Thursday, July 14, 2011


Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Pinchos

13 Tamuz 5771/July 15, 2011 -- Pirkei Avos – Chapter 6

Warren Harding was not a particularly intelligent man. He was not particularly distinguished politically either. He was vague and ambivalent on matters of policy. His speeches were once described as ‘an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea’.

In 1914 he was elected to the US senate. He probably would not have gone beyond that were it not for the prodding of his wife Florence and his scheming stage manager Harry Daugherty.

In 1921, despite his unimpressive political record, Warren Harding was elected President of the United States. Most historians agree that he was one of the worst presidents in American history. President Harding rewarded friends and political contributors, referred to as the Ohio Gang, with financially powerful positions. Scandals and corruption eventually pervaded his administration.

In August 1923, President Harding suddenly collapsed and died during a stop in California on a return trip from Alaska. He was succeeded by Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.

Why/how was he chosen? Harding was an impressive person with a tremendous presence. While running for president he launched a "front porch campaign", which captured the imagination of the country. Not only was it the first campaign to be heavily covered by the press and to receive widespread newsreel coverage, but it was also the first modern campaign to use the power of Hollywood and Broadway stars, who travelled to his home for photo opportunities with Harding and his wife.

Being a former newspaper man, Harding got along well with the press, better than any prior President. Reporters admired his frankness, candor, and confessed limitations.

Prior President, Woodrow Wilson, had been ill by a debilitating stroke for eighteen months and before that had been in Europe for several months attempting to negotiate a peace settlement after World War I. By contrast, at the March 4, 1921 Inaugural, Harding looked robust and full of vitality, with grey hair and a commanding physical presence.

Warren Harding wowed the public despite not having much to offer politically or experientially.

It’s been said that “He who said ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ never tried to sell a book.” Perhaps that adage is more of an expression of hope that, ideally people should not judge things by their exterior appearance. But sadly that is usually not the case. In fact our world seems to be particularly prone to superficiality. People seek to appear to the world as ‘cool’ and aloof, as if they don’t have a care in the world, when in truth our world seems to have more emotional and personal pain and confusion then previous generations.

Of course it is important for a leader to have a presence, but if that is all he has it is a sad indication of the status of his constituents.

Could such a thing happen today? I’m sure we would like to think that we are all intelligent and better than that. We like to think of ourselves as having depth and not being fooled by mere eloquence and a strong presence. But are we really above that Or Better Articulation May Actually have an affect on people’s decisions?

What do you think?

Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

R’ Dani and Chani Staum