Guess the Presidents

Today’s pop quiz – there are three 20th century Presidents with similarities in their significant domestic accomplishments.

Many of you will know about two of them, but I’ll bet the third will be a surprise. 

Taxes – all three were tax cutters:

  • President #1 proposed an across the board reduction in income tax rates when the top income tax rate was 91%; he stated that the tax system ““…siphons out of the private economy too large a share of personal and business purchasing power; that it reduces the financial incentives for personal effort, investment, and risk-taking".

  • President #2 cut taxes ‘across the board’, reducing the top rate from 70 to 50%. He also indexed tax brackets for inflation, an important taxpayer protection.

  • President #3 cut the income tax across all brackets including reducing the maximum rate from 73% to 58%.

Jobs – Unemployment fell under all three:

  • #1: Unemployment fell from about 7% to 5.5%

  • #2: Unemployment fell from 7.5% to 5.5%; Inflation fell from 11.4% to 4.4%

  • #3: Unemployment fell from double digits to under 3%

Civil Rights – Each sought to advance Civil Rights:

  • #1: used Federal forces to protect civil rights including protecting the first black student at the University of Mississippi; proposed comprehensive civil rights bill.

  • #2: nominated the first woman Supreme Court justice; Signed legislation providing reparations to Japanese-Americans who had been interned during war; Signed 25-year extension of the voting rights acts

  • #3: Supported legislation to outlaw the Ku Klux Klan; Traveled to South and challenged the audience regarding equal treatment for all races – “Whether you like it or not, our democracy is a lie unless you stand for that equality”;

Budget – only 1 of the 3 made significant progress in reducing the Budget and Deficit

  • #1: No action

  • #2: Verbally supported budget reductions, but deficit increased

  • #3: Established the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to provide the Federal government with a mechanism to prepare and manage a total budget; ran budget surpluses.

Peace – all three advanced the cause of peace through arms reduction treaties

  • #1: limited nuclear test ban treaty was signed banning atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons; This was the first nuclear related dis-armament treaty

  • #2: Signed treaty which eliminated all short and intermediate range nuclear weapons; This was the first time an entire class of nuclear weapons had been eliminated.

  • #3: Called a disarmament conference that resulted in the major powers of the day agreeing to limit the size of their navies; The first major arms control agreement in history.

I’ll give you a minute to guess the three Presidents. Two Republicans and one Democrat. Two were ladies’ men having affairs while President. Two did not live until the end-of-their-terms

The Answers

jfk and reagan.jpg

President #1 was JFK. His tax cut and Civil Rights legislation were passed in 1964 after his assassination.

President #2 was Reagan. He inherited the largest ‘misery index’ (inflation rate + unemployment rate) in history, cutting it in half. After his famous ‘tear down this wall’ speech at the Berlin Wall, the wall in fact fell within a year of him leaving office.  Margaret Thatcher later commented that Reagan won the cold war ‘without firing a shot’.

Surprise Answer to #3:

Some more clues on President #3. He had mistresses while in office and a major scandal. But no, not Bill Clinton.

The answer is Warren Harding, President from 1921 – 1923, he died while in office.

President Harding owned a newspaper and worked his way into politics including the Ohio Senate and US Senate. In 1920, as a compromise Republican candidate, he won in a mammoth landslide, one of only four Presidents to win over 60% of the popular vote to go along with 75% of the electoral vote. He cut taxes, balanced the budget, signed the Washington Naval Treaty limiting the size of navies, and supported Civil Rights although he was unable to get anti-lynching laws through the Senate.  New York Times reported that he “declared that the Negro is entitled to full economic and political rights as an American citizen


Harding was popular when in died in 1923. His Vice President, Coolidge, won the 1924 election in a landslide reflecting, at least in part, the popularity of the Harding administration.  But his reputation plummeted due to a variety of factors including the Teapot Dome scandal. This scandal, in which members of his cabinet received kickbacks in return for oil leases on federal land, broke after Harding died. There is no evidence that Harding participated in or was aware of the scandal.  But it tarnished him. 

In 1927, one of his mistresses, Nan Britton, claimed she had a child with Harding and wrote a book about it.  While denied by Harding’s family at the time, DNA tests recently completed in 2015 have proved her correct. 

Over 100 love letters written to another mistress, Carrie Phillips, have survived. Due to an extensive legal battle with the Harding family, they were just released in 2015. 50 Shades of Grey could learn something from Harding’s letters.  Politico Magazine ran an article calling Harding ‘America’s Horniest President’.  That would be some contest between him, JFK and Clinton.

Anyway, back to the point – would you have guessed that Warren Harding, in under three years, would have had such a solid record of achievement? Does he deserve to be considered one of the worst, if not the worst Presidents?  Don’t see how.