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Calvin Coolidge, Dr. Benjamin Carson, and Us

Coolidge's ideals still resonate, as reflected by Carson's much-loved recent speech. (Related: For Ed Driscoll's recent interview with Amity Shlaes, the author of Coolidge, click here.)

by
Rick Richman

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February 23, 2013 - 10:13 pm
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In Coolidge, her elegant and engrossing biography of the 30th president, Amity Shlaes writes that perhaps the deepest reason for Coolidge’s recent obscurity is that he “spoke a different economic language from ours”:

He did not say “money supply”; he said “credit.” … He did not say “private sector”; he said “commerce.” He did not say “savings”; he said “thrift” or “economy.” … Coolidge at the end of his life spoke anxiously about the “importance of the obvious.” Perseverance, property rights, contract, civility to one’s opponents, silence, smaller government, trust, certainty, restraint, respect for faith, federalism, economy, and thrift: these Coolidge ideals intrigue us today as well.

Coolidge spoke in concise language about character, culture, and religion, all of which he considered we needed more than bigger government:

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 the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are not seen.

Back in 1924, when the first biography of Coolidge appeared, it was prominently reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. The reviewer thought the author’s claim that Coolidge’s speech to the Massachusetts Senate as its president had been quoted as often as any in American history other than Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was an exaggeration; but that “if the speech has not been quoted as often as [the author] thinks it has, it deserves to be.” Parts of that speech, he wrote, “ought to be in every American citizen’s Bible.” He singled out this paragraph:

Do the day’s work. If it be to protect the rights of the weak, whoever objects, do it. If it be to help a powerful corporation better to serve the people, whatever the opposition, do that. Expect to be called a standpatter, but don’t be a standpatter. Expect to be called a demagogue, but don’t be a demagogue. Don’t hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don’t hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.

Fast forward nearly a century, to the February 17, 2013 review of Coolidge in the New York Times Book Review, which treated the book as part of an attempt to “resurrect” Coolidge as a “prophet” of an “austere doctrine” of “Republican Calvinism,” with a “liturgy” based on Coolidge’s belief that the federal government should shrink, not grow.

The use of the religious imagery was not intended as complimentary. The reviewer asserted that Coolidge’s “actual record” shows he was “an extraordinarily blinkered and foolish and complacent leader” who is “no model for the present,” but rather “a bleak omen from the past.”

Coolidge’s “actual record”: he inherited a national debt of $28 billion and reduced it to less than $18 billion; he cut the top income tax rate to 25% while balancing the budget and producing surpluses each year; and unemployment was reduced from 5.7 million at the beginning of the decade to 1.8 million when he left office. The economy became popularly known as the “Coolidge prosperity.”

As actual records go, that is not too bad — particularly compared to more recent ones.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
In what way/s was Coolidge's world so much "less complicated" than the world of today. In the 1920s, the world was recovering from an horrific war which combined with a devastating influenza epidemic, killed over 30 million people. In the United States from 1919-1922, the nation suffered from perhaps the second worse depression of the 20th century. The race riots in Chicago ( 1919 ) and Tulsa (1921 ) were only the surface of the tensions boiling beneath. Yet, Coolidge ( and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon ) realized that the rules of the free market would eventually restore prosperity without having the Federal Reserve inflate our currency to levels that eventually would have made it worthless as our "era of Bernanke" is doing now. I am afraid that many of our citizens are going to learn the hard way that "cheap money" is never cheap in the long run.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They're not Coolidge's ideas, although he articulated them better than most.

They're not "republican Calvinism" or a "liturgy" per the "intellectewals" at the NYTimes book review.

They're ideas for the ages, for all mankind.

Calvin Coolidge
July 5, 1926
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful.
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress
since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable
rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the
consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be
made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or
their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically
is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality,
no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to
proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are
reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than
those of the Revolutionary fathers.”
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I enjoyed Carson's speech - and especially so since he was 'dunking' in the face of an often very petulant Obama in his speech and mannerisms (flipping off people etc.). But Carson was in no way petulant in his speech - he was respectful. Its what he said - and how he said it that generates the respect. He said what he meant and meant what he said.

As for Coolidge I've never read any of his speeches - I'll have to rectify that oversight in my continuing education. Sounds like I would have enjoyed attending his speeches.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (19)
All Comments   (19)
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Would quiet competence describe Coolidge? If so, we could certainly use same. Great article.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"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 the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are not seen."

The power and magnitude of this quote is astounding. It is beyond brilliant.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If organized religion is required to save our society then God help us. >:)

I expect that latter day 'Voluntary Associations' will form to help people
through the Hard Times following the coming Crash, take a leading role
in rebuilding the nation, and reform government by limiting the franchise
to those willing to 'buy' it by a career of service to the State before they
earn the right to control the State.


1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Latter day voluntary associations, like the VFW, the American Legion, parishes, congregations, the Elks, or "voluntary associations" of the "right thinking"?
And those would be... people who agree with you?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Is it too late for us to recover the values in the public sphere that Coolidge embodied, and to re-establish a more limited government as an ideal?"

Sadly, I fear we are past the tipping point and are well and truly f****d. The only ray of hope I see presently is in the President's diving popularity among the young.

I once thought no one Congress or President could do the damage we have seen over the last six years. I was wrong.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I once thought no one Congress or President could do the damage we have seen over the last six years. I was wrong."
The big damage started with Teddy Roosevelt. He ran as a Bull Moose Progressive against Howard Taft guaranteeing Woodrow Wilson's Presidency. Progressives are basically Marxists who deny our Constitution, deny our Bill of Rights, and are basically anti-American and anti-freedom. Yes Teddy Roosevelt was a Marxist and an anti-American. So are most so-called Republican moderates of today. I wish they would come out of the closet and admit what they really believe. Mitt Romney said that his views were Progressive. This is Marxism, no matter how softly you evil people want to peddle it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Teddy Roosevelt was a Marxist and an anti-American."
Read a lot of history, do you? That is truly one of the dumbest things I have seen, short of trolls, on PJM.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wikipedia (hardly a bastion of conservatism): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_progressivism. If you don't have time to read the whole thing: "The economic theory that underpins most of the policies listed above is Keynesian economics. However, many organizations that promote economic progressivism can be characterized as anti-capitalist and include principles and policies based on Marxism, Libertarian Socialism, and other leftwing schools of socio-economic thought."

You should be well aware that there is a ongoing war for the soul of the Republican Party. Here is a loose transcript of Allen West's remarks: http://www.maggiesnotebook.com/2012/09/allen-west-progressivisms-socialism-marxism-communism-the-congressional-progressive-caucus/
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is a review of Shlaes’s book in the latest issue of The Economist (Feb. 23 – Mar. 1). It is very favorable and respectful of Coolidge. Conclusion: “Ms Shlaes’s biography provides a window onto an unfairly tarnished period. It deserves to be widely read.”
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What marvelous quotations from Coolidge. Will have to read the Amity Shlaes book. I think it is apt to connect Coolidge and Carson. I'm just reading the book Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf, by linguist and cultural expert Richard Lewis. (I'm drawn to learn more about Finland because of their achievements in public education.) Was Coolidge perhaps Finnish? :) The Finns are famously silent, terse in their speech, honest, averse to debt, transparent in their dealings, hard-headed and hard-working, lovers of the austere nature in which they live. I think the Coolidge/Carson values are values for all time and that at least some of us will rediscover them; there are still places in the world where they are the norm.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Heinlein admired them too; In his novel 'Citizen of the Galaxy'
the Free Trader's society is adapted from the Finnish model,
their starship is named 'Sisu', and they always pay their debts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In what way/s was Coolidge's world so much "less complicated" than the world of today. In the 1920s, the world was recovering from an horrific war which combined with a devastating influenza epidemic, killed over 30 million people. In the United States from 1919-1922, the nation suffered from perhaps the second worse depression of the 20th century. The race riots in Chicago ( 1919 ) and Tulsa (1921 ) were only the surface of the tensions boiling beneath. Yet, Coolidge ( and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon ) realized that the rules of the free market would eventually restore prosperity without having the Federal Reserve inflate our currency to levels that eventually would have made it worthless as our "era of Bernanke" is doing now. I am afraid that many of our citizens are going to learn the hard way that "cheap money" is never cheap in the long run.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As you state, the world has never become less complicated. The complication argument is used by Progressives/Marxists to advocate for dictatorship.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thanks to Rick Richman for a characteristically insightful piece.

Jacob Heilbrunn's review of the Shlaes book uses "Republican Calvinism" as an epithet or, at the very least, a denigration. He's wrong; "Republican Calvinism" is -- or certainly should be -- a term of praise. There was a lot of Calvinism in Coolidge, but then there was a lot of Calvinism in the making of America. To a large degree, what used to be called the American Creed is little more than secularized Calvinism. When Coolidge declared that "the things of the spirit come first" or that "we must not sink into pagan materialism," he was speaking what might be called Calvin-talk; in fact, he was speaking the language of the Hebrew Bible as well.

This used to be called "common sense." That a reviewer in the New York Times would call it an "austere doctrine" is a measure of how limp and flaccid the American Left has become.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Some of the newer members of Congress get it, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Jason Chaffetz, Trey Gowdy...to name a few

The old guard in Congress is sounding aggravated that folks like these aren't sitting back and waiting in line for their turn fat the DC power mantle.

What in the hell do entrenched Senators and Representatives think "shake things up" and "dysfunctional" mean, anyway ?

Keep doing the same old sh!t ?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Agreed that these newbies "get it".........for now. But how long before they crumble to the "Rove-ites"? Sometimes I feel as if our cause is analogous to that of Great Britain in 1940; the entire continent prostrate before the conquering Nazi hoards. Our "great ally" France ( Rove? ) an empty phony. Only the thin separation of the Channel and a few tough fighter pilots keeping the wolf from the door. Too dramatic? Well, maybe, maybe not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They're not Coolidge's ideas, although he articulated them better than most.

They're not "republican Calvinism" or a "liturgy" per the "intellectewals" at the NYTimes book review.

They're ideas for the ages, for all mankind.

Calvin Coolidge
July 5, 1926
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful.
It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress
since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable
rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the
consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be
made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or
their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically
is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality,
no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to
proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are
reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than
those of the Revolutionary fathers.”
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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