Brow Beat

It Is ON: John Oliver Puts Warren G. Harding on Blast!

Warren G. Harding, call your office—your people would like a word about the latest sketch from John Oliver! The Last Week Tonight host slammed the former president on Sunday night’s show, in a wide-ranging segment that saw Oliver turn his gimlet eye on the entire career of ol’ Mr. “Return to Normalcy.” Nothing is off limits: not Teapot Dome, not Nan Britton’s tell-all book about her affair with Harding, not even buying a poorly-made wax figure of Warren G. Harding from a failed Hall of Presidents and making it star in the trailer for a Harding biopic with Academy Award nominees Anna Kendrick, Michael McKean, James Cromwell, and Laura Linney. Ouch, Warren, that’s gonna leave a mark!

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The wax figure in question comes from the going-out-of-business sale of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania’s Hall of Presidents and First Ladies, which closed forever—possibly coincidentally—less than three weeks after Donald Trump’s election, selling all its wax figures at auction. Oliver wasn’t the only talk show host who saw an opportunity to use the auction to settle old feuds: Rachel Maddow bought a wax figure of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Stephen Colbert got Zachary Taylor, and Jon Stewart—who no longer has a talk show to put him on—swept in and outbid Colbert on the wax figure of Martin Van Buren that Colbert originally wanted, then took a picture of himself flipping off the camera next to his new acquisition and sent it to his former co-worker. But Oliver, whose passion for wax presidents is surpassed only by his hatred of Warren G. Harding, outdid them all, buying five (5!) wax statues of for the Last Week Tonight Hall of Dubiously Lifelike Commanders in Chief. (The final disposition of the museum’s one-third–size wax statues of America’s first ladies—surely the Lot 49 of this auction catalog—remains unknown, although for some reason William Henry Harrison’s wife Jane Irwin Findlay fetched the highest price.) Here’s Oliver’s full lineup, to be read in a wrestling announcer’s voice:

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  • Richard Nixon!
  • Bill Clinton!
  • Jimmy Carter!
  • William Henry Harrison!
  • And finally, from Blooming Grove, Ohio, it’s the Master of Disaster, the Sage of the Iron Cage, the Sexecutioner himself … Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for WARREN! GEEEEEEEE! HAAAAAAAAAR-DIIIIING!

As Oliver notes, it’s not the first time he’s used his platform to launch blistering attacks on the 29th president: He read his love letters on the air and once said Harding “looks like someone put two napping caterpillars on a bald eagle’s forehead and then dressed it in Tucker Carlson’s clothes.” But when it comes to insulting Warren G. Harding, Oliver still has a long way to go before he tops H.L. Mencken, who had this to say about him:

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Setting aside a college professor or two and half a dozen dipsomaniacal newspaper reporters, [Harding] takes the first place in my Valhalla of literati. That is to say, he writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It drags itself out of the dark abyss (I was about to write abcess!) of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.

Somebody get that man a talk show!

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