Ohio celebrates `worst President'

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WHAT GOOD can one possibly say about a man regularly voted the worst president in United States history? Warren Harding is generally remembered for corruption scandals, adultery and a sudden death just two- and-a-half years into his administration, but that has not stopped some historians, particularly in his native Ohio, attempting to salvage his reputation on the 75th anniversary of his passing.

The trouble is, they have found it awfully difficult to say anything nice.

"He was not a bad person," was the best that William M Thompson, a public administration professor writing in the Toledo Blade, could come up with. "He could see that he was limited in talent, something that the `strong' and `great' presidents seldom see when they contemplate themselves. Therefore he relied upon others - giants like Charles Evans Hughes, Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft."

If this is a hardly a ringing endorsement, one can at least detect a note of sympathy for a man who was blamed for everything from the Teapot Dome land scandal in Wyoming to his wife Florence's penchant for entertaining movie stars and astrologers in the White House.

David Nasaw, a New York history professor writing a review of the first biography of Florence Harding in yesterday's New York Times, suggested that it was unfair to drag Harding the man into the mud just because of his presidential record.

Some of the mud will sound strangely familiar to modern ears: a president so afraid of his wife finding out about his adulterous affairs that he once entertained a mistress in a White House coat-cupboard and conspired with his advisers to cover up his shenanigans by paying out hush-money to key Washington journalists; a man who appointed untrustworthy cronies to high office and then saw them mire him in scandal as they raked in the kick-backs - and a man who appointed a staff for his dog that received and answered mail on the pooch's behalf.