I confess I've always had a soft spot for Warren Harding, the last U.S. President who chewed tobacco. Sure, they guy was a mediocrity; but unlike several other presidents — no names, no pack drill — Harding knew he was a mediocrity. He comported himself in office accordingly, appointing strong-willed clever men to his cabinet, while doing as little as possible himself, in the sure conviction that if he tried to do anything, he would screw it up.One of my favorite political quotes is from William McAdoo, Woodrow Wilson's Treasury Secretary, in reference to Harding's oratorical gifts, quote:The full Radio Derb playbill:
“His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea. Sometimes these meandering words would actually capture a straggling thought and bear it triumphantly, a prisoner in their midst, until it died of servitude and overwork.”End quote. They don't make insults like that any more.Harding lived in terror of his wife Florence, whom he called "the Duchess." This was one tough bird, in the old pioneer mode. She was a single mother for a while before marrying Harding, a damn tough thing to be in the pre-welfare 1880s; she supported herself and her child by giving piano lessons. When she got a proposal of marriage out of Harding, she announced the event to a friend with the words, quote: "I have got snaffle and bit on him." Oh, those great American gals!Harding took refuge from the Duchess in sex affairs, at least one of them reportedly consummated in a storage closet in the West Wing of the White House. Thence to this week's news.Harding's best-known dalliance was with a young secretary named Nan Britton, 31 years his junior. After Harding's sudden death in 1923, Britton wrote a book about the affair, and claimed to have borne Harding's love child. Harding's family denied it and vilified her, with the assistance of the media, at that time strongly Republican, believe it or not.Well, Ancestry.com has done some DNA analysis on descendants of Harding and Britton's daughter, and yes, Ol' Warren was indeed the baby daddy. In further news from the DNA results, Harding did not, as was commonly rumored at the time, have a touch of the tar-brush: there was no African in his genome. Now perhaps Pat Buchanan will stop referring to Harding as "our first black President."Harding's descendants are still in denial about that love child, though. Richard Harding, the president's grand-nephew, told The New York Times that he still didn't believe it, but wished the Britton descendants well. Here's a quote from him, words that would have brought a knowing smile to the face of William McAdoo, quote: "I hope they'll find their new place in history is meaningful and productive for them," end quote.Ah, the spirit of Harding lives on!