February 21, 2012


The Funniest President Of Them All (James Dodson, September 1987, Yankee)

"President Coolidge," a female reporter asked him not long after he'd taken office, "do you do anything as a hobby?"

"I hold office," deadpanned Coolidge.

The casual remark infuriated Democrats in Congress, who agreed. Yet back in his beloved Vermont a well-spoken neighbor finally put the issue in perspective. "Listen," he pointed out to a group of reporters," the nation wanted nothin' done -- and Old Cal sure has done it! What more can you ask of an honest man?"

But some Vermonters liked to stretch the truth a bit. During his presidency, thanks to policies that placed government at the service of American business interests ("The business of America is business," quoth Cal, in a moment of giddy chattiness), the stock market climbed steadily and personal income in the United States reached the highest levels in the nation's history. What more could anyone in Congress want? Yankee Stadium was built, and Babe Ruth smacked 60 home runs. The electric shaver was invented, and the five-day work week was introduced. Talking movies were invented, and Hollywood handed out the first Oscar.

Fortunately while he was president not much happened on the world stage to detract from valuable sleep time. But even so, Coolidge's social schedule was a surprisingly animated ledger -- and a source of continual personal annoyance. Once, a talkative young woman failed to get any response from Coolidge through the course of a lengthy dinner party. "Mr. Coolidge, you go to so many dinner parties," she persisted. "They must bore you a great deal." Without lifting his eyes from the table, Coolidge gloomily admitted, "Well, a man must eat somewhere."

The young lady in question was Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of the former president, who gleefully circulated her conviction that Cal Coolidge looked like a man "who was weaned on a pickle." When he smiled, someone else added, "the effect was like ice breaking up in a New England river." Coolidge himself was not without humor on this point, cracking: "I think the American people want a solemn ass as a president. And I think I'll go along with them."

Coolidge's fabled taciturnity made him the perpetual challenge of Washington social butterflies. A lady sitting next to the brittle Vermonter at a dinner party once tried to coax him into talking to her by explaining, "I have made a bet, Mr. President, that I could get more than two words out of you."

"You lose," said Coolidge.

Even near the end of his term, Coolidge's relationship with the press was scarcely more intimate. The ambassador of a great nation called at the White House one day for an important meeting with the president. Mrs. Coolidge -- her name was Grace, and by all accounts she was as good as her name -- came in while the ambassador was preparing to leave. "Why don't you offer the ambassador a drink?" she suggested. "Because he's already had one," replied the president testily. The next day, reporters besieged Coolidge for details of the important meeting -- did he have anything to say about the conference? The state of international relations? The fate of the world?

"No," snapped Coolidge. "And don't quote me on that!"

Perhaps the most famous Coolidge story also involved his wife Grace. One Sunday when she was feeling under the weather, Coolidge ventured out to church alone. When he came back, his wife asked him what the minister had preached about.

"Sin," replied the president tersely.

"Well," persisted the first lady, "what did he have to say about it?

"He was against it," replied Coolidge.

Coolidge himself later disclaimed the anecdote, but other sparrings with his wife were well publicized. The president and Mrs. Coolidge once visited a government sponsored farm and were taken around on separate tours. At the chicken pens Mrs. Coolidge paused to inquire of the overseer whether the rooster copulated more than once a day

"Yes, ma'am," replied the farmhand, blushing. "Dozens of times a day.

"Tell that to the president," requested Mrs. Coolidge.

The president soon ambled by the pens and was informed about the rooster. "Same hen every time?" he asked the farmhand.

"Oh no, sir, a different one every time," replied the worker.

"Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge," said Cal.

Cal Coolidge shocked the nation, and his myriad critics, by choosing not to run for re-election in 1928, even though most polls showed he would have won in a landslide. His "I do not choose to run" address was short and to the point -- the job no longer interested him, he said. That was that.

"Mr. Coolidge," a reporter demanded after the famous (and short) speech, pressing the issue, "Why don't you want to be president anymore?"

Coolidge took a breath, then reflected: "Because there's no chance for advancement." A lady admirer rushed up a short while later and breathlessly exclaimed, "Mr. President, your speech was so moving I stood up the entire time."

"So did I," Coolidge told her. 

On the other hand, how many presidential speeches ever are better than this one.
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Posted by at February 21, 2012 6:46 AM

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