Skip to comments.Can You Name the Greatest President of the Past 100 Years? (Cato Inst. says it's Calvin Coolidge)
Posted on 10/19/2010 7:07:22 AM PDT by WebFocus
It’s tempting to say that Ronald Reagan was the best U.S. president of the past century, and I’ve certainly demonstrated my man-crush on the Gipper. But there is some real competition. I had the pleasure yesterday of hearing Amity Shlaes of the Council on Foreign Relations make the case for Calvin Coolidge at the Mont Pelerin Society Meeting in Australia.
I dug around online and found an article Amity wrote for Forbes that highlights some of the attributes of “Silent Cal” that she mentioned in her speech. As you can see, she makes a persuasive case.
… the Coolidge style of government, which included much refraining, took great strength and yielded superior results. …Coolidge and Mellon tightened and pulled [income tax rates] multiple times, eventually getting the top rate down to 25%, a level that hasn’t been seen since. Mellon argued that lower rates could actually bring in greater revenues because they removed disincentives to work. Government, he said, should operate like a railroad, charging a price for freight that “the traffic will bear.” Coolidge’s commitment to low taxes came from his concept of property rights. He viewed heavy taxation as the legalization of expropriation. “I want taxes to be less, that the people may have more,” he once said. In fact, Coolidge disapproved of any government intervention that eroded the bond of the contract. …More than once Coolidge vetoed what would later be called farm allotment–the government purchase of commodities to reduce supply and drive up prices. …Today our government has moved so far from Coolidge’s tenets that it’s difficult to imagine such policies being emulated.
But if you don’t want to believe Amity, here’s Coolidge in his own words. This video is historically significant since it is the first film (with sound) of an American President. The real value, however, is in the words that are being said.
CLICK ABOVE LINK FOR THE VIDEO
I like Cal.
I’m not saying he was the greatest but far too little attention has been paid to President Harding and we could certainly use some of his wisdom today!
Warren Harding and the Forgotten Depression of 1920
Coolidge was too busy getting the policy correct to do the communications right?
In biology and psychology, the term “Coolidge effect” describes a phenomenonseen in nearly every mammalian species in which it has been testedwhereby both males and females exhibit continuous high sexual performance given the introduction of new receptive partners.
He and the first lady were touring a chicken farm. The farmer got embarrassed in front of the first lady when a rooster made a big production out of having his way with a hen.
“How many times a day would you say that rooster has his way with a hen.” she asked.
“About twenty times a day.” the farmer answered.
“Be sure to point that out to the President” she told him.
When he told the President he asked “Every time the same hen?”
Farmer answered “Every time a different hen.”
He concluded “Tell THAT to the First Lady!”
Either Harding or Coolidge, because they did the best at keeping the government’s hands off the free economy.
Read her book, The Forgotten Man.
You will Obamao channeling all the worst thinks FDR did TO America.
I like Coolidge a lot. I like Reagan also. I think Reagan could have done a better job on immigration, so my first instinct was to put Coolidge as #1 — but raising my eyes up from the domestic scene, I recall that Reagan also won the Cold War and so I’ll say Reagan was #1.
i’d go with Silent Cal...
Some of Calvin Coolidge’s quotes giving insight into his thinking (All during the roaring 20’s):
1) “I want the people of America to be able to work less for the government and more for themselves. I want them to have the rewards of their own industry. This is the chief meaning of freedom.
Until we can reestablish a condition under which the earnings of the people can be kept by the people, we are bound to suffer a very severe and distinct curtailment of our liberty.”
2) “The wise and correct course to follow in taxation is not to destroy those who have already secured success but to create conditions under which every one will have a better chance to be more successful.”
3) “I agree perfectly with those who wish to relieve the small taxpayer by getting the largest possible contribution from the people with large incomes. But if the rates on large incomes are so high that they disappear, the small taxpayer will be left to bear the entire burden. If on the other hand, the rates are placed where they will produce the most revenue from large incomes, then the small taxpayer will be relieved.”
4) “The fundamental characteristics of humanity are not going to be changed by substituting government action for private enterprise. The individual who manages the one, with all his imperfections and his selfishness, will have to be employed to manage the other.”
5) “If the Government gets into business on any large scale, we soon find that the beneficiaries attempt to play a large part in the control. While in theory it is to serve the public, in practice it will be very largely serving private interests. It comes to be regarded as a species of government favor and those who are the most adroit get the larger part of it.”
6) “The country is in the midst of an era of prosperity more extensive and of peace more permanent than it has ever before experienced. But having reached this position, we should not fail to comprehend that it can easily be lost...
Peace and prosperity are not finalities... It is too easy under their influence for a nation to become selfish and degenerate. Our country has been provided with the resources with which it can enlarge its intellectual, moral, and spiritual life. The issue is in the hands of the people.”
7) “We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen.
It is on that side of life that it is desirable to put the emphasis at the present time. If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself.”
8) “America has but one main problem — the character of the men and women it shall produce.”
9) “Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business”
So how did Hoover mess up which led to the Great Depression? Silent Cal leaves office on March 4, 1929 and the stock market melts down on October 24th, 1929.
I am currently reading Reich’s latest “masterpiece”, and he claims income inequity led to both the Great Depression and the “Great Recession”. Reich’s contention is that since the poorer boats do not rise as fast and they should rise as fast, that American consumers take on debt to make sure they rise as fast as the rich. The rich, needing places for their ill gotten wealth speculate and create the Crash bubbles (partially fueled by the inability of the middle class to service their debt). Same scenario repeated in 2008.
RE: Either Harding or Coolidge
Unfortunately, Harding’s administration was tainted by scandal and corruption (although his economic policies were correct. He got us out of what could have been a depression in 1920. Had FDR or Hoover been president then, the great depression would have started in 1920 ).
But it doesn't compare with the sorry legacy of LBJ/Nixon/Ford and Carter which Reagan was forced to clean up.
Nothing Calvin Coolidge accomplished came close to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Plus he had a cooperative congress his entire administration. Reagan did not and had to go over their heads constantly to appeal to the American people.
Well, if your sole focus is taxes/economics (expected from Cato), then Coolidge is “a contendah”. But Coolidge had it pretty easy as there were no real external threats to the US in his day. But both Roosevelt and Reagan have to be ranked as high, or higher, as both confronted and overcame belligerent external threats from socialism. I’d put Reagan ahead of Roosevelt, because Reagan didn’t have to go to global warfare to “get it done”.
Well, at least that didn’t say it’s Obama and his highly productive congress.
My list since 1900 in order — From Great to “Helped Destroy the Country.”
Harding (only because of Tea Pot dome, otherwise he’d be #1)
It’s tough to say who was the “best” president. How would Freepers rate Eisenhower? His philosophy may not have been far from Coolidge, but he inherited a government that was far bigger. He did not try to expand it the way LBJ did, but he did not scale it back, either.
What fraction of Americans know what an important president LBJ was? I think he was a disaster, but someone of the opposite political persuasion ought to rank him 2nd after FDR. JFK is much better remembered than LBJ because he was assassinated and because he was good-looking, but I think LBJ was more consequential.
Teapot dome was trivial (only one cabinet official was convicted abd even he beat most of the charges), certainly no worse than trading hostages for arms. Harding deserves number one. He was not only great on economics but also far superior on foreign policy, civil liberties, and civil rights. Sorry to tell you (but Stockman has detailed) but Reagan wimped out on the spending and deficit issue when he should have taken out his veto pen.
Oops, posted wrong thing. Let's try again. Teapot dome was trivial (only one cabinet official was convicted abd even he beat most of the charges), certainly no worse than trading hostages for arms. Harding deserves number one. He was not only great on economics but also far superior on foreign policy, civil liberties, and civil rights. Sorry to tell you (but Stockman has detailed) but Reagan wimped out on the spending and deficit issue when he should have taken out his veto pen.
RE: I think LBJ was more consequential.
You can be consequential in a good way or in a disastrous way.
LBJ’s great society programs are still here to haunt us and is the precursor to our pension, healthcare and debt crisis.
So, yes, he was CONSEQUENTIAL in a DISASTROUS WAY.
Harding probably does deserve the #1 slot. No other modern President successfully ended a depression.
Count me in with President Cal, also.
He was no more "tainted" by corruption than most presidents (only one cabinet official was convicted and Harding had no personal knowledge) including Reagan (remember arms for hostages?). Of course, neither Reagan or Harding could handle to the corrupt FDR, LBJ, Clinton, Nixon, and Truman administrations. They not only engaged in old-fashined rruption but massive abuses of power such as auditing income tax returns of opponents.
He was the truly the last representative of the “old school” way of fighting depressions and more’s the pity.
We're still fighting wars because of how the Ottoman Empire and Austro-Hungarian Empire were broken up after WW I.
What stuns me is that the abject failure of Keynsian policies led to 11 years of 10 to 25% unemployment under Roosevelt, and has led to a 3+ year rescession/Depression thus far under Bush and Obama and the educated public still buys the “solution.” The Fed, the Professors, the Dems and many of the Republicans still think spending at a deficit and bailouts are good policy. Meanwhile Harding’s incredible success is barely discussed. I didn’t learn of it until this recession/Depression. Never heard a word about Harding and a Depression in almost 40 years of interest in politics.
Clinton - slept while the terrorist grew and developed, made a laughing stock of the presidency with Monica, most dishonest administration in history - his place should be scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Carter and LBJ over Nixon - not hardly. Nixon made several mistakes but inherited a complete mess from LBJ - and cleaned up the bulk of it.
Kennedy ahead of Theodore Roosevelt? Maybe but just barely. Outside of launching the Moon race and getting shot, a lot of the other things Kennedy did weren't much. And his performance in the Bay of Pigs fiasco was despicable.
He was a big government Republican but at least his foreign policy was not a disaster.
It's weird that Reich almost gets something right - 'extra' money does go into bubbles. This is why some Austrian economists predicted the housing bubble. Tax policy directed inflation into one sector rather than into general inflation, disguising the dollar debasement.
This probably had something to do with the Crash of '29, but honestly, I'm not enough of a goldbug to give the whys and wherefores. Despite my tagline, I think Reagan overall is #1 through success both foreign and domestic.
You left out Taft and McKinley. They would both belong near the top--above Teddy Roosevelt, and definitely above Kennedy--with McKinley somewhat higher.
I’ve always been a fan of Coolidge, but my heart belongs to Reagan.
I have to disagree somewhat. True, Wilson promised a 'just peace' which he really could not deliver, but the German economy was a complete wreck by Nov 1918. They were quite literally at the point of collapse and starvation with riots in the streets. They simply could not continue the war any longer. They were spent.
It was not what the US Army did to the German army. It was more US food and materials proping up Britain and France while Germany had no such source to keep their economy from collapsing.
"My fundamental idea of both private and public business came first from my father. He had the strong New England trait of great repugnance at seeing anything wasted. He was a generous and charitable man, but he regarded waste as a moral wrong, Wealth comes from industry, and from the hard experience of human toil. To dissipate it in waste and extravagance is disloyalty to humanity. This is by no means a doctrine of parsimony. Both men and nations should live in accordance with their means and devote their substance not only to productive industry, but to the creation of the various forms of beauty and the pursuit of culture which give adornments to the art of life."
IMHO, the worst president ever. Every major issue we have no -- the staggering size of government, the collapse of our cities, social decay and dependency, -- all can be laid at the feet of Johnson.
Don't forget Medicare was created on his watch. Another program in the fine tradition of Social Security - a ton of promises without a clue as to how it would be paid for!
I came across this yesterday. I have never heard this before. They are claiming that an accounting change from "hold to maturity" to "mark to market" caused asset instability that led to the crash.
"when Hoover also imposed mark to market accounting in 1929, ending the Roaring 20s and launching into the Depression for the greatest shake out Private Sector ownership and control of wealth of that time"
"This continued until the Private Sector main stream banks and businesses were able to prevail on FDR to reinstate Private Sector hold to maturity accounting in 1938."
Nixon instituted wage and price controls, took us off the gold standard, expanded government and disgraced conservatives leading to the Carter Congress and Reagan having to deal with an unusually large number of leftists in Congress even as he won the Presidency. I stand by ranking him so low.
Clinton had the sense to moderate his policies. He was a pramatist and he came close to balancing the budget with the Republican Congress, as well as ending the welfare regime that did so much damage.
Kennedy I rank highest among the Democrats of the century because he was a patriot who cut taxes and fought the cold war with vigor. I would vote for JFK over the Bushes, Nixon, McCain, Dole, etc., any Republican (except for Reagan) in my lifetime. And the moon shot — if you are going to spend money on national glory — the moon shot will live in men’s minds forever. It’s the Pyramids of the modern age.
To be honest, I’ve barely read a thing about Taft or McKinnley. I’ll take your word for their virtues and learn more about them. Sad that we have to go back one hundred years to find worthy Presidents . . .
RE: Coolidge might have been the best writer
He was also a very unassuming man.
Coolidge and his vivacious wife Grace were invited to quite a few parties, where the legend of “Silent Cal” was born.
It was from this time most of the jokes and anecdotes involving Coolidge originate.
Although Coolidge was known to be a skilled and effective public speaker, in private he was a man of few words and was therefore commonly referred to as “Silent Cal.”
A possibly apocryphal story has it that Dorothy Parker, seated next to him at a dinner, said to him, “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.” His famous reply: “You lose.”
It was also Parker who, upon learning that Coolidge had died, reportedly remarked, “How can they tell?”
Alice Roosevelt Longworth supposedly once commented that, “He looks as if he’d been weaned on a pickle.”
Coolidge often seemed uncomfortable among fashionable Washington society; when asked why he continued to attend so many of their dinner parties, he replied, “Got to eat somewhere.
Good grief - please quote examples of when he supposedly did this!
I recall him shutting down the government to get his way on wasteful spending (and weak kneed Republicans caving in to it). The departments of HHS and Education, that he staffed with imbeciles, imposed rules that are still wasting money today.
Clinton fought hard for the bottom of the barrel and deserves to be in the vicinity.
I don’t think we disagree. In a very close contest, U.S. intervention decisively tipped the scales, with what I consider to be disasterous results, a disaster disproportionately visited on East Europeans and European Jews.
I agree with your ranking with the exception of Nixon. Despite his flaws I would rank him above Carter
When you look at Hoover, Bush II, Carter, Lyndon Johnson, Wilson, and Nixon there are relative degrees of awfulness that could be seriously debated. That said, I ranked Nixon so low because he led to Carter and because he resigned in disgrace (damned quitter), in addition to screwing up things in his own right. Funny that the Left hated Nixon so much when his policies were so big government and controlling.
Obama and Roosevelt are in a class by themselves in my opinion because of their extending the pain of depression for the entire country.
Eisenhower was responsible for the Interstate highway system, a system which continues to pay dividends to the expansion of commerce throughout the United States.
How can Nixon not be head and shoulders above Wilson or Jiminny Carter?
Nixon got croaked by the LSM in the days before the internet. If Nixon had the kind of fawning press that Clinton had, his face would be on Mount Rushmore today.
Clinton signed welfare reform in 1996 and supported it strongly and over equally strong objections from the left in his own party.
Don’t get me wrong. I despised Bill Clinton at the time and now. He’s a corrupt old lecher and his wife is part of the hard left, and not at all pragmatic, as was Bill Clinton. She’d be a terror. But when you look at the harm the other presidents of the last century have done . . . actual results were not bad for Bill Clinton.
RE: They were quite literally at the point of collapse and starvation with riots in the streets. They simply could not continue the war any longer. They were spent.
If I remember my history correctly, Britain actually formed a blockade on all food going to Germany ( the USA had not entered the war then ). The German Empire relied on imports for food and domestic food and such a blockade would be sure to starve their people.
Germany had no choice but to fight back using the U-boats against the trade routes of the Entente Powers. It took place largely in the seas around the British Isles and in the Mediterranean.
The British had the Royal Navy which was superior in numbers and could operate within the British Empire, while the German Kaiserliche Marine surface fleet was mainly restricted to the German Bight, and used commerce raiders and unrestricted submarine warfare to operate elsewhere.
Apparently, non-hostile commercial ships were supposed to be allowed to go through the war zone in the ocean by Germany...
The Germans claimed that a lot of these commercial ships were actually carrying weapons (as well as ordinary passengers) for the enemy.
The US, at that time wanted to stay out of the war ( although it has been claimed by some that President Wilson was secretly supporting Britain ).
What changed American opinion was the Sinking of the Commercial ship, the RMS LUSITANIA. Hundreds of Americans on board were killed.
The Germans claimed that the ship was carrying, not only innocent passengers, but arms as well. The German commander who shot the torpedo actually intended to simply cripple the ship, knowing that there were other boats present that could rescue the passengers, and the example of the Titanic showed that it would take hours to be rescued ( he was hoping that the ship could survive as long as the Titanic, enough time for the passengers to be rescued ).
Unfortunately, the Lusitania sunk very quickly, killing most of the passengers. She was torpedoed by German U-boat U-20 on 7 May 1915 and sank in just eighteen minutes, eleven miles (19 km) off the Old Head of Kinsale, Ireland, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard.
The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany and contributed to the entry of the United States into World War I.
The sinking of Lusitania was a coup for anti-German sentiment, caused great controversy and became an iconic symbol in recruiting campaigns of why the war was being fought.
Prior to the incident, Americans EVERYWHERE were warned NOT to travel on ships crossing the war zone. In fact, the US policy then was NOT TO GO TO WAR just because a few Americans were foolish enough to risk their lives for such an adventure.
The entry of America to World War 1 helped to ensure Germany’s defeat. Woodrow Wilson rammed the Treaty of Versailles down the defeated and humiliated Germany’s throat, and created the foundation for the rise of Hitler and World War II.