Symposium presents facts

News Release Date: 
07.25.10
Symposium presents facts, 'positive things' about President Harding
BY JOHN JARVIS • The Marion Star • July 25, 2010
MARION - Hearing author James Robenalt present his case that Warren G. Harding was a "very good" president, Valerie Kirkpatrick felt better about the man from the city where she grew up.
The Ashley resident and her husband, Keith, were among about 100 people attending the first of three study sessions featured on the second and last day of the first Warren G. Harding Symposium, the Man, the Myth and the Legacy.
"I was pleased to hear the positive things about Harding," she said, acknowledging she had hoped Robenalt, whose portion of the scholarly presentations was "The Man," would rebuild the 29th president's reputation, at least from her perspective. "That was encouraging, because mostly what you do hear is the negative."
Dave Claborn, director of community relations at The Ohio State University of Marion, which hosted the study sessions and a reception dinner Saturday evening, introduced the speaker presentations as a "coming-out party for Warren Harding." The symposium began with an open house Friday evening at the Harding Home. Tours of the Harding Home and Memorial preceded the study sessions.
Harding's grandnephew, Dr. Warren G. Harding III, an orthopedic surgeon whose practice is in Cincinnati, said he appreciated the goal of the symposium to present a fairer perspective of his famous ancestor than those in school history textbooks.
"People say he was misunderstood, but it was politics as usual," the surgeon said, agreeing with Robenalt's statement that Harding was rated a poor president by historians of opposing political views in years shortly after his term in office because "history is written by the victors."
Warren G. Harding III had a front-row seat for the two study sessions in Morrill Hall led by Robenalt, and local historian and Harding Home site manager Sherry Hall. He took to the podium as the third speaker to discuss several of his ancestor's speeches.
"I'm enjoying it very much and learning a lot," the chief executive's grandnephew said. He said he'd heard family stories passed through the years, but nothing of a political nature.
Keith Kirkpatrick said, unlike his wife, he wasn't interested specifically in Harding.
"I just like to hear about the presidents," he said. "There's so much revisionist history being written now," which he said raises questions about any revising historian's motivation. "That's what kind of interests me is just to get the facts, so you can draw your own conclusions."
Noting Robenalt said his interest in his grandfather and Harding's predecessor Woodrow Wilson drew him into researching Harding, the Ashley man said the author and attorney appears to have a genuine interest in his subject matter rather than an agenda, "He may have a chance of being the most balanced. ... He was able to review the facts and draw his own conclusions."
Mary Kay Mabe, a River Valley High School graduate who teaches Ohio history at Sinclair Community College and Urbana University, said she's taught classes about James Cox, Harding's presidential opponent in 1920, and participated in the symposium because "you've got to look at it from all perspectives. If I'm standing up there teaching, I want to have a really complete picture."
The Rev. Jack Moore, a semi-retired Lutheran pastor, approached the symposium with a similar mindset as Valerie Kirkpatrick.
"I'm looking for vindication of his presidency today," Moore said, later alluding to the Teapot Dome scandal in which Harding's Interior Secretary Albert Fall was convicted of bribery. "I think President Harding suffered a lot of bad press because of what his people who served under him did as opposed to what he, himself, did."
Holding "In the Fullness of Time," a novel written by Vincent Nicolosi about President Harding that she purchased at the symposium, former Marion resident Paula Patton said Harding was misunderstood.
"I think there were so many politicians at that time," she said, laughing as she added, "We have the same thing today. I think if (the public) would have listened, they would have been more inclined to agree with him."
Robenalt said a valid history also must take into account Harding's times, crediting him for stabilizing "not only his country, but the world" after World War I and taking courageous stands in support of civil rights and by vetoing legislation that would have awarded bonuses to war veterans because he believed not to would break the national budget.
He also presented his case that had Harding instead of Wilson been elected president in 1916 World War II might have been avoided, a theory that left the Kirkpatricks less affected.
"I think we can 'What if' things to death," Valerie Kirkpatrick said. "That does not interest me so much as the facts and what did take place."
Keith Kirkpatrick said, "I find it interesting, but I think you end up oversimplifying it."