On September 21, 1976


While today marks the 103rd anniversary of Ronald W. Reagan’s birth, he would appreciate the focus not upon him but the reappraisal that is underway of an exceptional, yet far underrated, predecessor. A thoughtful admirer of Calvin Coolidge, President Reagan proved that “Silent Cal’s” economic model is anything but outmoded or theoretical: universal tax cuts spur growth and expand opportunity for everyone. The accomplishments of the 1980s, while by no means complete or consistent with Coolidge’s full record, demonstrated that moving back toward individual liberty and away from a massive government bureaucracy still works. It accomplishes genuine results, establishes peaceful progress and preserves opportunity to move forward and upward as free individuals. “Big Government” can only promise material goods without substantive delivery, disrupt social advances and destroy individual potential. Coolidge’s example — slashing tax rates four times combined with drastic annual reductions in Federal spending while paying down the national debt, $5 billion paid during his tenure alone — will work anywhere, anyplace, anytime. It only requires the will and courage to translate those principles into policy. The current administration, hostile to these proven precepts, continues to pull America further from its roots, the fertile soil of bold and disciplined leaders like Coolidge.

Heading into the election of 1976, as the nation stood poised to elect Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan (four years before the Presidency) took the occasion of his radio broadcast to deliver one of the most cogent expositions of why Coolidge still matters. His words, spoken almost forty years ago, ring truer now than they did at the time,

“The names of some Presidents are invoked by spokesmen of both political parties as ‘men for all seasons,’ epitomizing the greatness of America, Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson etc. Then there are Presidents whose names are brought in party circles, hailed as great but, if acknowledged by the other party at all with NOT quite the same enthusiasm.

“There are also two lists of Presidential names – one for each party, usually held up to view for strictly partisan purposes. Each party lists past Presidents of the opposing party as examples of that party’s terrible record.

“The Democrats for example get laughs by mentioning Silent Cal Coolidge. And truth is many Republicans chuckle a little and go along with the idea that he was a do nothing President. Sometimes I wonder if he really was a ‘do nothing’ or was he a little like a Life Guard on the beach who also seems to be doing very little when there is no emergency. If you take a closer look he is quietly being watchful.

“Cal Coolidge is good for laughs but not all of them are at his expense. There was the press conference where a persistent reporter asked the President if he had anything to say about prohibition? Cal said ‘No.’ ‘Any comments on the world court?’ – ‘No.’ – “What about the farm situation?” Again the answer was ‘no.’ The reporter said, ‘You don’t seem to have any comment about anything.’ Coolidge said, ‘No comment & don’t quote me.’

“Probably no President has ever lived in the White House and maintained so unchanged his previous life style. Which in Coolidge’s case was the simple, even frugal life he had lived on a New England farm.

“Shortly after he became President he sent his teenage son into the tobacco fields to work in the summer as he always had. One of the other workers surprised at this said to the young Coolidge, ‘if my father were President I wouldn’t be out here working in the field.’ Young Coolidge said, ‘If my father were your father, you would.’

“But while ‘Silent Cal’ seemed to be doing nothing as President, the federal budget actually went down and so did the national debt. Consumer prices fell but unemployment stayed at the figure we only dream of – 3.5 % which means everyone who wanted a job had one. Federal taxes were cut four times.

“The number of automobiles on our streets and highways tripled during his years in the White House and radio sales went up 1400%.

“In just the 5 years from 1922 to 27 the purchasing power of wages rose 10%. It was a kind of ‘Golden Era,’ in other ways. Hollywood would never again be more glamorous and there were giants in the sports arenas whose names are still legend – the Manassas Mauler, Jack Dempsey, Knute Rockne, The 4 Horsemen, Red Grange, Babe Ruth and Big Bill Tilden. No I’m not saying President Coolidge was responsible for them but they were larger than life figures that went with America’s place in the world.

“So what if he was a ‘do nothing” President. Do you suppose doing nothing had something to do with reducing the budget, redu’ing the debt, and cutting taxes 4 times?

“This is Ronald Reagan. Thanks for listening.”

Taken from Reagan’s Path to Victory:The Shaping of Ronald Reagan’s Vision: Selected Writings (pp.72-74).

Portrait of Coolidge with Rob Roy by DeWitt M. Lockman, 1931. Commissioned for the New York Historical Society.

Portrait of Coolidge with Rob Roy by DeWitt M. Lockman, 1931. Commissioned for the New York Historical Society.

2 thoughts on “On September 21, 1976

  1. Thanks – nice reminder. Coolidge had the very good sense to understand what Hayek called the “knowledge problem” that Presidents cannot and should not be assumed to have answers for everything.

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