On Getting to the Point

Calvin Coolidge was known for his incredible ability to distill the clutter of requests, technical details and verbose discussions into their essential qualities. His succinct style and disciplined pursuit of a matter’s basic point may have appeared lazy to the workaholic but to the one paying attention, it was a product of his practiced skills as a good listener and an effectual doer outside the limelight. Coolidge’s mastery of bringing the complex back down to its simplest principles left more than one contemporary amazed. Henry Stoddard, the owner and editor of the New York Evening Mail and student of Presidents from Grant through Coolidge and beyond had this instructive assessment of the man, writing in 1938:

“I doubt whether we have ever had a President–certainly not one in my time–who could probe so quickly and so surely to the heart of a problem as Calvin Coolidge did. He frequently said that if you got to the common sense of a question you had its answer–but how few possess that rare gift of seeking or even getting to the common sense of a question! In the lengthy debates in Congress how often have you heard common sense revealed? He insisted that worries beclouded clear thinking; therefore he refused to have them. No one would say that he was an optimist–he was too much of a realist–but his realism was of faith, not of fear. He never dreaded tomorrow. He prepared for it. No man having the right to know ever left Coolidge with the slightest doubt of his opinions…Slow to give his word, he never called it back” (‘It Costs to be President,’ p.133).

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Former President Coolidge at Madison Square Garden, his last public appearance, October 11, 1932. As he rose to speak, the crowds began to eat so much of his time with their enthusiastic standing ovations that he held up his watch to remind them that minutes were precious and he had to get to the point quickly in the time allotted. Even then, his determination to cut through the waste and get to the substance of why he was there mattered more than the accolades.

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