This just in: What you never said can still hurt you…

…or your reputation, at any rate. Amity Shlaes and George Nash have done some research into whether or not Calvin Coolidge really made the upbeat remarks about the soundness of the 1928 stock market that Herbert Hoover attributes to him in his memoirs, and which John Kenneth Galbraith requoted to lay the blame for the 1929 crash at the feet of Coolidge.Turns out he very likely didn’t make that statement – which goes some way towards absolving him, although at the same time it proves wrong Coolidge’s own aphorism that he “never had been hurt by anything he didn’t say.”

Amity Shlaes podcast

Y’all can (and should!) listen to Amity Shlaes talk about Coolidge the Budget Hawk in a recent (April 18)  Cato Institute Podcast

It’s a pleasure to listen to her, she speaks with such clarity. Among other points, she states as the central take away message re Coolidge and the budget that he actually left office with the federal budget lower than it was when he came in – no small feat, and, I would wager, one that hasn’t been repeated by any of his successors.

A note on revisionism

Amity Shlaes, whose new and exhaustively researched biography of Calvin Coolidge hit bookstore shelves last week, is sometimes described by ill-meaning reviewers as a “revisionist historian.” Intended to sound vaguely negative, this is in fact no label to be ashamed of, but rather the norm in science and scholarship. Contrary to some, no science, be it physics, psychology, or history, is ever “settled,” nor should it be, as long as new data come to light, or new interpretations can provide alternative or additional perspectives. But it’s easy to see why some may feel threatened by the revision of the trite and well-trodden – the writing of history, after all, is also a question of power. He (or she) who writes history controls the interpretation of history, and the lessons drawn from history. And all those -historians, politicans, journalists- who have staked their careers on a certain version of history are entrenched and stuck in that version. The acceptance of a new paradigm takes time. And it’s never just about the “facts,” for every interpretation has one or many alternative interpretations. But anyone with a true interest in a history that is as unbiased as it can be, and that utilizes multiple sources to construct a multifaceted view should welcome “revisionist” writing.

New Coolidge bio – the reviews keep coming in

Just a quick share of the Wall Street Journal’s new and glowing review of Amity Shlaes’ Coolidge biography.

And here is the review in Forbes.

Here’s Gene Healy at

A Vermont review in the Burlington Free Press – thanks Doug Gladstone for alerting me to his fine review!

USA Today with a fine review.

The review over at The Economist.

The NYT weighs in here.

The small Presidency – a model for our time?

Still mostly hidden behind the paywall, here’s Amity Shlaes at NRO on how Republicans have strayed from the concept of the small Presidency of Harding’s and Coolidge’s day, and why it might be time for a comeback. Being a thrifty person, I haven’t scaled that paywall to read the whole thing, but my immediate reaction to this would have to be, no way is the small Presidency coming back anytime soon – people have been so indoctrinated to invest their hopes and expectations in a savior-like, all-powerful Chief Executive. But maybe there’s hope, as that model has so demonstrably failed.

Tarring the Twenties?

In the third and final presidential debate, president Obama had a good laugh at Mitt Romney’s expense when he pointed out that while it may be true that the U.S. Navy is poised to have the smallest fleet size since 1914, the U.S. “also has less horses and bajonets.” Never mind that the U.S. has to project its power globally today, relying on the Navy for much of that job. In another scripted quip, the president stated that many of Romney’s foreign policy concepts recalled the 1980s, just as his social policy concepts were a throwback to the 1950s and his economic policies to the 1920s.

Fans of Calvin Coolidge are justly proud of his (as well as his predecessor Warren Harding’s, and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon’s) economic record during the 1920s, and I’m pleased to direct readers’ attention to a fine retort by Amity Shlaes in her Bloomberg column, where she gives a point-by-point rebuttal to the president’s attempt to tar the Twenties. I suppose the 1950s and 1980s will have to find their own defenders!

Depression-proof investing

Amity Shlaes is tweeting tidbits from Coolidge’s comings and goings as a countdown to the publication of her all-new biography of the 30th president. Yesterday, she shared that Coolidge bought shares in Standard Brands at the time of its creation by merger. The financial news media of the day touted this and other food company stocks as being depression-proof, much as stocks of food and other consumer staples firms have been thought of ever since. I’m not sure if Coolidge had a sizable or diversified stock portfolio; I expect he owned shares of New York Life, where he was a director,

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Those persistent Coolidge scholars

If you Google Coolidge Quotes, or search the wide world of WordPress blogs, the one quote that will surely come up at or near the top of the list is the one about persistence. You all know it by heart, one presumes, but here it is in its entirety:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and will always solve the problem of the human race.”

Now, in her Bloomberg column, Coolidge biographer Amity Shlaes, backed up by equally eminent scholar David Pietrusza, has shed doubt on the Coolidgean origin of these words of wisdom. Amity credits new technology, such as searchable PDF files, with the discovery that the quote had been in press years, even decades, before a New York Life Insurance Co. pamphlet attached Coolidge’s name to it in the 1930s. While the question is not settled, it appears unlikely that Coolidge is truly the originator of the phrase – but I daresay it’s been connected to him so closely in the public mind that the misattribution will prove to be “persistent.”