They were gifted writers, and many of their books were bestsellers. And they have persuaded many Americans -- Barack Obama definitely included -- that progress means an ever bigger government
In their view, the prosperous 1920s were a binge of mindless frivolity. The Depression of the 1930s was the inevitable hangover, for which FDR administered the cure.
That's one way to see it. But there are others, and no one is doing a better job of making a counter argument than Amity Shlaes, whose 2008 book "The Forgotten Man" painted a different picture of the 1930s.
Shlaes agrees that Roosevelt's initial policies seemed to end the downward deflationary spiral. But then bigger government, higher taxes and aggressive regulation led to further recession and years of achingly slow growth. Sound familiar?
Now Shlaes has produced a book tersely titled "Coolidge." It shows the 30th president in a far different light than the antique reactionary depicted by the New Deal historians.
Calvin Coolidge began his political career during the Progressive era, a time of expanding government. But he came to national notice when that era was ending in turmoil.
It was a time of revolution in Russia and attempted revolutions elsewhere in Europe, a time of continuing war in parts of the world even after the armistice formally ended World War I.
At home, it was a time of unemployment and inflation, of bombs set off before the attorney general's house and on Wall Street, of labor union strikes in coal and other basic industries.
Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts and in charge of the Boston police when they went on strike in September 1919. The cops had legitimate grievances. But the strike was followed by nights of violence and murder, looting of department stores and shops.
Coolidge fired the striking policemen. He explained why in a telegram to labor leader Samuel Gompers. It concluded, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime."
"The time for disruption was over; in order for the next day to be better," Shlaes writes, "law must be allowed to reign now."
Coolidge became a national celebrity. The Republican bosses in the smoke-filled room picked someone else to be Warren Harding's running mate. But the convention delegates stampeded and nominated Coolidge.
That made Coolidge president on the sudden death of Harding (who comes off much better here than in the New Deal histories) in August 1923.
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