Monday, February 21, 2011

Signal Watch President's Day Profile: Calvin Coolidge

Most of you know that when it comes to Presidents, I find Theodore Roosevelt to be up one of the most fascinating (somewhere next to the "now-slipped-into-the-territory-of-mythos", like Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, I guess).  But 'ol TR gets a lot of coverage, so I won't do that here until I actually read that third volume by Morris. 

The 20th Century saw a wide array of men (well, a wide array of moneyed white men) land in the White House. From Reagan to Kennedy to FDR to Nixon to "Wild" Bill Clinton, it was a wild ride, indeed.

But who talks about Calvin Coolidge? Nobody.

Coolidge was fortunate to land in the White House between World War I , and that little political hot potato we call The Great Depression.*  Coolidge managed a Bush-43 maneuver, saying good-bye to the White House just as the economy was going to holy hell and leaving Hoover in office to make a series of increasingly bad decisions, and shrug off responsibility.  Coolidge was part of a chain of Republican presidents that is mostly dull when history isn't making you want to slap both Harding and Hoover.  Somehow, Coolidge never feels very slappable.  But he doesn't seem much of anything, when you do a little Googling.

It may explain much that Coolidge took the Presidency only after the death of President Harding, who was on a "Tour of Understanding" or some such, which was not entirely unlike Superman walking across America to "get back to the people".  Coolidge served without much in the way of scandal or notoriety, and if you think about our record since Truman, that's kind of AMAZING.

Coolidge served from 1923-29 as President, and somehow William Henry Harrison gets more ink for managing to catch a cold during his inauguration and immediately die in office (which: hubris, people).

This guy.  6 years.
Why do we not write songs about Coolidge, insist on naming airports after him, and why have conservatives not lauded Coolidge as they do Reagan? From the White House's own website:
The political genius of President Coolidge, Walter Lippmann pointed out in 1926, was his talent for effectively doing nothing
Well, to his credit, the 1920's were a pretty good time in America, if you ignore Prohibition and how much that would have put a cramp in you getting your party started. We had movies by the 1920's, phonographs, a lack of war, gangsters livening stuff up with bathtub gin, and flappers were making wearing slinky dresses and dancing and drinking a welcome idea.

The White House also says:
But no President was kinder in permitting himself to be photographed in Indian war bonnets or cowboy dress, and in greeting a variety of delegations to the White House.
So, you know: he was screwing around with disguise kits for 6 years.  Was he the Jimmy Olsen of presidents?

Now largely forgotten, the raves in the Coolidge White House were, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, "Off the hook".
Even the White House seems to struggle to figure out what this guy was actually doing 40 hours per week other than hanging about, or even to have something positive to say about the dude, but its hard to say much negative either. The reason: Coolidge is most famous for not just doing nothing, but for basically refusing to talk during his Presidency. Including (or especially) at social functions and dinner parties. He was pretty keen on just answering with a simple "yes" or "no", leading this website to postulate that Coolidge was likely an early cyborg presidential replacement.

Clearly, this lack of "shooting one's mouth off when given the slightest provocation and when nobody can stop you" is where Coolidge and I would diverge, but I kind of like the idea of the person who runs their life and presidency by remembering the old adage about "better to remain silent and let them think you a fool than to speak and remove all doubt".

In some ways, he's the ideal Tea Party guy, in that his lack of desire to see the government (ie: himself) actually do anything fits in neatly with the "less government" idea.  He was no TR when it came to using the Presidency and, by extension, the entire US, as a blunt instrument.  Coolidge, sought not to rock the boat and to do what he could to promote Capitalist ideals.  After all, he was the guy who coined the idea that "the business of America is business". He may be the Ron Swanson of Presidents.

Without trying to throw too many political grenades, I'll mention that the Democrats of the Southern States during the 1920's were not always the most interested in concepts of social justice based upon racial, ethnic and other barriers.  Republican Coolidge was of the Abraham Lincoln school of 19th Century and early-20th Century Republicans and recognized the gallant participation of African-Americans in the first World War, and acted in support of black citizens, Catholics and others who had to put up with the bigoted nonsense Americans tend to cultivate (see:  Woodrow Wilson).

On a  final note:

I read somewhere long ago, and cannot find the source, that Coolidge also liked to sneak off and hide in the bushes from his security crew, then hop out and scare them when they came looking for him. If true, then Coolidge was exactly my kind of guy.

Hmmm.  You know, I probably should have covered Taft.  That guy was probably more interesting.

More reading on Coolidge:

Wikipedia is oddly complete
Calvin Coolidge's web site (Yup)

Well, that sort of covers it.  He's not exactly John Adams, people.

*If anyone wants a name for the Depression we're sinking into now, may I recommend "Great Depression 2:  Depression Forever!"


cardboardbelts said...

Calvin Coolidge had a pet raccoon, and I believe, a pet wombat.

The League said...

It's always the quiet ones...