Now then: One of the Twentieth Century’s best, and least recognized, Presidents may well have been Calvin Coolidge. “Silent Cal” pushed economic policies intended to favor producers, and those policies worked. The American Spectator has a piece by Amity Shlaes that’s worth reading. Excerpt:
“Silent Cal” was his nickname. But like many shy powerhouses, he was only selectively shy. When it came to businesses’ contributions to American welfare, he spoke up often, with none of the inhibitions of modern Republicans. “The man who builds a factory builds a temple,” and “the man who works there worships there,” Coolidge said at one point before his presidency, an image so brash one can scarcely imagine it being offered at CPAC today.
While president, Silent Cal was just as bold. He not only praised business loudly — “The chief business of the American people is business” — but also showcased it and its achievements. The Rotarian in Coolidge was his greatness. With decades of rubber-chicken banquet speeches behind him, he understood the importance of not only large tax laws but also the small gestures. When he inaugurated the first national Christmas tree near the White House in 1923, that tree shone with new electric lights, marking the president’s appreciation of the new utilities industry. To keep hope alive in every unskilled worker, Coolidge also took the unconventional step — unconventional for the Grand Old Party — of increasing federal spending on education.
The GOP today should take a hard look at Silent Cal’s policies. Except, I would say, for the education bit; in the first place, I’m coming around to the idea that the current education establishment is irrevocably broken, and besides, there is no Constitutional justification for the Imperial City to spend even a penny on education. But the Coolidge plan was successful:
Coolidge’s plan worked, and he won his wager. Less taxed and less regulated, Americans took to doing with enthusiasm. The economy grew so fast that they also benefited: The 1920s were the years when many citizens first saw electricity in their homes, even those Christmas lights, or drove their first Model T and Model A. Around the time Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby, the six-day work week dropped to five days in many places. One can summarize the economic gift that Coolidge policy gave the nation in a single laden word: “Saturday.”
Coolidge’s Presidency was one that gave much of industrial America the form it still holds today, a hundred years later. As Amity Shlaes notes, the five-day workweek, electrification of homes, the rise of the automobile, all happened in large part during the “Roaring Twenties,” made possible by the policies of Calvin Coolidge. It’s a shame now that the current GOP isn’t following his example.