“Who Was the Last President to Have a Great Second Term?” by Burt Folsom

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Dr. Folsom reminds us, in surveying the last eight presidents who have won second terms, that Calvin Coolidge was the last national leader to have (by every economic measure) an extraordinarily successful second term. Even more impressive is the fact that Coolidge achieved this exception to the rule without seeking it, launching out on a legacy-building crusade or perpetual campaign to answer every problem with more government. Coolidge could have certainly indulged the incessant pressure to do so, yet when others attempted to increase the scope, oversight and expense of Washington, he vetoed measure after measure. As Dr. Folsom summarizes, “Calvin Coolidge may not be glamorous, but he fared well by stressing freedom for his countrymen, not ‘signature spending programs’ to ‘enhance his legacy.’ For his own quietly competent style of leadership, Coolidge deserves renewed appraisal. His accomplishments dispel the conventional concept that one must spend his way to greatness, as if it can be bought by deeper and deeper indebtedness. Instead, Coolidge’s record belongs beside those who paid off the entire nation’s debt (President Jackson), placed the country back on the gold standard (President Grant), and those who fought for limited government rather than targeting it for destruction as a means to some transformative end. Coolidge, looking back on his predecessors’ experiences found the results just as instructive against second term presidents. As scholar Jim Cooke has pointed out, Coolidge put it this way in his Autobiography, “An examination of the records of those Presidents who have served eight years will disclose that in an almost every instance the latter part of their term has shown very little in the way of constructive accomplishment. They have often been clouded with grave disappointments.”

Thank you for the timely reminder, Professor Folsom.

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