This past December the Claremont Institute convened a forum at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington to discuss the presidential election. The mood among the conservative stalwarts during the reception may have ranged from pensive to glum, but it brightened somewhat when Claremont's panelists contemplated a return to true Republican principles as advanced by the last president to slash both taxes and the federal budget — Calvin Coolidge. James Ceaser, a political scientist at the University of Virginia and a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard, said it was important to revive the "moral stigma" of debt, and added, “I want to go back to Coolidge and even McKinley." The Claremont fellow Charles Kesler, author of “I Am the Change,” a recent book denouncing President Obama and liberalism, agreed: “We’re in for a Coolidge revival.”Now watch Coolidge decry high taxes in a 1924--the first "talkie" of a president.
Indeed we are. Coolidge was a figure of sport in his own era. H. L. Mencken mocked his daily naps — "Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored" — and Dorothy Parker reportedly asked, "How could they tell?" when his death was announced. But such quips have only heightened the determination of a growing contingent of Coolidge buffs to resurrect him. They abhor the progressive tradition among Democrats (Woodrow Wilson) and Republicans (Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover) as hostile to big business and prosperity. Instead, their aim is to spread the austere doctrine of what might be called Republican Calvinism. Their liturgy is based on Coolidge’s remark "If the federal government were to go out of business, the common run of people would not detect the difference." Coolidge, the new Calvinists say, has been calumniated by liberal intellectuals for his embrace of what amounted to supply-side economics — tax cuts for the wealthy that would pay for themselves. Far from being a hapless president who set the stage for the Great Depression, they argue, he presided over a notable golden age.
This view of Silent Cal as a prophet on the right emerged during the Reagan administration. A freshly inaugurated Reagan banished Harry Truman's portrait from the Cabinet Room and replaced it with Coolidge's. As president, Reagan praised Coolidge, read his autobiography and met with Thomas Silver, the author of "Coolidge and the Historians," a pioneering attack on his liberal detractors. Bouquets to Coolidge proliferated: in 1983 Paul Johnson declared in his popular history “Modern Times” that Coolidge had presided over "the last Arcadia." Then more than a decade later the prolific business writer Robert Sobel published a tribute called “Coolidge: An American Enigma” with the Regnery press. In it, he bestowed what has become the right’s highest commendation — "the last president who believed in a passive executive branch in times of peace and prosperity."
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