Stick to doing the day’s work

A taj of madness

People who travel the world are drawn to the vast, the splendid, the unique edifices that serve as mementos to the rulers (tyrants, really) of yesteryear. Splendid though they are, the pyramids, palaces and temples never fail to remind me of the backbreaking, often murderous, toil and the extortion of taxes that went into their construction, and I’m surely not the only one to experience mixed feelings when contemplating these timeless wonders. Leaving aside for a moment those marvels that were created to celebrate one deity or another, most of the rest were built with the immortal, even eternal, glory of individual kings, rulers, or princes in mind.

And while we may think that we have long left behind those dark days, the democratically elected rulers of today have their “place in history” in mind as much as any despot of old. Their place in history may rest on a breakthrough piece of legislation, never mind its cost to future generations. It may rest on a celebrated foreign treaty, never mind the long-term consequences. It may rest on an “investment” in public rail, or solar energy, that is in tune with the zeitgeist but will never pay back its cost. In Europe, it may rest on keeping an increasingly shaky union of very different countries together at all cost. And sometimes, in a faint of echo of olden days, it may rest on grandiose buildings schemes whose cost rivals that of medieval palaces, even if they can’t begin to match their historic antecedents’ beauty and craftsmanship.

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Calvin Coolidge – an appreciation

Calvin Coolidge

Reacting to the momentous event of his being sworn in as president following the sudden death of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge deadpanned “I believe I can swing it.” In the minds of his contemporaries, he did indeed swing it, but in the intervening decades, most historians have frowned on the Republican. Several times over the last half-century, the father-son duo of Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. and Jr. have asked their fellow professors to rank America’s chief executives. These academics always deem Coolidge “below average”–in other words, they think he’s about as accomplished as the dithering Millard Fillmore. Cool Cal didn’t do much better in a 1982 Chicago Tribune poll of 49 “distinguished historians”; they placed him immediately behind Jimmy Carter. In the 1997 Ridings-McIver survey of historians and former politicians, Coolidge came in at number 33, right below Richard Nixon. It may be said that he was unfairly treated by historians almost from the day he left office.

Yet Coolidge deserves better. Continue reading