How do you survive a scandal, especially when you are the president of the United States?
This year’s Warren G. Harding Symposium tackles the touchy issue. The two-day event July 19-20 at Ohio State Marion brings in two noted speakers — former Nixon White House counsel John Dean and author James Robenalt — to discover why some presidents weathered the storm while others did not.
“Presidential scandals seem like something we can’t escape,” said Gary Iams, director for Community Relations and Development at OSU Marion and coordinator for the event. “It’s not just a few presidents that have had them, it’s a lot. Why have scandals stuck to some presidents and why have others walked through the muck and the mire unscathed? Watergate toppled Richard Nixon’s presidency but Bill Clinton is a rockstar right now.”
The event, started in 2010, has more relevance this year with the 40th anniversary of the Watergate incident in which then-President Richard Nixon ultimately resigned from office. Five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. The cover-up created an ethical dilemma in which Dean testified against Nixon and turned in names of others he believed to be involved, including himself. Dean spent four months in jail for his part in the incident.
Dean and Robenalt, both Ohio natives, will team up to lead sessions on “Scandals and the United States Presidency,” and then focus on the Nixon presidency with “Cancer Growing on the Presidency” and the evening keynote program. Dean was instrumental in getting the classified Nixon tapes released and intends to play portions during the session.
David Stratton, professor emeritus at Washington State University, will present “Tempest Over the Teapot Dome,” a federal oil reserve scandal which tarnished the Harding administration. The July 19 wine and dessert reception features Sam Grant who portrays Ulysees S. Grant.
“Since we started the symposium, one of the things that we tried to do is to use it to stimulate new research in terms of the Harding era and his presidency and not just whitewash everything,” Iams said. “One of the dominating themes as it relates to Warren Harding and his presidency was the Teapot Dome scandal, and the truth is it didn’t actually come out until after he died. We recognize that it is one of the defining things about his presidency, so let’s take a closer look at it.”
Robenalt was one of the first to gain access to private sealed Harding papers. The Ohio State alumnus’ research resulted in the book The Harding Affair: Love and Espionage During the Great War. The symposium was born from the book release.
“He came to us and thought it would be neat to do the book release in Marion, the home of Warren G. Harding,” Iams said. “That makes perfect sense. We are part of one of the major research institutions in this country. What if we just host it on our campus?”
From that idea, the symposium was born.
“There still is obviously a huge interest in Warren Harding here,” Iams said. “Why not put something together to take advantage of that and begin to stimulate new research and bring in outstanding speakers and researchers.”
Dean is no stranger to Marion or the symposium. He was among the speakers via Skype at the first symposium. He also lived in Marion for a time as a youth. He was a paperboy for the Marion Star and his route included the Harding homestead, Iams said.