…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.”
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.
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.
And here is the review in Forbes.
Here’s Gene Healy at reason.com.
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.
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.
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!