Calvin Coolidge, our most understated president, was also one of our most underrated presidents, syndicated columnist and bestselling author Amity Shlaes said Wednesday at The Heritage Foundation on Wednesday.

Today’s lawmakers can learn a lot from Coolidge’s approach, said Shlaes, author of a new biography of the 30th president:

If you want to know only one thing about Coolidge it is this, After those 67 months when he packed up went on the train back to New England, the federal budget was lower than before.

Coolidge–named by Heritage’s Joe Postell as “an intellectual and political forefather of modern American conservatism”–was devoted to cutting taxes and reducing spending. When Coolidge assumed office, the top marginal tax rate was 56 percent. Coolidge managed to lower the top rate to 25 percent to promote growth. Not even Ronald Reagan was able to bring the top rate that low.

He he even had a pair of living metaphors to help him:

They had lion cubs in the White House and they were a gift from South Africa. And The President always wanted to be sure that tax cuts and budget cuts went together and since the lion cubs were twins he thought that was a great way to talk about it. And he named the lion cubs Tax Reduction and Budget Bureau.

Coolidge, Shlaes said, was often  melancholy and in need of cheering up. Once, when he was walking past the White House, a senator tried to cheer him up by  pointing to the White House and saying “Look at that pretty white house. I wonder who lives in there?” To which the president responded, “Nobody does, they just come and go.”

Shlaes explains just how insightful this remark was to his temperament: “That’s the sense of respect for office. It’s more important than ‘me.’ He believed in service.”

When Coolidge ran for reelection in 1924, he won with an absolute majority despite the progressive party taking seventeen percent of the vote. Voters rewarded Coolidge for having the courage to cut taxes, cut spending, and say “no.”

While Coolidge understood that crises were needed to pass dramatic legislation, he passed up the opportunity. He worked very hard to keep the country out of crisis mode. His penchant for sniffing out drama, and avoiding it, helped build his reputation as our most taciturn president. Some journalists thought this reflected a level of stupidity, but Walter Lippman was one of the few journalists that recognized what it really meant. Shlaes quoted Lippman on Silent Cal’s silence:

“The White House is extremely sensitive to the first symptom of any desire on the part of congress or executive departments to do something. The skill with which Mr. Coolidge applies his wet blanket is technically marvelous. There has never been Mr. Coolidge’s equal in the art of deflating interest.”

You can watch the full talk here.

Do you think presidents should try to emulate Calvin Coolidge?

Comments (13)

Mary Jane Casablanca - February 22, 2013

Yes, presidents should try to follow the examples of those who have been successful in office in cutting spending, debt, and taxes in order to provide more prosperity for the people. Many talk about it, but few actually have done it. It’s time to elect a real Conservative!

Grace Tillinghast - February 22, 2013

Yes, but few have the guts to do what is good for the country!

Donald R. beaver - February 22, 2013

Yes, all presidents would do well to keep costs and taxes to the absolute minimum, and just stay out of the way and allow the country to flourish.

Jerald Morton - February 22, 2013

The Fraudulant President (Barry Soetoro) from Indonesia should try to learn the United States Constitution and follow it. The poor dumb man is out of his league.

It’ll be interesting to see how long America declines before the truth is told.

Donna Rott - February 22, 2013

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a President with the temperament of Calvin Coolidge! We could certainly use a President who doesn’t spend us into oblivion.

Linda G. White - February 22, 2013

I do believe presidents should try to emulate Calvin Coolidge. We need someone who is fiscally conservative in the WH, to reduce government and government spending, giving the public sector the opportunity to grow their businesses without government meddling in everything and with senseless regulations that do no good but are a money and time drain.

Kim Peacy - February 22, 2013

If History was taught as it really happened to our children and students in college, it would be a beginning towards moving this next generation backs towards President Coolidge’s American Conservatisim. It would get rid of the nanny state, it would force people to have to work instead of waiting on their government check every month, it would bring back the balance the Founding Fathers instituted in the constitution, between the three sections of govenment

mark nigro - February 23, 2013

Obama will never emulate Coolidge it is diametrically opposed to the modern democrat party philosophy. Larger government, larger taxes, less personal freedom and a strategy of useing fear and sensationalism to move public opinion. It is a sad day that we have let this country stoop so low to have a president and his party manipulate and overreach the powers outlined in the Constitution.

Mark - February 23, 2013

Conservativism and more importantly biblical values are being pushed aside for microwave and candy coated answers. Less taxes, school voucher programs, more promotion and support for traditional families are all needed. Calvin Coolidge is a good start, but what is especially needed is for our nation to turn back to Christ in word and in deed.

Holly Chapo - February 23, 2013

Well, if what he did worked, then presidents should emulate him. With the current president, that is highly unlikely.

Jeff Yetter - February 23, 2013

I would dearly LOVE to have the current occupant emulate Coolidge. PARTICULARLY the “Silent” part….

J - February 24, 2013

Maybe O should emulate Coolidge but O won’t. Why? He can’t be held accountable for anything. O is constantly campaigning so he can be perceived as the “savior” of the American middle class while, instead, he’s destroying it. O knows this – he doesn’t care. Power and control of everything are what he wants.

james - February 24, 2013

I don’t know but they should plainly read the constitution do what they pledge todo, uphold it without reading into it

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