Paul Greenberg

Why not? It worked for Calvin Coolidge, who "exalted inactivity to a fine art," to quote the historian Samuel Eliot Morison. It was Walter Lippmann who summed up the Coolidge style, or lack of it, as "active inactivity." The result? Peace, prosperity and a renewal of national confidence after the scandals that his ill-fated predecessor, Warren G. Harding, left behind on his sudden demise.

Having inherited all these scandals, Silent Cal had the wisdom to just stand aside and let justice take its course. He neither launched a witch hunt nor issued sweeping pardons like the one Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon after Watergate. The country was given time to heal and the economy was left to prosper on its own.

Calvin Coolidge would leave office at the height of his popularity. "I do not choose to run for President in 1928," he declared in August of 1927 -- in the course of a three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota, far away from Washington's miasmic air.

At the end of his presidency, Calvin Coolidge would leave behind a united nation and an economy marked by strong growth, little inflation, lower unemployment and a smaller national debt. Who wouldn't settle for that now?

Yes, after Coolidge would come the Crash, but those who would lay it at his door would do better to look at the Fed's tight-money policies.

Naturally the intellectuals of his day derided him. In a mock tribute, H. L. Mencken described Coolidge as the "greatest man ever to come out of Plymouth, Vermont," and said his chief feat during "five years and seven months in office was to sleep more than any other president."

Of course that was before Ronald Reagan, another great napper in the White House. He, too, would leave the country much better than he found it, which was in the middle of the Carter Malaise.

Let it be noted that even Mr. Mencken had to give Coolidge his due. "There were no thrills while he reigned," wrote the Sage of Baltimore, "but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas and he was not a nuisance." Which beats having nothing but ideas, none of which seem to work.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 

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