Advice for President Obama: be Warren Harding, not Franklin Roosevelt

July 12, 2011

Never did I think I’d favorably mention President Harding twice in a blog, but here you go. The first was a quote from Harding, while what follows is a quote about Harding:

I know, the thought Obama could be half the president Harding was is too much to ask.

Considering Harding is one of the most reviled 20th-century presidents (among those who even remember him), that statement could be easily taken as an insult to Obama by ironic comparison to (another) president who was truly awful.

Far from it. Historian Steven Hayward looks at the misperceptions regarding Harding that have become commonplace thanks to liberal academia and argues that our 29th president is someone Obama should seek to emulate, at least in economic policy. Faced with a genuine economic depression, runaway inflation, and a huge government debt after World War One, Harding did things that would give statists nightmares:

So what did Harding do?  A “stimulus”?  A jobs program?  “Targeted” tax cuts?  Government bailouts for ailing companies?  Nope—he cut government spending sharply and rapidly (by almost 50 percent), began cutting tax rates across the board, and allowed asset values and wages to adjust freely as fast as possible.  Harding’s administration, Paul Johnson observed, “was the last time a major industrial power treated a recession by classic laissez-faire methods, allowing wages to fall to their natural level . . .  By July 1921 it was all over and the economy was booming again.”  The Cato Institute’s Jim Powell offers a more complete summary of Harding’s soundness on economic policy, but suffice it to say that Harding’s traditional approach prevented the depression of 1920-21 from becoming a Great Depression, and in fact set he stage for the roaring twenties.

Of course, what would give Keynesians and other statists those nightmares is that —The Horror!!— it worked, while the interventionist, centrally directed policies of Hoover and FDR (1) failed miserably.

So, come on Mr. President, I dare you: Be like Warren.

Just don’t let Michelle catch you in the closet.

Footnote:
(1) Yes, Hoover has been unfairly slagged by FDR hagiographers who needed a whipping boy to make their guy look good. The fact is, Hoover was a bad president in the early years of the Great Depression, but not for being the anti-FDR. Check out Hayward’s post for a revealing quote from Rex Tugwell, one of FDR key early aides, about how the New Deal was an amplification of Hoover’s policies.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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Quote of the Day… from Warren Harding?

July 7, 2011

One of the last presidents one would expect to be quoted on anything, yet historian Steven Hayward pulls up one on the Congress’ pathetic reputation and doubts about democracy:

In simple truth, I get discouraged sometimes about the stability of popular government. I come in contact with the abject surrender of public men to what appears to be about one-half of one percent of the voters to whom they look to their commission to public service. What the country needs more than anything else is a House and Senate for ten years which give at least as much thought to the welfare of the Republic as is given to individual candidates for re-election. Nothing so disheartens me as to have an extended conference with men in responsible places, hear them admit of the correctness of a policy or position, and then frankly say it is impossible to go through with the policy or maintain the position and be assured of re-election. I have concluded that I would vastly prefer a limited career with the consciousness of having done the right thing than to hold on to the constitutional limit by playing to the favor of those who do the fake work under our political system.

So, when our current situation discourages us (and that’s most of the time these days) and it seems like it couldn’t be worse, that maybe our system just doesn’t work anymore, remember that others were troubled by those same doubts, and yet things got better. I think that’s one of the great lessons of studying American History: that we’ve been through so much —and so much worse— yet always recovered and gone on to greater things. My friends on the far Right muttering about how “it’s just like 1860” really need to stop, breathe deeply, and check in with reality.

But still… Harding??

PS: Steven Hayward is a great historian, perhaps most well known for his two-volume “Age of Reagan.” He’s recently joined Power Line as a welcome addition.

PPS: Okay, in all fairness to Warren G., whose likeness graces my mouse pad, in recent years I’ve come to suspect that, while no doubt mediocre, his reputation has suffered thanks to historians raised in the era of the New Deal who want to make all those nasty Republicans between Wilson and FDR look as bad as possible.

PPPS: Well, Hoover kind of deserves it, but for different reasons — like being too much like FDR.