Dazzling Knowledge

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tpotdomescandal for Harding

Perhaps you would suspect that, given my pseudonym, I would be among the many who consider Warren G. Harding among our worst presidents. In fact, I usually view rankings of presidents as if they were written backwards, and am more critical of acclaimed presidents who are praised for their "leadership," which usually seems associated with war, expansion of the state, and erosion of civil liberties (by this standard, it's hard to see how W won't end up near the top some day). Here's a nice post by Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy on the good things Harding brought to the White House:

If I had to name the most underrated president in American history, Warren Harding would be at or near the top of my list. Harding is routinely ranked at or near the bottom in presidential ratings by historians and other experts.

In Sunday's New York Times, Yale historian Beverly Gage has an interesting article suggesting that Harding may have been the first "black" president in the sense that it is possible that he had a remote black ancestor.

Unfortunately, Gage's article about Harding and race relations completely ignores the fact that Harding made a well-known speech advocating full legal equality for southern blacks in 1921, in Birmingham, Alabama. As W.E.B. DuBois pointed out at the time, Harding went farther in advocating equal rights for blacks than any other post-Reconstruction Republican president (the Democrats, at that time the party of southern whites, were even worse). Indeed, no president went as far as Harding in advocating equal rights for southern blacks for several decades thereafter. Harding also lobbied hard for a federal anti-lynching bill to curb the rampant lynching of blacks by whites in the South - again, the first post-Reconstruction president to do so (the bill passed the House, but died in the Senate due to the threat of Democratic filibusters).

As DuBois pointed out in the linked article, Harding was not wholly free of the racism common among whites at the time. But he was a lot better than the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Nor were these Harding's only positive aspects. As Gene Healy discusses in his interesting recent book, The Cult of the Presidency, Harding is also notable for reversing the severe violations of civil and economic liberties that had proliferated under his predecessor Woodrow Wilson. It's easy to belittle Harding's campaign slogan - "Return to Normalcy." But Harding's notion of "normalcy" included an end to the imprisonment of political dissenters (such as Wilson's notorious "Palmer Raids"), abolition of wage and price controls, and the reversal of Wilson's numerous illegal seizures of private property. As David Bernstein and I briefly discuss in this article, Wilson's administration was also highly racist and segregationist even by the standards of the day; here too, Harding was a sharp contrast.

I'm not arguing that Harding was a great president. His administration included some serious corruption (such as the famous Tea Pot Dome Scandal), and his intellectual and political skills were not especially impressive. And, as with most politicians, his successes were to a large extent the product of broader political trends, not just his personal efforts. However, Harding's achievements in ending Wilson's harmful policies and his laudable efforts on behalf of civil rights greatly outweigh the relatively limited harm caused by his corrupt underlings. And, by all accounts, Harding himself was clean (though many of his appointees definitely weren't).

Harding will never be ranked among the top few presidents. But he deserves much greater respect than he gets.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saddest Picture on the Internet

Click here to see it, if you dare.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Gummi Lighthouses

They must be crafted by gummi artisans who work exclusively in the medium of gummi. Sounds cute. What could go wrong?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Submitted without comment

From GQ's profile of Meghan McCain, daughter of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain:

Meghan confesses that her real love life hasn’t been especially active lately. She’s gone on only one official date since her dad’s campaign began, but she bowed out early with a “headache.” Then there was also the rumor that she’d been seen with—horrors—a Ron Paul supporter.

“That has been blown out of proportion in every way!” she exclaims. “What happened is that I dropped my coffee and he helped me with it and was like, ‘Do you want to go to Baja Fresh?’… Not that I would be against dating a Ron Paul supporter, but he turned out to be very strange. He collected Barbie dolls. I called my girlfriends after and was like, ‘That’s weird, right?’ ”

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tpotdomescandal's Top 10 TV Shows

#1 The Simpsons

Of course it’s The Simpsons. I’ve had entire conversations that consisted of Simpsons quotes and allusions. I made a t-shirt with a hand-drawing of Chief Wiggum, featuring quotes such as, “Oh my God! Somebody’s taken a bite out of the giant rice krispie square!” I went to a taping of Late Night with Conan O’Brien because I was a fan of his work as a writer during the glory days of The Simpsons. The Simpsons had it all: the dizzying highs, the terrifying lows, the creamy middles. The Simpsons taught us a lot about life: “A woman is a lot like a refrigerator. Six feet tall, 300 pounds, makes ice. Actually, a woman is more like a beer. She looks good. She smells good. You’d step over your own mother to get one. And once you have one woman you can’t stop. You gotta have another woman, and another… gulp gulp gulp.”

One thing I like to point out about The Simpsons is the surprising pervasiveness of religion. Really I think that it is one of the underappreciated reasons the show is such a unique look at family in America, which is a uniquely religious country. Characters pray regularly. They go to church. Lisa converted to Buddhism. The conservative Christian neighbors, the Flanders, are major characters. There was a whole show devoted to Bart’s soul. God and the Devil have made multiple appearances. We’ve seen heaven (Ben Franklin and Jimi Hendrix playing ping-pong), and hell (an unsuccessful attempt to overfeed Homer with doughnuts in the ironic punishment division). Krusty’s Judaism and Apu’s Hinduism have been featured. There was an episode in which Bart and Homer briefly were Catholics. The Flanders are an interesting case in themselves. Frankly, they may be the most sympathetic portrayal of evangelical Christians in popular culture. Yes, they are portrayed as odd, and are often the brunt of jokes, but so is everyone else on the Simpsons. In most popular portrayals of conservative Christians, they must be shown to be intolerant, or hypocrites, or secret sinners, or just plain the Bad Guys. The Flanders are portrayed as earnest righteous people who really would give you their shirts after you stole their coats.

While The Simpsons has been criticized by morons in the media as crass and base, it’s actually intelligent and warm. I get a little choked up at the end of “And Maggie Makes Three,” when we see all the pictures of Maggie covering letters to turn “Don’t forget, you’re here forever” to “Do it for her.” I could give other examples, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m a wuss.

The Simpsons doesn’t really have an anti-government message, but they do as good a job criticizing government as anybody. Joe Quimby, a walking catchall parody of local government, Democrats, and Kennedys, is summarized by Birch Barlow, himself a parody of conservative talk radio: “our six-term mayor - the illiterate, tax-cheating, wife-swapping, pot-smoking spendocrat: Diamond Joe Quimby.”

I defy you to find a sport not featured in The Simpsons. Jai alai is a good guess, but Homer references betting on Jai alai in the Caiman Islands after discovering the internet.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Road to Hell Is Paved with Nationalized Cement

Would anyone who still thinks socialism is a good idea please pay attention to what's happening in Venezuela right now? Hugo Chavez is doing everything in his (expanding) power to run that country into the ground, and is on course to accomplish this feat in record time.

Choosing to remain shockingly ignorant about what causes inflation, Chavez decided to address the nation's recent 29% surge in consumer prices by raising the average public worker's wage by thirty percent. Ho ho! How clever, Señor Presidente! Why didn't anyone think of this sooner? When the water rises, you just throw out more ice for the people to float on. Never mind if it melts later, there's plenty more ice where that came from (i.e., windfall taxes).

Why the sudden boost in bread for the masses? Perhaps it has something to do with Chavez and his Socialist colleagues seeking more power in November's elections. Remember that just last year, the majority of voters said "no" to Chavez's attempt to remove a constitutional limit on his terms as president. Further electoral setbacks could diminish his support among the governors of Venezuela's 23 states.

Chavez's economic policies, such as they are, have ruined what once was a period of economic growth spurred by foreign oil investment in Venezuela. The oil-rich nation's government has alienated those same investors by nationalizing oil fields and placing progressive windfall taxes on oil based upon its current revenue (e.g., 60% at $110 or more per barrel).

Any company who complains, as Exxon-Mobil has in a $12 billion lawsuit, is immediately labeled a "corporate terrorist." Rather than deal with such headaches, investors are taking their money elsewhere, and Venezuela's GDP is expected to be just over half of what it was only two years ago.

The latest outrage from Venezuela's dictator is positively Bushian in its sheer moxie: A new law proposed by Chavez that would imprison those refusing to cooperate with state intelligence agencies and secret police, as well as warrant-less wiretapping and the ability to detain anyone under suspicion without proper legal representation. Sound familiar, civil libertarians?

Chavez in pre-election cash spree [BBC News]
Venezuela 'spy' law draws protest [BBC News]
(Chavez supporter photo via AP; Exxon flyer photo via AFP)

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