Skip to comments.The Comeback of Silent Cal ("Derided by New Dealers, Coolidge gets long-overdue respect...")
Posted on 02/25/2013 2:38:11 PM PST by neverdem
Derided by New Dealers, Coolidge gets long-overdue respect in Shlaess biography.
For years, most Americans’ vision of history has been shaped by the New Deal historians. Writing soon after Franklin Roosevelt’s death, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others celebrated his accomplishments and denigrated his opponents. They were gifted writers, and many of their books were bestsellers. They have persuaded many Americans — Barack Obama definitely included — that progress means an ever-bigger government. In their view, the prosperous 1920s were a binge of mindless frivolity. The Depression of the 1930s was the inevitable hangover, for which FDR administered the cure.
That’s one way to see it. But there are others, and no one is doing a better job of making a counterargument than Amity Shlaes, whose 2008 book The Forgotten Man painted a different picture of the 1930s. Shlaes agrees that Roosevelt’s initial policies seemed to end the downward deflationary spiral. But then bigger government, higher taxes, and aggressive regulation led to further recession and years of achingly slow growth. Sound familiar?
Now Shlaes has produced a book tersely titled Coolidge. It shows the 30th president in a far different light than did the New Deal historians, who depicted him as an antique reactionary.
Calvin Coolidge began his political career during the Progressive era, a time of expanding government, but he came to national notice when that era was ending in turmoil. It was a time of revolution in Russia and attempted revolutions elsewhere in Europe, a time of continuing war in parts of the world even after the armistice formally ended World War I. At home, it was a time of unemployment and inflation, of bombs set off before the attorney general’s house and on Wall Street, of labor-union strikes in coal and other basic industries.
Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts and in charge of the Boston police when they went on strike in September 1919. The cops had legitimate grievances. But the strike was followed by nights of violence and murder, and looting of department stores and shops. Coolidge fired the striking policemen. He explained why in a telegram to labor leader Samuel Gompers. It famously concluded, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”
“The time for disruption was over; in order for the next day to be better,” Shlaes writes, “law must be allowed to reign now.”
Coolidge became a national celebrity. The Republican bosses in the smoke-filled room picked someone else to be Warren Harding’s running mate, but the convention delegates stampeded and nominated Coolidge. That made Coolidge president on the sudden death of Harding (who comes off much better here than in the New Deal histories) in August 1923.
Shlaes tells how he settled into a routine of meeting regularly with the director of the new Bureau of the Budget, paring down spending any way he could. Coolidge’s Republicans had small majorities in Congress, and many favored big new spending programs — veterans’ bonuses, farm subsidies. Coolidge said no, with vetoes that were sustained.
At the same time, he pressed Congress for tax cuts. After Coolidge won a full term in 1924, the top income-tax rate was reduced from the wartime 70 percent to 25 percent. An economy that lurched from inflation to recession between 1918 and 1922 suddenly burst into robust economic growth. That helped Coolidge achieve budget surpluses every year — surpluses that he used to pay down the national debt.
In the summer of 1927, while vacationing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Coolidge announced, “I do not choose to run for president in 1928.” All the political indicators (random-sample public-opinion polls had not yet been invented) suggest he would have won a second full term — and would have been in office when the stock market crashed in October 1929.
The New Deal historians depict the prosperity of the Coolidge years as illusory. In their view, the hangover of the Depression was the inevitable aftereffect of the Twenties’ excess. More recent economic historians have suggested that policy mistakes by the Federal Reserve were the prime cause of the deflationary downward spiral. The onerous Smoot-Hawley tariff of 1930 may have been a culprit, too.
In any case, the standard of living of millions of Americans improved in the Coolidge years. Automobiles, refrigerators, and radios became commonplace possessions.
Shlaes doesn’t argue that Coolidge’s policies could or should be exactly replicated today. But she does establish that the 30th president is worthy of more respect than previous historians have accorded him.
— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2013 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com
My wife and I were vacationing up in Vermont last year, and we visited his homestead. It was wonderful. Completely spare and functional, but nice to look at.
My favorite Coolidge story:
The Coolidges were attending a dinner, and Coolidge was so tight-lipped and taciturn that a woman sitting next to him had the following discourse with him (which I paraphrase):
LADY: My husband bet me that I couldn’t get you to say three words to me at dinner tonight! What do you think of that?
COOLIDGE: You lose.
My Pal Cal is the true patron saint of the tea party in my opinion.
I read that a long time white house chef quit because Coolidge was so stingy with the kitchen budget. No Wagyu steaks in the Coolidge white house.
There’s an account of a reporter who sat with the Coolidge’s through a baseball game. Around the fifth inning he asked his wife “What time is it?” to which she replied “1:15.” That’s all that was said the entire game.
Or the crash might not have happened.
I would strongly recommend The Forgotten Man to everyone. It is a great book that really takes apart the era. You will be surprised how many things that high school just skipped over and never discussed.
Not all that dissimilar to Fannie and Freddie, Bwaney and Chris, CRDA and CMO's, Gorelick and Cuomo....
They all exposed us to Moral Hazard.
If you’re not familiar with all the names it can make that book a little frustrating. I found myself going back and forth to the front of the book where she has all the people listed with their backgrounds.
I have to agree you. I learned a lot from that book. It’s crazy what FDR’s NRA (National Recovery Administration) would do to businesses.
My favorite Calvin Coolidge stories. (Other than yours.)
At a White House dinner Mrs. Coolidge said to Babe Ruth, Mr. Ruth, youre not eating your asparagus. He replied, It make my urine stink.
A friend of Mrs. Coolidge said to him, Can you please teach him to say fertilizer instead of manure? Mrs. Coolidge replied, Dear, you have NO IDEA how long it took me to teach him to say manure.
Oh, please, yes. Do read it. Amazon link here [and, no, I don't get a cut if you buy it, just think it's worth a click].
I read the first chapters in complete amazement. Roosevelt's first 100 days sounded exactly like Obama's. It was uncanny. They'd obviously studied him.
And, interestingly enough! They got the same results.
Grace Coolidge was an awesome first lady. She was a lifelong baseball fan and the polar opposite of her husband when it came to socializing.
Here is her portrait:
I would strongly recommend The Forgotten Man to everyone.
I second that.
If youre not familiar with all the names it can make that book a little frustrating. I found myself going back and forth to the front of the book where she has all the people listed with their backgrounds.
I had that problem, as well, until I made myself a little cheat sheet. There were definitely a lot of players to keep track of.
It brings to mind the movie "Liar, Liar" about a lawyer who couldn't lie.
I have always been impressed with people who are quiet and competent. When I was in the Navy, I had a Chief who was one of the most taciturn people I had ever met. But not taciturn in the way someone might be sullen or unfriendly, but...perhaps unfriendly to gab.
The chief was a very pleasant guy. He never, ever lost his cool. He was rational, thoughtful, and a GREAT mechanic (I was an aviation machinists mate)
LOL...as I was thinking about him, I realized I had a picture of him:
That is him with the blue baseball cap. Perfect picture, captured him faithfully. We all thought he was a great guy and someone we all could find something to emulate in. But man, was he a quiet guy.
He was quiet, and calm. Great qualities. I remember once, up on the flight deck, someone dressed in khaki came running up to him with steam coming out of his ears. He was waving his arms, yelling and was squarely facing the chief about two feet away. I don't remember what he was pissed about, some maintenance thing.
While he yelled, Chief Moore just stood there impassively, styrofoam cup in one hand, cheek bulged out to one side of his black mustache, not moving. His blue eyes (they were kind of an Electra-Shave blue) just looked right back at the angry guy without showing any emotion.
Gotta remember one thing about Chief Moore. He was from down south, and always had a big chaw of Red Man in one cheek. Not a little dainty one, either. There were times when little strands of black, wet chewing tobacco could be seen sneaking out of the corner of his mouth. I recall seeing him pull the bag out, incline his head to the side while he conveyed a big blob of tobacco from the bag to his mouth as he tried to minimize the droppage.
So as this guy lost his mind yelling at the Chief, he stood like a wooden indian holding the ever present styrofoam cup. Just as the guy was reaching his peak of agitation, Chief Moore inclined his head a fraction, brought the styrofoam cup up a little higher, and a dark brown jet of tobacco spit exited from under his black mustache and expertly landed in the cup without so much as a drop hitting the sides.
The guy yelling at him literally stopped in mid-sentence with his arms halfway up in the air. It appeared he had completely forgotten what he was saying. His mouth opened and closed once or twice like he was a landed fish, then he turned on his heels and walked away.
Over the years, I have often thought of that, and am convinced he DID play that guy like a fish, and waited to spit at just the right time.
I know it is a bit off topic, but I do believe two things about Coolidge: First, he was a quiet person by his very nature...he wasn't faking or using it only for effect. Second, I also think that he DID know the effect that silence had on some people. I think he knew quite well. But the fact that he was predisposed to be that way was an advantage for him.
HAAHAHAHAHAHAH...those were great anecdotes, I hadn’t heard either one of them!
“Roosevelt’s first 100 days sounded exactly like Obama’s.”
An old thread with a 1939 booklet about FDR and the New Deal. It IS amazing how close they are. Even some of the same phrases in speech, etc. It’s all happening again.
In Russia capitalism, such as it was there, could be attacked directly. The people were not attached to it in any way. In this country it was very different. Americans did not hate capitalism....... To have said, “Down with capitalism!” or, “Down with free private enterprise!” would have been like saying, “Down with the Constitution!” The attack, therefore, had to be oblique.
In his first inaugural address, March 4, 1933, the President said: “Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay. has fallen;... the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side..... Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance.... Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed,... have admitted their failure and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money-changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.... They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.... Yes, the money-changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”
There was the pattern and it never changed. The one enemy, blameable for all human distress, for unemployment, for low wages, ....... who was he? The money-changer in the temple. This was a Biblical symbol and one of the most hateful With what modern symbol did this old and hateful one associate? With the Wall Street banker, of course; and the Wall Street banker was the most familiar and the least attractive symbol of capitalism.
..... “We cannot go back to the old order,” said the President. And this was a very hateful counter symbol, because the old order, never really defined, did in fact associate in the popular mind with the worst debacle in the history of capitalism.....
Large profit as such becomes therefore a symbol of social injury, merely because it is large; moreover, it is asserted that large profit had long been so regarded by the government and penalized for that reason.
Of all the counter symbols this was the one most damaging to the capitalistic system. Indeed, if it were accepted, it would be fatal, because capitalism is a profit and loss system and if profits, even very large profits, are socially wrong, there is nothing more to be said for it. But it was a false symbol, and false for these three reasons, namely: first, there is no measure of large profit; second, large profits are of many kinds and to say simply that large profits are “of course made at the expense of the neighbors” is either nonsense or propaganda, as you like; and; in the third place, the history is wrong.
It is a never ending cycle of jealousy, envy and hate. That is probably why liberals embrace class warfare so freely.
“That is probably why liberals embrace class warfare so freely.”
And not only Liberals, but I imagine most folks in the U.S. think that it is “fair” that those with more wealth should be taxed at a higher rate. That idea has been so ingrained in our society for SO long.
And I’ll admit, as hard as I try not to be envious of others, and to be glad for my many blessings, a twinge of jealousy often creeps up in my soul when I talk with folks much wealthier than me. Especially if the wealth is from what I perceive as simple timing and circumstances and perhaps not from years and years of hard work. While outwardly saying to my kids (while admonishing myself) - “It’s his money, he can buy that fancy car if he wants to”.
I fight it myself, and it is a very easy sin for the politicians to play on to sway the masses.
Great sketch Rlmorel, and a good assessment of Silent Cal too I think. I guess we all had a Chief we remember like that. I worked for one at NAS Barbers Pt. who was in every way like Yosemite Sam...right down to the red handlebars. His voice, his mannerisms, literally everything. I was an AT myself (72-75).
How about the lady that followed, now imagine the current first moocher doing this...
Lou Hoover herself paid the cost of reproducing furniture owned by Monroe for a period sitting room in the White House. She also restored Lincoln's study for her husband's use. The Hoovers entertained elegantly, using their own private funds for social events while the country suffered worsening economic depression.
It was a different time, people felt responsible for themselves.