Eisenhower, Coolidge, Daniels – beloved reluctant candidates?

In what has been called “Broder’s Law,” the late David Broder stated that anyone who is prepared to do what you have to do to become president shouldn’t be allowed to be president. And truly, in an ideal world, ability, not ambition, should be the decisive factor in determining who should govern.

These days more so than in the past, however, it seems that politicians have to engage in near-constant campaigning to attain and then keep public office. And while we the voters realize and have come to expect this, we also regret and despise it; we yearn for the candidate who is reluctant, ideally someone who already has made their mark in a non-political field, has accomplished something and could enjoy the fruits of his or her success, and only through the great clamor of the man in the street is talked into running for office.

Yes, we like to see some reluctance on the part of politicians, as described well by Irving Berlin in the song “They Like Ike” from the musical “Call Me Madam”, the song that became something of a campaign song for Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“They like Ike, and Ike is good on a mike;

they like Ike, but Ike says he don’t wanna.”

“That makes Ike they kind of fella they like,

and what’s more, they seem to think he’s gonna.”

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The missing hero?

My favorite putative GOP presidential candidate, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels slightly disappointed me the other day… when asked, in the 5th segment of his UncommonKnowledge interview, about his heroes in U.S. history, he failed to name Calvin Coolidge. He also did not name the two presidents he served, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

He DID name George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt (“with reservations”) and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

While I wouldn’t presume to edit that list, I certainly think Coolidge is a fine role model, if not a hero, to any responsible candidate. And I am a little nonplussed that a military theme does appear to run through that list of heroes.

Peggy Noonan on Daniels-as-Coolidge

Has Peggy Noonan been reading my blog? I suppose it’s just an instance of great minds thinking alike (said he, modestly). At any rate, former Reagan speechwriter, author, and columnist Peggy Noonan does make the Coolidge-Daniels link I ventured recently, singling out recent speeches by governors Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie as particularly important and memorable.

We’ll have to wait and see if all this is mere talk with no substance. But I feel the rising popularity of “tough love” governors such as Daniels, Christie, and now apparently Wisconsin’s Walker may be an indication that a sea change in the direction of more austerity is on its way.

Update: Michael Gerson at the Washington Post also discovers a Coolidge-like coolness about Mitch Daniels 🙂

The charisma of competence

It would be something of an overstatement to say that Calvin Coolidge exuded charisma. He was unprepossessing and unobtrusive, fading into the background of cabinet meetings during the Harding presidency, and while he was a reasonably good speaker (especially on radio, a medium made for him), he was no spellbinder or “great communicator.” At least in part, his rise to the Presidency may be attributed to luck; having made it to the Vice Presidency, much to the annoyance of party bigwigs, they were plotting to get rid of him in time for Harding’s reelection campaign in 1924, and it was his predecessor’s untimely death that made possible the final step up the ladder to the nation’s highest office. Even so, he was by no means a shoo-in for 1924 and had to move fast and decisively to cement his hold onto power.

Once in office, he was able to win over his party and the nation by his personality and his competence – but it is doubtful that he would have been given the chance even to attain that office if not for a string of lucky breaks. While the obsession with outward appearance, i.e. presidential looks and demeanor, may not have been as much of a factor in the 1920s as it is today, people did remark on how much like a president Harding looked, while no one ever said as much about Coolidge. His charisma, or lack of it, alone would never have carried him to the White House, especially as his message of economy and efficiency in government, although appropriate to the times, was not exactly a shining vision to excite and rally the voters.

To segue to the political scene of today, should he decide to run, will Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels be able to win over the party faithful and the nation on the strength of his “charisma of competence,” as George Will charitably described it?

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Mitch Daniels – the Coolidgean candidate?

For a blog that normally focuses on Calvin Coolidge, I have sneaked in a number of mentions of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels lately. I was going to be all defensive about it, but on second thought I don’t think there’s a reason to be.

Because for someone who has been following U.S. politics from afar for more years than I care to recount, Mitch Daniels comes closer than any other prominent politician of either party in recent decades to the Coolidge mold, and that includes Ronald Reagan. In the years following the First World War, when the national debt hit record highs, Coolidge focused laser-like on reducing government spending, using the savings to pay back the debt and to reduce taxes. For numerous reasons, not all of which were of his own doing and some of which are eminently excusable, Reagan cut taxes first, but never seriously got around to cutting spending.The concept was “starve the beast“, but the beast was still getting fatter, as William Niskanen has observed and empirically demonstrated.

Coolidge favored the term “constructive economy”, indicating his intention not merely to make every tax dollar sweat, but also to be more innovative. And indeed, many times a crisis or budget crunch has precipitated creative and innovative ways to get by or even get better results while spending less. I see Gov. Daniels as just the right man for an update of this approach today.

Gov. Daniels appears to be inching closer to declaring his candidacy (and here), even while naming valid obstacles – most important among them his wife’s reservations about the grueling race and the impaired quality of life for himself and his family during, and especially after a successful run. Should he decide not to run, we who see him as ideally qualified, will have to respect that decision. As long as he hasn’t made that decision, I’ll keep hoping…and occasionally using this tiny corner of the world wide interwebs to tout him and his program 😉

Update: excellent speech given by Gov. Daniels at CPAC…love the phrase “morbidly obese government”!


Stay tuned… regular COOLIDGE blogging will resume shortly 🙂

Pecking away at waste and extravagance

I have a sense that after decades of budgetary profligacy, America may be in the mood for more economy and efficiency in government, exemplified by leaders such as Governors Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie who are showing an almost Coolidgean willingness to take on spending excesses.

I haven’t tallied up the numbers and don’t know whether our situation is similar to, or possibly even exceeds, the fiscal calamity America found itself in after World War I caused an almost 20-fold increase in the national debt. In other posts I have begun to report on the efforts by presidents Harding and Coolidge, and their respective Directors of the Budget, to instill a sense of purpose and urgency at all levels of the federal bureaucracy but can’t resist adding a little item on General Lord, second Director of the Budget, taken from the book The Office of Management and Budget and the Presidency, 1921 – 1979, by Larry Berman:

Lord actually checked employees’ desks for excessive use of official stationery, paper clips, and other government supplies. He also engaged in such quaint-sounding ploys as establishing a “Two Per Cent Club” for agency heads who trimmed that amount off their estimates, a “One Per Cent Club” reserved for the less efficient, and the “Loyal Order of Woodpeckers,” whose motto read: “All hail to the Loyal Order of Woodpeckers, whose persistent tapping away at waste will make cheerful music in government offices and workshops the coming year.”

Quaint as this may sound to the author of those lines, I can’t help but feel that it would be nice to hear that tap-tap-tapping sound emanate from government offices today – they sure would have their work cut out for them!

Please see also this more substantial post on the Business Organization of the Government.

Meet the Fi$cy – a new award for fiscal responsibility

I like to think that if Calvin Coolidge were around today, or if this particular award had been around back in the 1920s, the 30th president would have been a shoo-in as a recipient of the Fi$cy Award, intended to honor elected officials who are leading the way in promoting fiscal responsibility and government accountability. But I’m sure Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and particularly Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) are worthy first-time contemporary recipients. Make sure you check out the Fi$cy website!

And here’s Gov. Daniels’ acceptance speech… I think Coolidge would approve.