One of Calvin Coolidge’s earliest biographers was R. M. Washburn, who includes, in his Calvin Coolidge: His First Biography, this cogent observation from an unnamed but accomplished leader in Washington during the 1920s. A perceptive judge of people, the man once attempted to explain what it was about Coolidge that he found not only admirable but refreshing:
“I like him because I don’t know why I like him; because he don’t seem to care whether I like him or not; because he’s the only one of his species, which I didn’t know existed; because he’s not like other politicians, doesn’t give away cigars, kiss other babies than his own or tell entertaining stories; because he gets by on merit, not personal charm, because to him a political job is a business opportunity; because in easy English, he F. O. B.’s the freight” (p. 113, a shipping term for “free on board,” which in this case is another way of saying Coolidge expected everyone to pull his or her own weight, whether as public servants or private citizens). Coolidge would reliably deliver but he would not abide incompetence or evasion of responsibility. He required others to likewise deliver on their obligations. It may strike some today as a hard stand, but many of our current problems trace back to someone “passing the buck” when it is supposed to stop there, failing either to exercise one’s entrusted responsibilities or hold someone else to theirs. We could use more maturity in our leaders, like that demonstrated by Coolidge. Only then will the heavy lifting, hard work and tough decisions be made by adults ready and able to take up the responsibility of public trust once more.