Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mirrors of Washington

Politics in Washington have always been brutal. Every President of the United States is the worst President ever according to someone. This was true in the 1920s as well. In 1921, an anonymous book was released titled Mirrors of Washington. It skewered many of the political figures of the day including President Harding. It was later revealed that the book was written by Clinton Wallace Gilbert who was a reporter for the New York Evening Post.

A description of the book reads, "The 1920's equivalent of today's bloggers and pundits, Gilbert is opinionated, aggressive, and incisive in his analysis of the inside machinations he observed as a reporter. With its firsthand perspective, The Mirrors of Washington is not only a unique view on the politics of a fascinating era in modern American history but an unusual document of the development of American journalism in the 20th century."

Here is a description of Harding from the book, "As a legislator he had left no mark on legislation. If he had retired from Congress at the end of his term his name would have existed only in the old Congressional directories, like that of a thousand others. As a public speaker he had said nothing that anybody could remember. He had passed through a Great War and left no mark on it. He had shared in a fierce debate upon the peace that followed the war but though you can recall small persons like McCumber and Kellogg and Moses and McCormick in that discussion you do not recall Harding. To be sure he made a speech in that debate which he himself says was a great speech but no newspaper thought fit to publish it because of its quality, or felt impelled to publish it in spite of its quality because it had been made by Harding. "

Here is some commentary on President Wilson, "This debate goes on and on. Mr. Wilson is either the worst hated or the most regretted personality of the Great War. The place of no one else is worth disputing. Lloyd George is the consummate politician, limited by the meanness of his art. Clemenceau is the personification of nationality, limited by the narrowness of his view. Mr. Wilson alone had his hour of superlative greatness when the whole earth listened to him and followed him; an hour which ended with him only dimly aware of his vision and furiously conscious of pin pricks."

This is a fun book to read. Go beyond the chapter on Harding though. Some of the commentary on the other players in Washington at the time is pretty wicked.

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