Teapot Dome’ oil field prepped for sale (trib.com)
- 25 Biggest Political Scandals in History (list25.com)
- Channeling our inner Harding – By Michael Swartz (conservativeweekly.org)