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Saturday, September 3, 2016
'Make America Great Again': It's Been Done Before
James M. McDonough
As the ordinary people of America plod through the eighth year of the "Great Recession," they wonder whether it, or the lawlessness of the federal government, will ever cease. How could our Ivy League elites have led us to such a state? A disastrous economy, a health care crisis, the suffering of over a million recent war veterans ignored, and federal agencies used to persecute the president's political enemies. Surely this never happened before.
Well, it did. Look back to the summer of 1920. Professor Woodrow Wilson is in his last year of a disastrous eight-year presidency. The country is in the shadow of a terrible and costly foreign war. Having a doctoral degree did not give Wilson the wisdom to keep our country out of that horrendous war.
Worse, his central planning approach to the economy mangled free enterprise as well as agriculture, as in a federally mandated farm program that caused the Dust Bowl (sorry, Joad – it was a Democrat). The administration had no plan for demobilizing the two-million-man Army (the unemployment line is over there, soldier). Jailing approximately 180,000 reporters, editors, activists, and other political enemies for "seditious behavior" didn't stop the Spanish influenza pandemic that killed more people than the Great War, but nobody dared criticize Wilson about much of anything.
Finally, all this resulted in the Depression of 1919-1920. Americans were truly frightened as the 1920 presidential election campaign began. With good reason. The Democrat brand was tarnished, to say the least, but the Republican Party was fractured, with no less than eleven men vying for the nomination.
Out of the pack emerged a self-made wealthy businessman, who, while a loyal Republican, had run for office only twice before. In a party sharply divided between progressives and conservatives, he was considered neither, as he seemed to get along with everybody. It did help that he was tall, good-looking, charming, and a natural public speaker. Having been a newspaper publisher, he knew the media inside out.
So he campaigned, always open, articulate, friendly, and boundlessly energetic. While he was comfortable with the rich and powerful, he was just as comfortable at a union meeting, Grange picnic, or ladies' society. (His newspapers were union shops, with his encouragement, and never experienced a strike.) The most common reason given by voters who supported him was, "He says exactly what I have been thinking."
What was he up against? Well, the Democrats ran James M. Cox for president and Franklin D. Roosevelt for vice president. Cox founded the Cox Enterprises media empire that continues to this day. Roosevelt – well, maybe he was trading on his White House relative. The Republican was up against big money and a big name. How did it all turn out? If you were a victim of public school history classes, you may not know.
That November of 1920, Warren G. Harding swept 39 of 48 states with 60.2 percent of the popular vote. In the months between that election and his inauguration, he gave 18 speeches (without notes or teleprompter) that described exactly what he was going to do to make "America First" (his slogan) and repair the damage done by Wilson. That he did.
He took Wilson's 94% personal income tax rate down to 24%. He closed federal agencies created by Wilson, and he fired almost half of all the federal government employees. He did open one new agency: the Office of Management and Budget. As a businessman, he thought the federal government should have its own comprehensive plan (heretofore government agencies had simply gone to Congress piecemeal to ask for funds).
This had the desired effect: Main Street boomed, Wall Street boomed, confidence returned, and the twenties roared. Harding assembled a quality cabinet with Andrew Mellon, a leading financier of that generation, as secretary of the Treasury. Working through Mellon, and other talented men, Harding turned the country from depression to boom in his first year.
Is there a chance that history could repeat itself? There may well be now that there is a businessman, frustrated by the ineptitude and corruption of the "dummycrats" and the fecklessness of the old-line Republicans, driving an aggressive campaign for the White House. He is saying what maybe one hundred million discouraged Americans are thinking. Let us see if that puts him in Warren G. Harding's old house in Washington, D.C.
NOTE: If you want to read those speeches where President Harding explained how he was going to turn around the economy and make America great again? A copy is available on Amazon for less than $10. Even Mr. Trump might appreciate such a kindred spirit's thoughts.