07.03.2014 1

July Fourth’s other great event

Calvin_CoolidgeBy David Bozeman

Every year in this space we pay tribute to the only president born on the Fourth of July.  Calvin Coolidge served from 1923-29, and we have profiled his greatest accomplishments (slashing taxes and spending) and shared his most inspiring words (“There is no dignity quite so impressive and no independence so important as living within your means.”).

This year we would like to convey to readers the joy of discovering Calvin Coolidge on your own (as, no doubt, many of you have — we hope you share your reflections).  Unjustly forgotten, our 30th president is making somewhat of a comeback.

Amity Shlaes has written a terrific and detailed biography of the man dubbed “Silent Cal” by his contemporaries.  Youtube offers numerous clips of the author giving him his due.  Further research (the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation is a treasure trove) into both his public and private life reveals not just a brisk timeline of events and achievements but a seamless portrait of character.  In an age where spin, demographics and charisma dictate public discourse, the idea of a sullen country lawyer winning the presidency just on the strength of his old-fashioned values seems almost quaint.

The thrill of discovering Calvin Coolidge is that of visiting an America that extols — through word and deed — its founding virtues, among them, thrift, self-reliance and moral fortitude.  Coolidge was one of the last presidents who saw his role as limited, almost akin to an administrator.

The power of the federal government was once vested in the people, through Congress.  Arguably, he could have shown greater leadership for civil rights, but that charge never seems to stick against those darlings of the snooty historians:  Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, with all their progressive tendencies and hubris.

2012’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents: From Wilson to Obama takes a novel approach, grading each one solely on his fidelity to the Constitution.  Reagan earned an A-minus, while Coolidge was the only one to get an A-plus!

The wonder of Calvin Coolidge and his world is that great profundity can be minded from simplicity, and a brand of humility that is never forced but born of a deep appreciation of America’s promise.

Coolidge’s beloved sixteen year-old son, Calvin, Jr., who died unexpectedly of infection from a blister, reportedly received a letter addressing him as “First Boy.”  He politely rejected that designation, saying that it should go to a youngster who had truly distinguished himself.  Such humility is so instinctive it is not even aware of itself.  Coolidge’s life is full of such rich and poignant anecdotes and they await those who have yet to discover this great, neglected leader.

Fast forward to 2014, when individual freedom hinges on the rhetorical polish of ambitious snake oil salesmen who will spend over a billion dollars for the title of ‘President.’  That makes it hard to believe that Coolidge once remarked that his greatest achievement as chief executive was “minding my own business.”  Imagine the American renaissance possible if such a sentiment — and leader — could be found today.  That is a voyage of discovery on which we should all embark right away.

David Bozeman, former Libertarian Party Chairman, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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