David R. Henderson  

Recarving Rushmore: With Warren G. Harding

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My wife and I took a break from work yesterday to channel surf. We found Alfred Hitchcock's classic North by Northwest and we were hooked, staying with it to the end. At the end, there is an exciting chase at the top of Mt. Rushmore. That got me thinking about who I think should be on Rushmore. A friend, Ivan Eland, has written an excellent book titled Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty, in which he ranks the presidents, as the subtitle says, on peace, prosperity, and liberty. #1 in Ivan's book is John Tyler. I don't agree with all of Ivan's rankings. In particular, I think he's way too harsh on Reagan on foreign policy.

Anyway, I was thinking that way and along comes this op/ed, amazingly in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Amid Mount Rushmore warriors, why not a lover: Warren G. Harding?" by Ishmael Reed.

These two paragraphs made me think of Bryan Caplan's thinking about who should vote and who shouldn't:

Instead of attempting to suppress the black vote, he was a Republican, who, in 1921, made a speech in Jefferson, Ala., supporting the right of black men to vote. 1921!

He said: "Let the black man vote when he is fit to vote; prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote." A reporter said that while the white section of the audience remained silent, the black section cheered.


Of course, I know that Harding had nothing to lose from criticizing whites who voted in the South. Check the electoral map for the 1920 election.

BTW, in case it's not obvious, I'm not a huge fan of Harding. I just think he was a substantially better president than 2 of the people on Rushmore. His finest action, from the ones I know of, was letting Eugene Debs out of prison.

HT to Jeff Hummel.


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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Brett Champion writes:

It's quite rich putting Tyler on top of a list of presidents partly based on peace. It was Tyler who was instrumental in the annexation of Texas, which all but guaranteed war with Mexico.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Brett Champion,
Hmmm. I didn’t know that. Thanks.
Economic historian Jeff Hummel’s favorite is Martin van Buren, but when I’ve made that point to Ivan, his counter is that van Buren was behind the “Trail of Tears.”
What it goes to show is how hard it is to find a U.S. president who looks good on all 3 dimensions. Ivan’s main accomplishment with me, by the way, is causing me to rate Jimmy Carter higher (but not high) than I did.

Robert D writes:

I would rather see the Bill of Rights carved into Mt. Rushmore than any four Presidents. Having said that, I'm curious about who would be in Mr. Henderson's Rushmore Four.

Andrew_FL writes:

It's fairly uncommon knowledge that the first Republican not to get a majority of the black vote was Herbert Hoover. Why? This.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Neat! I would have guessed that a statement like that was a fair-sounding way of advocating a poll tax or a literacy test. Certainly the mid-20th century is replete with these statements that shroud a subtle racism in "equality of opportunity" language. But if the black portion of the crowd cheered for him presumably it's because they knew it was genuine.

Sam Haysom writes:

I guess the take away from this if you want to impress a libertarian its best to preside over the the four year period in which american influence and prestige plummeted to its all time low. Also maybe botch a boots on ground rescue mission too. It almost seems like being a Canadian David Henderson isn't quite able to appreciate the natural dismay that engulfed Americans during the Carter presidency. After all what's American prestige to him; it doesn't getting him published or tenure and that's what the U.S. is here for to provide social mobility to those who couldn't find it at home.

Tyler simple reconigized the results of a democratic referendum on joining the union. Surely even white southerners can avail themselves to that most libertarian of tactics right? I think it would be more honest if libertarians just said "look of course our principles don't apply to white southerners they suck."

David R. Henderson writes:

@Robert D,
I'm curious about who would be in Mr. Henderson's Rushmore Four.
Me too. I think Tyler’s a contender and then Brett Champion bursts my bubble. I counter with Jeff Hummel’s van Buren and Ivan Eland bursts his bubble. Two contenders for me are Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge.

Don Boudreaux writes:

I'd remove from Mt. Rushmore all people who are most famous for holding political office - which is to say, I'd blast off all four of the currently sculpted faces. I'd replace them with images of the faces of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Gustavus Swift, J.J. Hill (even though he was Canadian!), and either Gail Borden or Steve Jobs - people who really define, and who helped in notable and noticeable ways to sculpt, what is good about America. (If obliged to include a non-entrepreneur among the four, there's no question that the person whose visage I would choose is that wisest of all Americans, H.L. Mencken.)

Robert D writes:

@David R. Henderson
I would second Calvin Coolidge, and I hadn't considered Grover Cleveland before.

@Don Boudreaux
Now this is an interesting idea. I completely agree with John D. Rockefeller Sr., and I would have to agree with H.L. Mencken as well. How about Norman Borlaug? I'd consider Arthur E. Andersen as well. While he didn't have the social impact of Rockefeller, Mencken, and others above, his dedication to thinking and talking straight set a high point for business ethics.

Ironic that Don Boudreaux should choose Mencken, as he's the man most responsible for Warren G. Harding's lousy reputation. This is typical;

He [Harding] writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

As far as I know, Mencken completely ignored Harding's admirable characteristics. One of which was that he wasn't a racist, far from it. Nor was he a fan of government;
...we must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation.

and
America's present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy....

and
Practically all we know is that thousands of native Haitians have been killed by American Marines, and that many of our own gallant men have sacrificed their lives at the behest of an Executive department in order to establish laws drafted by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. ... I will not empower an Assistant Secretary of the Navy to draft a constitution for helpless neighbors in the West Indies and jam it down their throats at the point of bayonets borne by US Marines.

The last one was delivered during the 1920 campaign, critical of Woodrow Wilson and his Navy Sec'y FDR.

Todd Kreider writes:

Steve Jobs?

Apparently Don Boudreaux hasn't been following the computer industry that closely for the past 35 years...

David R. Henderson writes:

@Patrick R. Sullivan,
Great quotes. Thanks.

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