Monday, November 2, 2009

The Worst Birthday Present

What was the best gift you ever received for your birthday?
What could be the best possible gift you can get?
How about the Presidency of the United States?
While it may seem statistically impossible for anyone to be elected President on one's birthday, it's already happened once . . . to this fellow.

Warren G. Harding, born on this day in 1865, was the Republican candidate for President in 1920, which was also the year women got the vote. After eight years of Woodrow Wilson's government expansion and vigorous foreign policy, the latter of which brought the United States in World War I, Harding and the Republicans campaigned on a platform of laissez-faire economics and a return to relative global isolation that would restore "normalcy," whatever that was. Americans were drained by Wilson's activism (ironically, so was Wilson, sadly felled by a stroke in 1919) and happily elected Harding to succeed him, endorsing him over Democratic candidate James Cox by a plurality of seven million votes.
Election Day in 1920 fell on November 2. It was Harding's fifty-fifth birthday.
As you can tell by the scowl in the picture above, Harding got a present he would have happily brought back to the dry goods store. He wanted to remain in the U.S. Senate, where he represented Ohio, but party leaders pushed him to accept the presidential nomination because of his electability. Harding had a bad heart, and his father and brother - both doctors - predicted he wouldn't live through a full term. Sadly, they were right. The pressures of the Presidency proved too much for Harding, and he died in August 1923.
The following year, administration scandals that Harding had known nothing about surfaced, and the idea of American "normalcy" was kaput.

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