The last four years have shown that “stimulus” (which Coolidge would have called “spending”) and “investments” (which Coolidge would have called “spending”) are not panaceas, but rather part of the problem. We have also learned that it is extraordinarily blinkered and foolish for a government that already has unsustainable financial obligations for existing “entitlements” (which Coolidge would have called “spending”) to enact not only a record “stimulus” and huge new “investments” but also a massive new “entitlement,” relying on borrowed funds and no budget.
It is a bleak omen, produced by a quasi-religious belief in the power of an ever-larger government to produce “fairness” while allegedly adding not one dime to the deficit, nor costing anything for 99 percent of the people, and allowing people who like their plan to keep it, although Catholics with religious objections will be ignored.
It seems less like a model for the present than like the last stage of an unsustainable plan.
We should have known by now that increased “revenues” (or “taxes,” as Coolidge would have called them) depends on a growing private sector (“commerce”) stimulated by lower tax rates. It has already been demonstrated not only by Coolidge, but by Kennedy and Reagan. We should know that the Clinton surplus in its later years was produced not by increased tax rates, but by acts that limited government and stimulated commerce: (1) the rejection of HillaryCare; (2) the welfare reform that imposed work requirements; (3) the NAFTA free trade legislation; and (4) the 40% reduction in the capital gains tax rate (from 28% to 20%).
Most of us know Coolidge only for his legendary reticence. He is famous for having told a woman, who had bet she could get him to say three words, that “you lose.” He once explained why he often sat silently through interviews: “Many times I say only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to people. Even that is too much. It winds them up for twenty minutes more.” When he died, his will was 23 words long (it left his entire estate to his wife).
Coolidge’s eloquence is much less known, but for eloquence it is hard to match his July 5, 1926 “Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence” in Philadelphia, with its concluding paragraph that treated the Declaration as “the product of the spiritual insight of the people”:
We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.