July 4, 2009


Coolidge restored confidence in White House (THOMAS ROESER, September 4, 2004, Chicago Sun-Times)

Today a campaign poster occupies a central place in my study; a gift from my friend Ray Soucek. Bush-Cheney? No, Coolidge-Dawes, the team that won a landslide election 80 years ago this fall. Only two 20th century presidents rate four stars in my revisionist's history: Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge. Why Coolidge, who next to Reagan was anything but showy, a taciturn New Englander; laconic, not voluble, and phenomenally tight with a buck?

Because in addition to being a spectacular economic and foreign policy success, Coolidge was the last president to fulfill the ideal of the founders not to usurp the Congress, overpromise or pander. He truly was The Man who took over from the underappreciated Warren Harding, who died mid-term. On his own, Coolidge cut taxes in 1924 and '26, ending Wilson's excise taxes, which unleashed private investment to produce a solidly robust economy -- yet was not a supply-sider, insisting his tax cuts be accompanied by reductions in spending -- wisely cut the immigration quota to 150,000 yearly -- brilliantly restored confidence in the White House's integrity through innovation, by naming two special counsels (a first) -- a Democrat and a Republican -- to investigate and prosecute scandals hanging over from the Harding administration (with which history shows Harding had no connection).

Choosing a vice president is the president's great task. Coolidge picked one of the greatest of all time, Evanston's Charles G. Dawes (a self-made multimillionaire banker who lost his fortune in the panic of 1893, then re-made it; a brilliant administrator who ran the first budget bureau, whereby he turned a deficit into a surplus that lasted through the Coolidge years). Coolidge was the last president to completely write his own speeches.

Mr. Coolidge's reputation is diminished only by the fact that he governed in relative quiet rather than in time of crisis. You'd think that would raise it instead.

[originally posted: 2004-09-06]

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Posted by at July 4, 2009 12:00 AM

The White House's art collection includes bronze busts of every past President, which the current occupant may use to decorate the Oval Office. If I remember correctly, George W. uses three: Lincoln, Reagan, and ... Coolidge.

I thought he'd have the bust of his father in there, but instead is a man who is either overlooked because of the era in which he served or ridiculed for his dour personality. (More proof that GW is more thoughtful than given credit for.) After eight years of Clinton, I would certainly concede that personality is overrated.

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at September 6, 2004 8:56 AM

Clinton is on the steady downhill slope in history. While we had a prosperity during his time in office, he had less to do with it than sunspots. However, all the indicia of the current War on Terrorism were there on his watch and he sat on his hands in the best Pierce/Buchanan fashion.

Coolidge ranks low in my estimation because all the indicia of the collapse of the world economy were present on his watch and he did nothing to enable America to deal with it or even prepare for the business end of the business cycle.

Posted by: Bart at September 6, 2004 9:09 AM

Charles Dawes is an American politician sadly ignored by history. What other Vice-President won a Nobel Peace Prize and composed a popular song of his era ('Its All in the Game')?

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at September 6, 2004 10:43 AM

A robust economy in which two-fifths of families were wiped out.

Interventionist policy in Latin America, but no budget for the army or the navy.

And the Kellogg-Briand pact, the one that so effectively outlawed war.

The U.S. had the world's most robust economy, and it took a lot of doing, but Coolidge and Hoover almost managed to wreck to wreck it beyond repair.

And people say he never accomplished anything!

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 6, 2004 5:59 PM

You just can't push the Depression back to the mid-twenties, no matter how hard you try.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 6, 2004 6:16 PM

And a president can't control the Fed. Hard to imagine Coolidge signing Smoot-Hawley either.

Posted by: oj at September 6, 2004 7:02 PM

Sure I can. Nearly half of America was economically wrecked at the height of Coolidge prosperity.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 6, 2004 10:29 PM

Hard to explain the booming economy then.

Posted by: oj at September 6, 2004 10:41 PM

It wasn't booming. The farmers were in the tank.

Few manufacturers were earning anything on their watered investments.

The country was eating up the savings it had swept up from Europe during its trials.

If I accepted all the credit cards I'm offered each week and charged 'em all up to the limit, I'd be livin' pretty high for a few months. But I wouldn't be prosperous. I'd be on my way to the poorhouse, which is where Coolidge was directing the US economy.

The economy did survive him, but only just

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 10, 2004 2:47 AM

Yet it grew.

Posted by: oj at September 10, 2004 7:30 AM
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