Ninety six years ago this month, in Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding’s successful campaign for the presidency, he gave a famous speech about how, in the wake of World War I and the negotiation of the ultimately disastrous Versailles treaty and the invasion of the deadly Spanish flu and countless reform measures enacted by Woodrow Wilson and the progressives, what America really needed was a “return to normalcy.”
Harding’s speech drew a lot of criticism from the intelligentsia, who noted that “normalcy” wasn’t even a word until then. But it was Harding, not the sophisticates, who had accurately assessed the national mood, and the common folks got the point that he was trying to make. They were tired of disruption and wanted nothing more than a chance to go back to the way things were, and they voted for him in one of the greatest landslides in American politics. (Three years later, Harding was dead of a massive cerebral hemorrhage, his personal affairs became the talk of Washington, and now his administration is generally regarded as one of the most corrupt and scandal-filled in history, adding to the Buckeye State’s generally crappy record when it comes to Presidents.)
I thought of poor old Warren G. today, when — after long weeks of dust in the air and on everything, of workers stripping out the old, tiling, sanding, installing, and painting, I was finally able to take a steaming hot shower in our freshly remodeled upstairs bathroom. Sure, I admit that not having an upstairs bathroom doesn’t really compare to the doughboys marching off to fight in the Great War and a global pandemic and the bloody end to countless monarchies, but I felt a desire for a return to normalcy nevertheless.
Warren G. Harding may have been an inept leader and a cad, but at least he could put his finger on an important concept. I’ll be glad to get back to the way things were.