A reconsideration of one of the most notorious scandals of the Warren Harding presidency.
Charles R. Forbes (1877-1952), the first director of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, appears in the popular conception of the early 1920s as "a dashing playboy who embezzled approximately $200 million selling hospital supplies, took kickbacks from contractors, and accepted a $5,000 bribe," part of the "Ohio gang" who purportedly betrayed a naïve President Harding. That characterization is rubbish, writes public policy scholar Stevens (Emeritus, History of Sociology and Science/Univ. of Pennsylvania; The Public-Private Health Care State: Essays on the History of American Health Care Policy, 2007, etc.), who sets out to restore Forbes' reputation in this first-ever reassessment of his downfall. Forbes had the unenviable task of combining into the Veterans Bureau personnel from three existing agencies; the resulting turf battles and bruised egos created numerous powerful enemies. He had begun an ambitious program of hospital construction when he resigned shortly before Harding's death in August 1923. Forbes might have faded into obscurity, but he was caught up in the anti-corruption furor driven by the new Calvin Coolidge administration. Further, he ran afoul of Elias Mortimer, a government informant and, according to Stevens, a sociopathic liar who blamed Forbes for alienating his wife's affections and vowed to bring him down. Mortimer's testimony resulted in Forbes' conviction for bribery and conspiracy to commit fraud. The author's extensive research into the arcana of hospital contracting, Congressional hearings regarding the bureau, and Forbes' trial leaves her convinced that he was a victim of political hysteria and personal malice, guilty of none of the crimes and flamboyant excesses of which he stood accused but only of "social inadequacies, managerial failures, and behavioral sins." Her colorful narrative makes a convincing case for Forbes' rehabilitation and, in light of other recent revisionist histories, a full reconsideration of an allegedly corrupt president and administration.
An engaging argument for justice for a flawed but perhaps wrongfully disgraced civil servant.