Coolidge has received a bad rap from historians like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., comedian Will Rogers and the columnist H.L. Mencken. But his wisdom survives precisely because it transcends generations. At a time when people are busy looking for “new” ideas, Coolidge — whom historian Paul Johnson has called the last president of the 19th century — speaks immutable truths.
On taxes, how could any modern Republican improve on this pearl from Coolidge: “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.”
In a rebuke to the “progressives” who engage in class envy and class warfare, while seeking to redistribute other people’s wealth, Coolidge instructs: “Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.”
There’s something for the “law and order” crowd that might reduce the prison population and improve neighborhood safety: “I sometimes wish that people would put a little more emphasis upon the observance of the law than they do upon its enforcement.”
One of my personal favorites is: “Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character.” Ah, character. It was taught in Coolidge’s era. It has been largely abandoned in ours.
Maybe that’s why Coolidge warned in his July 5, 1926 speech on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence about the consequences of forgetting things that matter most: “we cannot continue to enjoy the result, if we neglect and abandon the cause.”
Yes, President Bush should lead his fellow Republicans to Vermont to study the thoughts and principles of Calvin Coolidge, though they might wish to stay out of the bookstores.