Do we need a man like … Calvin Coolidge … again?
That is a question that has to be taken seriously, thanks to the fine work of bestselling author Amity Shlaes, who was in Raleigh on Thursday to talk about Coolidge, her biography of the 30th president.
Today he’s only a vague and somewhat humorous image to us: “Silent Cal,” for his terse way of speaking. Of course, maybe we could use some politicians who talk less.
But he was widely underestimated, she said in speaking at a Civitas-sponsored talk. He was often silent because silence was the best way to discourage requests that he authorize unwarranted government spending. In fact, his dry, terse New England humor was an effective communications tool.
That goes for his career as a whole. An experienced legislator and governor of Massachusetts, he knew how to get Congress to do what he wanted, or, more important, to keep Congress from doing something harmful. “It is better to block a bad law than sign a good one,” he once wrote in a letter to his father.
Today, that seems impossible, especially when it comes to spending. But Coolidge did it. As Shlaes said in Raleigh:
We don’t even imagine a politician could even say no. … It just seems like an impossibility and what I’m here for tonight is to tell you it’s possible. There was a president who in peacetime, not even coming out of a war, cut the budget and it was Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.
Did the budget cuts he imposed on the national government hurt the economy? On the contrary, the Coolidge years saw one of the biggest booms in growth, productivity and prosperity in American history.
Shlaes, chairman of the board of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation, has a wealth of insights on him that have valuable lessons for us today. We plan to have video of her appearance available soon.
Another of her books will also be a revelation. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Depression has a fresh take on that history. It’s even available in a “graphic edition” format that looks like a fun read.