Reagan on Coolidge

Ronald Reagan was way ahead of the curve when it came to appreciating the virtues of Calvin Coolidge. As is well known, upon assuming the presidency, he had Coolidge’s official White House portrait taken out of storage and placed in the cabinet room. And as early as 1976, the year of his first serious presidential bid, he sang the praises of the 30th president in one of his regular radio addresses. I’m posting the full script of here (taken from the book “Reagan’s Path to Victory: The Shaping of Ronald Reagan’s Vision – Selected Writings“) (note: I say “script” because in the book, Reagan’s text is presented as a working draft, with changes and re-writes clearly shown. The following is what appears as the final script):

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 mayn 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 and don’t quote me.”

Probably no President has ever lived in the White House and maintained so unchanged his previous life style. Which in Coolidges 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 1,400 %.

In just the 5 years from 1922 to 1927 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, reducing the debt, and cutting taxes 4 times?

This is Ronald Reagan. Thanks for listening.

6 thoughts on “Reagan on Coolidge

    • Yes, wasn’t it? Not sure whether it’s documented; with Coolidge anecdotes, fact and fiction sometimes do mix. But it sounds like him! I’ll try to post more of his dry wit🙂

  1. Great post, Kai. If you haven’t read Coolidge’s Autobiography, it’s worth it, and very informative about his thoughts and observations. There’s a new book out, too, called “Why Coolidge Matters,” published by the National Notary Assn. (John Coolidge Sr. was a Notary when he gave his son the oath of office) and it is filled with facts, photos and commentary. No, President Coolidge was not silent. Finally, they just opened a new Coolidge Museum and Education Center in his home town of Plymouth Notch, VT which is, to say the least, very impressive. Now the world can explore the legacy of Coolidge more thoroughly. He would have been pleased at this simple but stately tribute to his life and Presidency.

    Again, great blog Kai.

    • Thank you! It’s always nice to hear that someone actually reads this🙂 If you have checked out a few more of my posts, you’ll find I have indeed reported on the new Coolidge book (another one to watch out for is the all-new biography Amity Shlaes is writing; unfortunately, we will have to wait for 2012) and the new Museum and Education Center. As a friend of the Coolidge Foundation, I even was invited to the recent dedication… but flying over from Germany was a bit rich for my blood. I’m happy to see you are also a Coolidge enthusiast and hope you will return to my blog! Best wishes!

  2. Wow Kai, this is a great page. We are going to make a league of Coolidge blogs. Please post something on silentcal.com. We are going to have some good photos of Coolidge-iana shortly.

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