“After Iowa, a Three-Man Race: Andy Jackson, Cal Coolidge, and George W.”

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John Zmirak, writing over at The Stream, presents an interesting take on the GOP campaign at this stage. Channeling the views of past presidents on American exceptionalism, three basic policy outlooks emerge: the pragmatic nationalism of Donald Trump; the traditional constitutionalism of Ted Cruz; and finally, the idealist internationalism of Marco Rubio.

As Zmirak explains, not every quality of character or approach is mirrored between past and present, but the parallels still work to explain the differences each outlook holds.

In the first, American “greatness” is achieved without the “Constitutional niceties” of Separation of Powers, civil liberties, property rights, or just war doctrine. Projecting the nation’s economic and military might is paramount to America’s cohesion. “On this view, America is exceptional because it is big and powerful enough to exempt itself from the rules that bind other countries.” Zmirak points out, we’ve seen this outlook before in the ambitions of Aaron Burr and the assertiveness of Andrew Jackson.

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Andrew Jackson — brash, hot-tempered, and feisty “Old Hickory,” President from 1829-1837

In the second, American exceptionalism came from the civic culture, an environment “compatible with human flourishing” brought about by Providence, respect for law, and a government of carefully prescribed limits operating by our consent. The expansion of state control is opposed vehemently as it correspondingly subtracts freedom from the lives of people. Foreign policy is recognized from the premise that we are all fallen, and thus “sharply limited in what we can achieve” in relating to cultures alien to our outlook. Immigration, likewise, should be pared back not merely for its impact on the economy but for its impact on our civic system. Ours is a system not universally compatible with every other culture on earth. This outlook found expression in the restraint of William Howard Taft and the perspective of Calvin Coolidge.

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Calvin Coolidge — brave, reliable, and shrewd “Silent Cal,” President from 1923-1929

In the third, American exceptionalism is approached as a propositional exercise. It is best represented, though not exclusively, by Senator Rubio. The propositions America expounds are not only true, but should be brought to the whole human race. In this outlook, America must do more than simply stand as Lady Liberty but rather to go and make disciples, exporting democratic government systems around the globe. Called “neoconservatism” it has been the prevailing view for some time. Hence, welcoming Syrian refugees or sponsoring Amnesty corresponds with this vision as America’s transformative ideals remake the world. As Zmirak points out, however, this idealism (lost in its own heady optimism) seems to feel that America is somehow immune to transformation itself by the ideas and habits of those who come here. It works with the belief that American ideals are just too dynamic and self-contained to be so influenced.

As it mobilizes in foreign policy, this outlook always opens the ongoing crusade of regime change.  Anything less, it is argued, would “admit defeat of our ideals…surrender our national mission and plunge into moral relativism — suggesting that liberty is only available to certain countries and cultures, especially those with a Christian, or even an Anglo-Protestant heritage.” In the end, it must acknowledge the merits of the limited foreign policy of traditional constitutionalism. This is rarely done, though, before committing America to a course of unbounded aspirations and expensive dreams that making the world safe for democracy will finally work… this time. The singular focus of Woodrow Wilson, the unconstrained experimentation of FDR, and the hopeful nation-building of George W. Bush all animate this outlook.

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George W. Bush — “Dubya,” President from 2001-2009

Zmirak concludes that the differences of each worldview are significant and most importantly, they do matter. What the future holds will be directly attributable to whether these distinctions have been fully discussed and carefully considered, or hastily blurred and dismissed. If wisdom is to prevail at the ballot box (and thus good government to return), voters must see that these are three very different choices. This is a trinity not created equal.

While we find the comparison to Mr. Coolidge to be less precise than with the other two candidates, especially Trump and Jackson, it is good to see Coolidge’s ideas rekindling a timely and useful discussion. It is a welcome sign that, through it all, the moral courage and political wisdom of Calvin Coolidge are respected assets once more, not liabilities, to the decision we must face.

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Meeting Greeks

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President Coolidge welcoming to the White House (for the first time in history) members of a Greek organization in America, February 3, 1929.

Among the many historical firsts of which Calvin Coolidge took part is this: the first meeting with an organization of Greek-born Americans, the newly formed American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), on this day, February 3, 1929. Coming to the White House on this blustery day they found in Mr. Coolidge a person fascinated by the work of the organization and the Greek people. His interest in the culture and contributions of Greece in this country was not merely academic (from his study of classical history), but was practical and genuine.

When the Coolidges embarked on their first and only cross-country tour after leaving the White House, they took the time to stop in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and spent the day on the water, viewed the lighthouse, enjoyed the local food, and, of course, learned the sponge-diving business. Full of questions, the Coolidges would report their visit to be one of the greatest highlights of their trip.

It was simply Cal’s way to keep the President’s door open to everyone, knowing that what united us was greater and more important than the superficial differences of race or class. He knew America brought us all together and thus, serving one another rather than being served must prevail. We are all in the same boat now, he had said four years before. Perhaps he visualized that analogy again talking with these fellow citizens. It would never work to sabotage or sink the vessel but expect to remain dry ourselves. We would all need one another to preserve our compass, weather the storms, keep on course, and avoid shipwreck.

 

On the Importance of Sanctuary

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President and Mrs. Coolidge, with Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bok, as they look across the lake to the majestic, musical Tower beyond, February 1, 1929.

“These grounds which we are dedicating to-day are another extension of this rapidly developing movement: It has been designated as a sanctuary because within it people may temporarily escape from the pressure and affliction of the affairs of life and find that quiet and repose which comes from a closer communion with the beauties of nature. We have not secured the benefits which I have enumerated without being obliged to pay a price. The multiplicity and the swiftness of the events with which we are surrounded exhaust our nervous energy. The constant impact upon us of great throngs of people of itself produces a deadening fatigue. We have a special need for a sanctuary like this to which we can retreat for a time from the daily turmoil and have a place to rest and think under the quieting influence of nature and of nature’s God.

“It is not only through action, but through contemplation that people come to understand themselves. Man does not live by bread alone. This thought is expressed in the motto of the sanctuary in the words of John Burroughs: ‘I come here to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world.’ We are so thickly crowded with the forest of events that there is not only danger that we can not see the trees, but that we may lose our sense of direction. Under the influence of these beautiful surroundings we can pause unhampered while we find out where we are and whither we are going. Those who come here report the feeling of peace which they have experienced. In the expression of an ancient writer, it is a place to which to invite one’s soul, where one may see in the landscape and foliage, not what man has done, but what God has done…

President Calvin Coolidge dedicating Bok Tower, Lake Wales, Florida, February 1, 1929

On What Makes America “Great”

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Much discourse of late has revolved around making America “great again,” but what exactly does that mean and how it is achieved? Some seem content to settle on one or two elements of national policy, anything from the nature of the labor force to the full overhaul of government departments. Such elements of policy may be important to study carefully and consider what is in the best interests of the whole people, whether to continue course or end a bad practice. However, as Ronald Reagan reminded his listeners on November 16, 1982, the proper objective should be making the country well again. This kind of rebuilding does not occur from the government down, but from the people up. He echoed his wise predecessor, the humble man from Vermont, when he said,

Well, I’ve said before, we didn’t go to Washington with more snake-oil remedies for quick fixes, and we don’t suffer from paralysis by analysis. [Laughter] We’re determined to make America well again. We intend to rebuild this country, not from the government down, but from the people up. I believe the true strength of America and her passport to greater glory resides on the streets where you live, with the American family. Calvin Coolidge said, “Look well to the hearthstone, for therein all hope for America lies.”

The goal of our administration has been, and will remain, to restore to families, communities, and places of work their rightful positions of honor, strength, and leadership so, together, we can lift America to new progress and opportunity for all her citizens. The means of reaching that goal have been, and will remain, to liberate individuals, deregulate markets, and place limits on the size and authority of the Federal Government. No longer must government be allowed to ride roughshod, absorbing the people’s wealth, usurping their rights, and crushing their spirit.

The perpetuation of what makes us strong is not rooted in the return of affluence and prosperous times. We can be just as bankrupt inside as we may be wealthy in material. Neither is it a certain indication of superior character to be poor or barely subsisting. The root causes of America’s problems will not be confronted without the requisite character — the will to make and courage to hold to decisions that are necessary because they are right — even when it means standing alone for it. Both the ability to see what must be done and the resolve to do it are furnished by this most essential pillar. The source of restoration lies just where it always has and ever will, the place Coolidge knew it to be, the home. Neglect the family and all else will turn to ash and despair. Cultivate the strength of the family and “therein all hope for America lies.”

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On Golden Pages and Red Flags

In the center of the photograph left to right Secretary of Commerce Whiting President Coolidge and George R. Putnam Commissioner of Lighthouses 1-17-1929

President Coolidge meeting with his new Secretary of Commerce, William F. Whiting (left), and George R. Putnam (right), the Commissioner of Lighthouses, at the White House, January 17, 1929. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Looking back on this day eighty-seven years ago, we find President Calvin Coolidge stood before the department heads, bureau chiefs, and various members of the administration meeting as the Business Organization of the Government for the last time. While many were seeing the end of an era, with Coolidge ending his term in just over a month, few expected how final this meeting would turn out to be. It would prove to be the last time the President and the officers of the administration came together to seriously measure the progress of constructive economy. What had been a bi-annual gathering to hold the line, encourage the work to continue, and reaffirm the case for tenacious governmental economy, would not be repeated under Cal’s successor. It would quietly go away and a regime that started with promises of building on the Coolidge record would surrender to new spending, new agencies, new regulations, the end of surpluses, and the resumption of deeper and deeper deficits. The importance of reading the score publicly for all to hear would simply get lost in the flurry of government activity.

It would turn out to be back to business as usual (as before Harding and Coolidge) and shelve the eight years of 1921-1929 as some revolutionary anomaly to how Washington is supposed to operate (wasteful, insolvent, and undisciplined) rather than as an organization strictly held to account for every recklessly-spent dollar and bureaucratic redundancy. It would also lower the curtain on eight years of truly heroic effort to come back from one of the deepest depressions anyone had known up to that time. Of course, what would become the Great Depression had not yet happened.

1921 depression

To those present that day, the great depression was one now forgotten, occurring in 1921. This depression followed at the end of the First World War, which left public finances in disaster, wages dropping, taxes mushroomed, falling prices halted production, and the “business of the country was prostrate,” Coolidge reminded those assembled eight years later. All across the country, wages earners and their families were slowly being crushed under the strain. “Progress had stopped,” Coolidge noted. In 1921, five million people (out of 120 million in population) were out of work. The markets for commodities languished with goods no one could move despite low prices. Even worse, the nation’s debt had skyrocketed during the war and government, seemingly oblivious, kept spending with no end in sight. The budget stood at a bloated $5 billion that summer of 1921. Confidence in the country and in the government was collapsing.

What the administration did next could either begin the march back toward restoration or speed up the ruin of the country. It resolved to carry out the former course, with a sweeping program of economy led by President Harding, who persuaded the Congress to collaborate and through the first Business Organization meeting held on June 29, 1921, initiated the eight-year success that President Coolidge had continued and strengthened.

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It began with the extensive overhaul of the method of appropriations, which had not really been a method at all, but a chaotic array of procedures and customs for asking money from Congress. That forever changed with the creation of the Budget Bureau and its system of streamlining all requests, outlined in departmental budget estimations, through the President via his Budget Director. No longer would each office or department be left to itself to apply here or there for money from Congress, often multiple times during the year with little account for how the money was requested and whether the same funds were being appropriated more than once. Now, it would have to go through the Executive and only after written budgets had been submitted and approved. It forced each department to live within the means it had set in its own estimations. It forced Congress not to appropriate more than the President approved, after he had reviewed those requests and compiled the main Budget projections for the next fiscal year. Everyone in government would have to learn the responsibility of getting the most out each dollar doing more with less. If an emergency arose, exceeding the funds provided, it still had to follow the procedure of the Budget system and secure approval from the President. No longer would Congress be free to open the Treasury with a confusing and often contradictory stream of appeals, forms, and methods.

The administration did not stop there. It followed with pressure on Congress to approve the first of four income tax reductions that November. The President would not entertain the notion that money saved from expenditure would still go into some “pool” of funds to be played with later. It would start going back to the people.

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The Coolidges (with the Kelloggs) arriving back at Washington’s Union Station to return to work the last two months of their tenure, January 2, 1929.

As President Coolidge looked out over the gathering that January of 1929, he could hardly be prouder of what had been achieved the past eight years. First broadcast on a nationwide hookup in January 1925, Coolidge ensured the demand for accountable economy remained as much a part of the public consciousness as possible. He saw a result that did not rest with a single individual nor was it the product of some political “shell game,” easily played to deceive the country. It was very real and took genuine effort on the part of all to launch and maintain it. As the nation lifted out from the pit it occupied in 1921, the solutions were not mysterious or magical. It was correctly understand that  “the distress of the country would be relieved if Government extravagance ceased.” The radical, for its time, steps to implement the Budget system and activate reductions in taxation and expenditure was the only real way forward.

A selfless spirit of teamwork between the various branches “with the backing of the people” had “inserted a golden page in our history,” he declared. “It fittingly portrays that peace hath its victories no less than war,” the President went on to say. This was in large part thanks to the diligence of the “rank and file” in each part of the department. By keeping focused on the task at hand, when it was so much easier to slip back into old habits of negligence and wastefulness, the faithful men and women who saved when they could have spent and made do when they could have demanded more in public service were owed a debt of gratitude by the people of the country. Had it not been for their devotion to “the cause of constructive economy we could have done nothing. With it we have been able to do everything. The victory has been their victory, and the praise should be their praise.”

Setting the stage for this victory was no mean feat. A strong jealousy existed between the numerous offices of the government, between bureau and agency, even between sections in the same department. This had to be overcome first before the interests of sound national service, not merely service to one’s own piece of the structure, could prevail. It “called for a revolution in the attitude of Government agencies toward each other.” By bringing representatives of these divergent functions together, meeting for the simplification and unification of procedures, the elimination of “tortuous, wasteful, and unbusinesslike” approaches, and the study of the benefits of business organization, chaos was defeated. “Harmonious cooperation…won.”

CALVIN COOLIDGE

President Calvin Coolidge, undated photograph.

From hundreds of forms and random procedures grown up over time, the administration brought both order and substance to the way things out to work in Washington. None of it “contributed to good Government business.” Coolidge could report the number was now down to 38 basic Federal forms and 602 “standardized specifications which cover in large part the entire field of Federal requirements.” In these seemingly small successes could be found a cumulative savings in millions of dollars, a clear betterment for everyone. By that eighth year, the President would assert, “I believe that the Federal Government to-day is the best-conducted big business in the world.” The credit for it went largely to the hundreds of reliable folks committed to good government “and extravagant government is not good government,” Cal would point out. “We have demonstrated that saving results from efficiency, and efficiency comes from saving.”

This was not, for Coolidge, a quest of making government waste palatable to the public. It was not “efficiency” to preserve failed government projects and enable the increase of bureaucratic power while calling it “fixed” or “working again.” Elimination of waste and undoing the spend-thrift mentality were what made saving and efficiency possible. In this way, governmental finance could succeed with basic business principles.

It took less than two years to correct the course that had brought America so low by 1921. It would experience short and temporary downturns in the remainder of the decade, Coolidge observed, but none of these approached disaster because the nation and its Government held fast to the policy of constructive economy. Had it not done so, Coolidge knew, recovery would have been delayed and implosion hastened.

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President Coolidge flanked by his secretary, Everett Sanders, and the Washington press corps on their last meeting together, March 1, 1929.

The President, a lifelong lover of facts and figures, could cite abundant proof that keeping to economy had yielded enormous good. Forty percent of government’s annual expenditures had been cut away since 1921. Seven and a half years had paid $6.6 billion off the public debt, saving $963 million in interest payments. After four income tax reductions, $2 billion every year had been given back to the people of the country. Two and a half million Americans were now “entirely relieved of all Federal taxation,” helping the lowest earners not the most wealthy. It was the wealthiest who paid the lion’s share. The economic engine, refueled by government economy, soared. Industrial production had grown sixty, and (in some cases) one hundred percent since 1921. Mining had increased fifty percent from where it stood seven years before. Building construction had doubled. Travel by rail had improved by one-third. Automobile ownership had grown to three times the number in 1921. Electric power had also doubled and was connecting the country together. Radio production surpassed 13 million sets from virtually nothing in 1921. An accumulating range of household appliances coming out each year were improving the lives and work of families. The capital of Americans everywhere was rising as well with $12 billion more in savings deposits in 1928 than had been set aside in 1921. In a decade known for its large quantity of bank failures, this was impressive. Life insurance policies had almost doubled and the resources of building and loan associations had blossomed from $2.9 to $7.1 billion in six, short years.

Record enrollments were being seen in schools everywhere in 1926. Reading for instruction and leisure were dominating the decade. The expansion of the marketplace into service industries that hitherto had not existed or not been able to stand independent from manufacturing exploded during those eight years. As a consequence total employment grew even with the displacement of mechanization and urbanization. The improvement of public building, the provision for veterans, the care of employees, historic site preservation and beautification, mail delivery, and even the fight against diseases were all possible by first practicing drastic economy. These were substantial measures that a full reversal after so pervasive a depression was far more than theoretically possible. Even more important, it was really only possible through a determined adherence to strict economy.

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President Coolidge receiving a group at the White House, January 1929. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Coolidge then explained, he did not claim the National Government merited the full credit for restoring the country from “the great depression of 1921” but “wise governmental policies…particularly wise economy” in expenditures had been a “dominant influence” toward the outcome. Having gained confidence in themselves because of returning confidence in their Government, the American people had rebuilt what was lost by waste and furnished new capital and productive capacity thanks to those policies. Had there not been a strictly kept economy, the peacetime triumph of the Coolidge Era would never have happened. Any quantity of tax reduction would not have been possible out of that and the nation would still be drowning in debt and languishing for want of “careful and orderly management of the business of government.”

All that said, President Coolidge did not indulge a sense of nostalgia for so incredible a record. There was still much work to do. The debt, standing at the close of his tenure at $17 billion, was still too large. Indications were showing that an always narrow margin between “prosperity and depression” or surplus and deficit was about to shrink further. Numerous bills, including one at the cost of $1 billion then pending before Congress, had been blocked over these years. “Had there not been a constant insistence upon a policy of rigid economy, many of these bills would have become law.”

Coolidge made plain what would have to happen for the advancement experienced by this policy to continue. “It would be a great mistake to suppose that we can continue our national prosperity, with the attendant blessings which it confers upon the people, unless we continue to insist upon constructive economy in government.” This was not solely a Federal obligation, the decisions among state and local governments across the 1920s disclosed a dangerous trend of rapidly adding costs. Assuming the proverbial “rainy day” was being deferred, state and local spending threatened to unravel, at the opposite end, the very endurance of economy. It was “the greatest menace” to the fruits of that policy. Coolidge cautioned, “It is a red flag warning us of the danger of depression and a repetition of the disaster which overtook the country in the closing days of 1920.” The state and local governments, ignoring the President’s warning here, continued to spend freely, largely with money they did not have. When “rainy days” returned, those who had abandoned strict economy would have to relearn, often at a high price, the lessons of 1920-21.

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Outgoing President Coolidge takes one final look at the White House, as the inaugural procession prepares to drive to the Capitol, March 4, 1929. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Coolidge ended this final meeting of this organization’s policy with a glowing appreciation for the Budget Bureau Director, General Herbert M. Lord. All through the Coolidge years, the President and Lord had relentlessly kept the hammer blows of economy falling where needed. When others had tired of the program and begged for the return of massive spending, Coolidge and his Budget General kept the flame of economy alive. The case, never easily made, got harder as the decade wound down. Its importance never dimmed in their eyes, however. It took a special kind of strength and leadership to do what Cal and his administration did. By explaining why this had to continue and convincing again those who may doubt through each of these Business Organization meetings, Coolidge demonstrated the hard work economy requires is not only worth every minute but remains non-negotiable for any government to be good.

We could have had our worst depression throughout the 1920s instead of a decade later. That we did not is hardly accidental or mere coincidence. Without the resolute will of a President, the faithfulness of a Budget Director, the cooperative assistance of Congress, the unflagging support of the people, and, perhaps most of all, the day-to-day persistence of the hundreds of “rank and file” men and women in public service (who gave economy its life and breath), America might not have survived to our day. It would have been gravely handicapped for the challenges of the twentieth century, far weaker, and far less an example of that good government needed in every generation.

Crowds waiting in the rain to say goodbye and good luck to President Coolidge outside the White House 3-2-1929

Crowds wait in the rain to say goodbye to President Coolidge, March 2, 1929. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

 

Looking for Advice?

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As the campaigns for President heat up on the last week heading into the Iowa caucus, are you wondering about the merits of each candidate? Looking for advice? Who better to seek perspective and insight than one of the most successful vote-getters and campaigners in American history? He not only possesses one of the most experienced records in public life (from his local party committee to POTUS) but also retains a winning rate of 20 out of 21 victories whenever his name was placed before the electorate. His success deserves our attention.

He understood the nature of politics like few do, even today. Earning his “spurs” walking neighborhoods and working on the ground, he saw politics as something more than merely a job drawing a paycheck from the people. He accompanied his father as a boy, in the collection of local taxes, and learned early on the very practical realities of government. He saw it as its own form of ministry to others, just as all work was, a high service in the interests and betterment of all the people, through their consent. He rebuked those who debased its value with the use of office for one’s own advancement or the enslavement to expediency.

The office and the oath he took were not mere tools with which to placate constituents or render “lip service” to what some regard as meaningless trappings of our Republic’s institutions. To him, they meant something personal and deeply important in the execution of the responsibilities entrusted to him day to day. He was pledging himself before humanity and God that the work given him to do would be done faithfully, honorably, and competently.

He would not abide the surrender of that public promise to the searing pressures of any interest, however influential or financed, or retreat in fear for his political future. If he lost, he lost, but he would retain his honor and defend the integrity of the trust temporarily placed in him. For, he knew, all power is fleeting. What mattered was not how long one retained that power but how one mastered himself and served others in the conduct of the office entrusted to him. He would not help bring reproach on any office, however menial. All offices demanded our best. As such, he secured greater confidence and accumulating trust in the estimation of the people. They knew in him was a servant who would rightly administer the greatest office they could bestow.

Starting among his neighbors and rising to the Presidency, he was found to be worthy of their confidence in every task. He possessed a broad range of experience not only in the judiciary as a city solicitor but also as a legislator and executive. He left each office more regarded and beloved than upon entering it, leaving the White House with the highest popularity of any occupant in more than a generation (and, it could be argued, most of our Presidents since).

He knew how to win from the local race to the national campaign. But that knowledge and assurance came from his faith in God as much as in his love for people and respect for what made America so successful. He understood that each of us was but directed by a Power greater than any of us. We were simply in the guidance of a Providence that equips and fits us to meet the challenges of our time. It was so much more than just getting the right economic plan or the perfect social legislation (the latter not an issue in his day). It rested on eternal truths that material advancement could merely reflect not create let alone perpetuate the real progress of people and sound government.

All the prosperity and affluence America was experiencing would evaporate as the morning fog without the requisite advancement of character. The cultivation of the spiritual things had to keep ahead of the march of material improvements. It would leave humanity stunted, unprepared, and ultimately dehumanized, if these truths did not receive their due regard beyond the increasing accumulation of things. Entering modernity would prove to be America’s greatest moral challenge, he knew, testing every soul, both those present and those to come. Man was more than so many organisms, but had a spiritual nature that politics must serve not be served by whatever it cost the smallest, most forgotten person.

He cherished the individual but did not blindly adopt the idea that each of us can be a self-sufficient island unto him or herself. We could not long survive under such a regime. It would prove just as repressive and stagnant as the tyranny of a bureaucratic efficiency, which he doggedly fought in his day.

His experience did not erode his sense of perspective or transform who he was. He knew himself and his limitations better than many who have occupied the Presidency. As such, he avoided many of the delusional pitfalls that ensnare other men. He retained his humility and rather than credit a greatness in himself, he recognized America needs and does best with many leaders. One man’s domination is a betrayal of our principles and institutions. Thus, he stepped away when popular acclaim and political power (in his hands) was at its zenith.

He developed his own public persona, as all successful people do, but it was no less a sign of artificiality or lack of character than it was for Washington or Lincoln. He was a master communicator, who in many ways, is the equal and political “father” of The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. When the Congress stood intransigently against the benefits of his policies, he went right to the people, often making his case through the new medium of radio. He carefully crafted his own speeches, knowing that this was a fundamental part of any President’s duties, while understanding that the influence of the Presidential word must be used sparingly and conscientiously.

He downplayed the role of a “super-fixer” who can magically solve all the nation’s problems. No President, however compelling a personality, could do that, he knew. At the same time, he used the Presidential platform to educate and inform the country that most solutions rested very properly in the hands of the people themselves. That was both the price of freedom and the reward of self-government. Hence, he avoided the disappointment of campaign pledges that usually go unfulfilled while surprising most people with his ability to accomplish so much without fanfare. He did while others talked about doing.

He exercised the powers of office responsibly, employing the veto (both the regular and pocket) with devastating effect to countless attempts by Congress to pass preferential legislation and other harmful measures. He asserted the independence of the Executive to hire and fire its officers, refusing to micromanage the work rightfully given to others, but letting all know that the final decision for national administration rests with the President, where “the buck” must stop.

At the same time, he was too shrewd and observant to be caught in a “gotcha” scenario that so often plagues our candidates these days. When others tried to force him between a political “rock and hard place,” he exercised the art of employing actions to speak for him. When in the campaign of 1924, a push to publicly condemn the Klan was fast becoming a sort of litmus test for qualification, he gave them no direct statement to yank from context but took to the road. He would give his clear support for each of the groups the Klan despised: Catholics, Jews, and black Americans. This relegated the Klan to the deserved realm of absurd insignificant and, consequently, its membership and respectability dropped for the rest of the decade.

He willingly appeared (throughout his public life) with all kinds of folks in photos, as a matter of course, not as political opportunism. He did so because color or ethnicity didn’t matter to him; People were people. We were all children of the same Father. At the same time, he grasped the power of the image. He used the art of public image even when it invoked laughter (as with the chaps and ten-gallon hat) or portrayed him as dour and “Silent.” He took care never to disgrace the Office, though, knowing that the image was as much a part of getting the day’s work done and exemplifying what the country needed, as it was in George Washington’s day.

So, as we consider the merits of each candidate, whether at the Presidential level or in the sheriffs, county commissioners, aldermen, representatives, and other officers up for election this year, we would do well to seek the wisdom and tap the experience of Calvin Coolidge. We need not search far and wide for snippets of his advice and insight, we can find his help in one central place: Keeping Cool on the Campaign Trail: 101 of ‘Silent’ Cal’s Insights on Voting, Campaigning, and Governing. Pick up your copy in print, Kindle, or audio today.

As you read, you’ll find Cal talks about many of the issues that simply don’t get raised or questions that simply don’t get asked these days. Perhaps bringing Cal Coolidge with you to the next meet and greet, Townhall forum, or campaign event will not only raise the caliber of our public debate but also prove a mighty force in forging better citizens and better leadership, starting (as Coolidge would say) with ourselves. Perhaps it can also instill much higher expectations for a better future than we have seen in our neighborhoods, our counties, our states, and across the nation.

Visiting South Dakota

Pan for Gold

The President observes the panning process for gold at Custer’s “Gold Discovery Days” held there during his visit. Courtesy of the Custer Courthouse Museum.

The folks at the Courthouse Museum in Custer, South Dakota, put together a nice little pictorial commemoration of the Coolidges visit to the state in the summer of 1927. Enjoy!

Presidents Ride

Coolidge is given a high-strung mare for his birthday, July 4, 1927, Game Lodge, Custer, South Dakota. She turns out to be too jumpy to have the President ride without trouble. Wanting to ride her anyway, the President reluctantly consents to her retirement to the stable and her replacement, a gentle stallion named “Mistletoe,” is obtained as his ride that summer, including the long trek out to the dedication of Mount Rushmore in August.