For those who don’t follow bloggingheads.tv regularly, their series “The DMZ” featuring liberal Bill Scher and conservative Matt Lewis in civil debate had a segment recently whereBill Scher referred to and quoted from, unfortunately, William Allen White’s Coolidge biography. The blurb says that Scher refers to Coolidge as an example of a temperamental conservative, and expressly quotes Coolidge as a civil politician who would not campaign negatively.
For the history-minded, news that president Obama appears to be mulling a possible privatization of the TVA is at least a little bit ironic – and definitively ironic is the opposition that Tennessee’s two Republican Senators are already voicing against any such proposal.
Sen. George W. Norris (photo courtesy Digital Archives. Library of Congress)
During the 1920s, the virtues of public vs. private ownership of dams and plants to harness the Tennessee River’s giant hydroelectric potential were hotly debated. Originally, the U.S. government had begun construction on two dams and two nitrate plants near Muscle Shoals in northern Alabama during WW I. When the war ended before the project was completed, the Harding administration at first sought to transfer the installation into private ownership.
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.
This blog -when it descends from the lofty heights of Coolidge scholarship into the dense fog of contemporary politics- is often critical of the current incumbent, but as the world looks towards Washington, D.C. today Jan. 21, 2013, for Barack Obama’s second inauguration, we wish him good luck and Godspeed in conducting the administration of the government these coming four years to the benefit of all.
By way of contrast to today’s pomp and circumstances, here’s a link to a segment filmed by CBS News right in Plymouth Notch, VT, to remind viewers of the memorable and unique midnight swearing-in of Calvin Coolidge. It features the spectre of Calvin Coolidge himself (impeccably impersonated by Jim Cooke, Coolidge scholar, as well as frequent and valued commenter on this blog):
Just a short note today – this post by Tim Cavanaugh at reason.com caught my eye. Why? Because in the very first sentence, he mentions Calvin Coolidge, if only by way of contrast to Barack Obama: “The way President Barack Obama’s acolytes are calling for bold action in his second term, you’d think he had been some kind of prudent Calvin Coolidge in his first.”
And, of course, because I’m wary of the laundry list of progressive pet schemes that Obama and his minions are pushing, on the back of what they construe as his “mandate” from the electorate. Post-Coolidge, presidents have often entertained grand ideas, some of them because they genuinely thought they were doing something good for the country, some very likely because they were working on their own legacy and you don’t usually get a big write-up in history books, let alone a monument on the Mall, if you’re content to merely “do the day’s work,” as was Coolidge’s wont. If Calvin Coolidge was, in the words of Amity Shlaes, “the great refrainer,” Barack Obama surely aims for the title of “the great 21st century progressive,” and the great destroyer of Ronald Reagan’s legacy. Given the perilous state the nation’s finances are in already, this could not have come at a worse time.
Calvin Coolidge hated the national debt he inherited from his pre-predecessor Woodrow Wilson, it is safe to say. Like Warren Harding before him, he made it the top priority of his administration to sharply reduce the debt, scrimping and saving a couple of million here and there to produce budget surpluses year after year in the process. It also is safe to say that he would be aghast at the fiscal mess the country is in today, a mess caused by Democratic and Republican administrations and Congressional majorities.
While reporting on the Fiscal Cliff negotiations, commentators have chosen to focus on the supposedly catastrophic mix of tax increases and “draconian” spending cuts going over the cliff will entail. Well, I hope I’m not taking too great liberties with his legacy when I say I firmly believe that Calvin Coolidge would be the first to go over the cliff with flags flying, because it is precisely the dose of bitter medicine the U.S. needs to wean itself off profligate spending. Coolidge was no fundamentalist when it came to taxes, and I think he would also be the first to agree that in the present situation selective tax increases will need to be part of the package to reduce the staggering deficit.
So, in closing this blog post and this year, and while we still don’t know if the wheelers and dealers in Washington D.C. will wheel and deal themselves out of going over the cliff (still the likeliest outcome, I’m afraid), I would like to call out to them what I think would be Calvin Coolidge’s and Andrew Mellon’s view – do your job, swallow the pill, go over the cliff, get your fiscal house in order. It may be the best thing to happen to the country in a long time.
2013 is shaping up to be a good year for the reputation of the man some have called America’s most underrated, if not actually forgotten, president. Just like Amity Shlaes’ long awaited new biography, writer Charles C. Johnson’s new book on why Coolidge is still significant comes out a little too late for Christmas… but you can pre-order and gift-wrap the voucher!
Reader David W alerts me to the upcoming (presumably also in 2013) new book by Coolidge scholar David Pietrusza. Looks like I really need to add a new Coolidge shelf to my bookcase!