Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Flashback: “Normalcy” of the 1920s and the Liberal Abnormality.

[More review of our family for my kids, 13 grandchildren and anyone else who wants to hitch-hike along.]

When Frances Catherine Cleary, head of the J.Walter Thompson Chicago office production department (my mother) and Harold Nicholas Roeser, sports writer for the old “Chicago American” (my father) played golf at Dempster public course in 1919, a year after World War I (she playing along at first that she was from the steno pool so as not to make him uncomfortable) , the nation was poised on the lip of a great boom—a boom that ever since has been calumniated as an era of greed, selfishness and stupidity which inevitably led to the birth of modern liberalism and the exemplary growth of the corporate state. Only now are historians beginning to understand that the `20s were not evil, greedy and pleasure-bent—but the era of liberalism that followed, pursuing denser regulation, higher taxes and more government overseeing…carrying into the present day…has been decidedly deleterious.

The idea has been promulgated that wild speculation participated in by people of the whoopee era who danced on the edge of a volcano caused the stock market crash of 1929 and brought the so-called “flapper” age to sobriety. That view has been ingrained into history by three villains: H. L. Mencken the equal opportunity hater and Nietzsche buff, John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., which was taken up by a pack of imitators in the media. Not so. The era was entirely justified by the chaos produced by Woodrow Wilson—a chaos that must be understand before we get to the `20s which was a justifiable anti-Wilson correction. Several points:

  • Wilson, a grandiose proto-liberal had seen himself in grandiose terms: the leader of the Free World, the formulator of an era of enlightened internationalism with the League of Nations. In fact as we have seen, he led the nation into a war in which we had no business being through a series of contrived “crises.”

  • The Versailles treaty which Wilson wanted the U. S. to approve carried within it the seeds of World War II. In an orgy of anger, Wilson crisscrossed the nation speaking from his railroad observation car to groups. But “the battle over the League” has been seriously distorted by liberal historians. It was not a battle over the League at all but a battle over Article 10 of the Versailles treaty. Article 10 obligated all League members to go to war if necessary to preserve the territorial integrity of member states. Opponents feared rightly that 10 would be an automatic trigger that would embroil us into war without our own self-determination.

  • The bunk that opponents of the League were “isolationists” has been sold for years—but it is utterly false. Chief opponent of Article 10 was Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr., distinguished historian, holder of a doctorate in government from Harvard when doctorates had not been around very long (Lodge contesting with the possessor of another doctorate in government, Woodrow Wilson of Princeton). The idea that Lodge was a hopeless, red-neck reactionary is as wrong as rain. He was a super-sophisticated internationalist of the time. Lodge was a close friend to Theodore Roosevelt and served him closely with TR was president. Lodge didn’t oppose the League; he opposed Article 10.

  • Lodge wrote a “reservation” which if approved would have ended all controversy about the League. It said “The United States assumes no obligation to preserve the territorial integrity or political independence of any country…under the provisions of Article 10 or to employ the military and naval forces of the United States under any article of the treaty for any purpose”—except if and when Congress wants to declare war.

  • But Wilson, the monomaniac…also undergoing the stress that would shortly cause him to suffer a major stroke…believed it was all or nothing. Had he accepted the Lodge reservation, the U.S. would have joined the League and would have behaved as a member just as it does the current United Nations. But frankly as we have seen with the UN, the idea of a concert of nations acting like a parliamentary body is useless and the UN, as the League, has been impotent. So for many reasons, we are lucky we didn’t join the League.

  • But liberal historians and the liberal media have propagated the myth that “evil old men” in the Senate killed Woodrow Wilson’s dream and caused in him a stroke that made him a martyr…and that our isolationism led to an impotence of the League that made inevitable World War II. That is so far from the truth as to be almost laughable. H. L. Mencken was one who popularized it—ignoring that details of the struggle, fictioning that old curmudgeon Lodge hated the League and wanted us to be Fortress America. The terrifying thing is how history has been bent just as contemporary media are bent every day to liberal ends.

  • And look what the historian makeup artists have portrayed: Wilson a saint, Harding an evil crook, Coolidge a lazy dunce, Hoover, coldly insensitive to the unemployed; FDR a compassionate architect of prosperity and peace, Truman one of the greatest statesmen who ever lived, Ike a dunce and inactive, JFK a scholar-statesman-martyr, LBJ warm-hearted lover of the poor, Nixon evil, Ford dumb, Carter a man of conscience, Reagan a lucky dumb guy, Bush I an elitist with no popular feel, Clinton a near genius, Bush II a clumsy dunce and warmonger. It all started with the cosmetics job given to Wilson and his successors. Back to Wilson, now.

    Driving himself with frenetic energy, Wilson’s own language became intemperate and grandiose. The treaty, he said, constituted “the incomparable consummation of the hopes of mankind.” The treaty “is an unparalleled achievement of thoughtful civilization—the first treaty ever made by great powers that was not made in their own favor.” Nonsense, even with the liberal hype historians are concluding that (a) the Kaiser was in no way an approximation of Adolf Hitler and (b) the punitive sanctions on Germany spurred a demagogue like Hitler to arise to appeal to the patriotism of the German people.

    Wilson produced such a grandiose scenario as he crossed the nation by train, that he turned off the public. It had had enough of grandiose dreams and wanted to get back to peace. The candidate named by the Republicans to oppose this was Warren Harding. Again, the spectacle of Harding that has emerged has been wildly inaccurate. Harding was far-far from the worst president of the United States as he has been commonly adjudged in polls by liberal professors. Indeed, he was a surprisingly good one. Here’s why:

  • He had a super cabinet: starting with Andrew Mellon in Treasury who put into practice the tax cuts that rejuvenated the economy, reduced the national debt and promoted business confidence…Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State who launched the London naval conference, spurred better relations with Latin America, arms limitation. .

  • His priority was to reinvigorate the economy which had slumped into recession following the war. He was the first president to get the budget organized, setting up the first Budget Bureau under Charlie Dawes, the Evanston banker. He cut spending by $1 billion, a big number in those days, had the guts to reject a popular war bonus for soldiers that would have depleted the Treasury; initiated disarmament treaties that reduced U.S., British and Japanese fleets, caused all civilized nations to reject poison gas in warfare which has lasted until the present—all done in little over two years before his death in office in 1923.

  • Even the scandals with which he has been associated—and trumped up by the news media offended that he had made their hero Woodrow Wilson look so bad in contrast—were minor league by contrast with those that happened since, including under the man the media say was one of the greatest of the 20th century, Harry Truman (who had three straight IRS commissioners dumped in scandals). Teapot Dome, clearly wrong, opened national oil reserves to private companies in exchange for bribes. The head of the Veterans Bureau took kickbacks from land speculators in return for placing hospitals on their property. But in replacing him and straightening out the mess, Harding won praise from many contemporaries and later historians such as the highly acclaimed Robert H. Ferrell.

  • Believe it or not, Harding’s bad rap comes from a disclosure after his death that he may have had an illegitimate daughter with one Nan Britton (he had had an affair before he was president with one Carrie Phillips who moved to Germany). Britton wrote a sensational book claiming this after his death which was promoted by H. L Mencken. Prof. Ferrell discovered that Harding was indeed sterile (had no children with his wife) and had sought doctors’ treatment for it to no avail. But before Ferrell made that finding, a pack of liberal advocate historians had condemned him and the prosperity he began as greed—William Allen White, Frederick Lewis Allen, Samuel Hopkins Adams.

  • Believe it or not Harding was an average guy with a better than average sense of where the public was on issues. He may have fooled around with women but he didn’t conceive a child out of wedlock for the simple reason that he could not—he was as sterile as a lead pipe (like the childless George Washington). He was much more of a sound, commonsense guy than his predecessor Wilson with far better instincts.

    Harding was a small town newspaper editor (Marion, Ohio) who could write well but on occasion had trouble with syntax. What he wanted to do more than anything else was to restore this nation to normality. Instead of saying “normality” he postulated an ungrammatical word “normalcy.” There is no such word as “normalcy” but liberal historians and effete newspaper commentators have used it ever since to maintain he was a boob. But his private papers reveal how well read he was—his favorites being Carlyle, Dickens, Pope and Shakespeare.

    The rumor out on Harding from the first time he ran, for the State Senate, was that there were African-Americans in his lineage. Answer: probably but studies of his heritage were never fully resolved. What is certain is that he was the first president to issue a pledge to fight discrimination, to receive an honorary doctorate from a black college.

    Harding had some limitations. He liked the girls, he liked playing cards and drinking with his buddies. But his instincts were far-far better than Wilson’s. He has been accused of returning the nation to laissez-faire economics and isolationism. He did on laissez-faire but favored membership in the World Court which the Senate refused to endorse. He ended the rigid controls on the economy placed there by Wilson during World War I, assuredly.

    If, in fact, Warren Harding was the first president to be partially of African American heritage, he did his black ancestry proud even though he has never received sufficient credit. To-wit:

    During World War I the top income tax rate had been hiked from 7% to 73%! Harding believed this was unconscionable and produced tax relief with the aid of his treasury secretary Andrew Mellon. Wilson’s supporters cried that if the high taxes were cut there would be ruinous inflation. Harding and Mellon denied it and were proved right. The top rate went down from 73 to 40 and later to 25. And as result federal revenue increased but economic activity multiplied many times over. Was Harding a miserable failure and was his successor Calvin Coolidge a bumbler? Listen to this: in 1926 unemployment reached a low of 1%. Yes—one percent.

    It is inconceivable that the president who followed Woodrow Wilson is regarded as the worst of all 43 presidents than his predecessor who (a) got us into war and (b) formulated a peace agreement that inevitably produced World War II—seen as gigantic martyr and statesman. In fact, he was one of the more successful presidents. It’s a great irony that because he liked the girls, his reputation has suffered at the hands of the same liberal progenitors of the current crop who call Bill Clinton effective. Warren Harding belongs not just in the middle category of effective presidents but somewhere in the top third.


    Times were very good when Frances Catherine Cleary and Harold Nicholas Roeser went out together in Chicago. There was a prudent morality in effect that largely negated chance for impropriety: young people lived at home with their parents until they married. Were there young people who misbehaved? Absolutely—but nothing…nothing…in that so-called “riotous age” compared to today. If there was a reaction against Victorian ideas of morality, it came from the intellectuals. Assuredly women changed their dress styles, some took up smoking. Prohibition, an unwise policy, came during World War I largely through the feminist movement and the fact that many young men who would have opposed Prohibition were in the military.

    Gradually as they came to fall in love, Frances Catherine admitted to Harold Nicholas that she was doing far better at J. Walter Thompson than she had led him to believe. But rather than making him jealous, before they married in 1923, it spurred him to leave the newspaper business and do what he really wanted to do—get involved in promoting European travel. Because of his facility with German, he joined a one steamship line, then transferred to a German steamship company as salesman and quickly became top salesman of the line to a number of Chicago businesses.

    By the time they married, she was still making more than he but he was coming up—coming up to the point that she felt she should leave J. Walter…regretfully but with no inner-confusion.

    What did he see in her? His diary says that he was smitten with her deep blue eyes and her saucy attitude of practicality which was a welcome relief from his Germanic-style deep thinking which could lead to melancholy. She convinced him to drop the deep thinking stuff and be practical—although he could never be so practical as she.

    What did she see in him? She kept no diary but I know full well. She was two-years older than he and she felt sorely that in her ambition to get ahead at the ad agency, she had missed out on a lot of things: books, culture and the study of politics. She had become convinced that the World War was needless but until she met him, didn’t really know why. She didn’t care that he didn’t dance; she preferred to ask his advice about a lot of things she had never thought of before—the economy, politics, international affairs. She couldn’t feel the same way with, let us say, Ted Jardin who was her equal at the agency: he was interested in just what she was—getting ahead. But she wanted more than that.

    She was rather concerned, it is intriguing to note, that perhaps Harold Nicholas was less interested in the Catholic Church than was she (as it turned out, he became so passionately involved…so prayerful…that she thought he was over-doing it just before he died). And too, she felt that she should get married and have a family. There was nobody in the ad business who talked with her the way this German did or who could get her to laugh.

    Most importantly, at 27—somewhat late in working-class genre--she wanted to get on with building a family. She had been told that it might…just might…be very difficult for her to conceive and, after marriage some people told her she should break free of the enervating cycle of energy that was the advertising business and become a housewife. She had two sisters who had already married—one, Marie, an older sister, married George Helfrich…the second, Alice, a younger sister, had married William Kane. Frances decided: Harold Nicholas Roeser was the guy for her. Not Ted Jardin who would bring J. Walter office politics home every night to her. She had dated a lot including a lot of good dancers but after the dancing was over there was too little to talk about—just mundane, dumb things. Not with this German.

    With that in mind, they married on January 17, 1923…he the assistant western passenger manager at the North German Lloyd and she staying at J. Walter until she would have a family but still determined to become a housewife, learn how to cook (she had never learned how because she spent her young adult years at the office and her mother cooked for her). They pooled their income and decided to buy a house right off—in a scarcely developed area on the far northwest side of Chicago, a subdivision called Edison Park…Edison after the man who invented the lightbulb…Edison because it was one of the first areas of Chicago to install electric street lights. And they went to Europe on the North German Lloyd steamer “Berlin,” which gave Father got a discount. Going to Europe in the early `20s was rare indeed for non-super wealthy. On the ship she stumbled going downstairs and badly sprained her ankle: he dutifully brought her meals to her easy chair.

    In Italy, she still had a bit of the kid in her at 27. They were biking in Rome and she saw a devastatingly handsome policeman directing traffic. She gave him a flirtatious look which she had practiced evidently at J. Walter, batting her eyelashes flapper-style only to find that when she and Harold stopped for coffee, the cop came into the restaurant, sat down and importuned her to see him, heedless of my father’s presence! “God,” said Father, “we were both amazed! Then she got terrified! I wanted to deck him but swinging at a cop in Rome wouldn’t exactly be the smartest thing to do. This guy was gesticulating in Italian that Fran wanted to go with him!” He left, backing out of the restaurant, with many honeyed Italian words to describe his affection for her! That cured Frances Catherine Roeser nee Cleary and she never raised her eyes to look at Italian cops again.

    “Enough of that,” she said when I reminded her of it when she was in advanced age. “You get me talking too much!”
  • 1 comment:

    1. Tom-
      Great as usual. You will not get any hits on FLASHBACKS until you can somehow workout a relationship with your family + Osama Obama!

      Being Swiss/Irish, I understand that this is a challenge. Hire a diversity genealogist with poetic license? A thought from a friend-