August 8, 2007

Calvin Coolidge, Movie Star

Marc Comtois

Believe it or not, there has never been a movie made about Calvin Coolidge.

[Cue laughtrack.]

OK, that is ENTIRELY believable. Over at Spinning Clio I post about a new documentary that looks at the presidency of "Cool Cal" and attempts to revise some of the impressions we have about him. In short, it is proof that "historical revisionism" is far more than the liberal shibboleth that so many assume. (OK, done preaching). So, if you're so inclined, check it out. (We've also mentioned him around here from time to time).

In the meantime, here are a couple Coolidge timeless quotes that show that conservatives could learn a lot from our 30th President.

  • "We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen.

    It is on that side of life that it is desirable to put the emphasis at the present time. If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself."

  • "Real reform does not begin with a law, it ends with a law. The attempt to dragoon the body when the need is to convince the soul will end only in revolt... It is time to supplement the appeal to law, which is limited, with an appeal to the spirit of the people, which is unlimited."
  • "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp... Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole."
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    How about his advice on stock?

    "Buy a stock. If it goes up, sell it. If it don't go up, don't buy it."

    (That may not be a legitimate quote, but I've always appreciated it)

    Posted by: brassband at August 8, 2007 6:29 PM

    Another example of a do nothing president. Great!

    "The chief business of the American people is business." 1925. 4 years later he led us into the Great Depression.

    "War is my last choice." George Bush, 2002.

    ..... Well, you know the rest

    Posted by: Pat Crowley at August 9, 2007 6:41 AM

    "4 years later he led us into the Great Depression."

    No, no, no. He ENGINEERED the Great Depression. 'Cause, you know, he wanted a lot of people to suffer.

    Posted by: SusanD at August 9, 2007 7:48 AM

    Gee, Pat, thanks for the opening. If you follow the links, you'll discover the filmmaker is a Democrat and he has this to say about the infamous "business" quote:

    Litmus tests seem to be in vogue these days. Here's one you can apply. Any historian or commentator who quotes Coolidge as saying "the business of America is business," either is ill informed or has a hidden agenda. That misquote comes from an address President Coolidge gave before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1925. Speaking on "The Press Under a Free Government," Coolidge noted that American newspapers serve a double purpose. They bring knowledge and information to the electorate and, at the same time, play an important role in the business community through their news and advertising departments. Is there cause for alarm in this dual relationship?

    After analysis of possible conflicts and compromises, Coolidge concluded that we probably are better served by a press which has a working acquaintance with commerce. "After all," he said, "the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing, and prospering in the world."

    But there was a more important point. The President went on to observe that:/

    The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction... I could not truly criticize the vast importance of the counting room, but my ultimate faith I would place in the idealism of the editorial room of the American newspaper.

    Historians who misquote the lesser point, usually are trying to prove Coolidge a Babbitt. In doing so we learn more about the historian than we do about Coolidge.

    It may not be a misquote, per se, but it certainly leaves out all of the context. If you follow the link I provide in this comment, you'll see that the filmmaker has also provided a few examples why Democrats could take something away from Coolidge (and Harding, for that matter).

    And about the '29 Crash....

    Coolidge advocated "rigid economy in government" and dramatic reductions in taxes. Historians continually state that the tax cuts of the 1920's reversed the progressive policies of Woodrow Wilson. Far from it. Exemptions increased so much that by 1927 almost 98 percent of the American people paid no income tax whatsoever. By the time Coolidge left office in March 1929, wealthy people earning over $25,000 a year -- a handsome salary then -- paid 93 percent of the tax load. During Wilson's last year in office they had paid only 59 percent.

    It is easy now to fault Coolidge for his unwillingness to seek control of expanding credit or regulation of the securities industry prior to the stock market crash of October 1929. But even if he had chosen to translate his private qualms into public action, it is doubtful that he would have been able to gather necessary support from Congress or the American people for enactment of regulations and reforms adequate to stem the speculative tide. And, in the unlikely event that Coolidge had secured congressional enactment of the necessary machinery, it is even less likely that the Supreme Court would have upheld its constitutionality in the legal context of the pre-depression period. Franklin Roosevelt had a hard enough time of it five years later in the midst of the depression.

    Posted by: Marc Comtois at August 9, 2007 9:31 AM
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