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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

Bio

February 23, 2013 - 10:13 pm

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.

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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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