Politics

Biographer explains why Calvin Coolidge doesn’t rate well in presidential rankings

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Jamie Weinstein
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      Jamie Weinstein

      Jamie Weinstein is Senior Editor of The Daily Caller. His work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, the New York Daily News and The Washington Examiner, among many other publications. He also worked as the Collegiate Network Journalism Fellow at Roll Call Newspaper and is the winner of the 2011 "Funniest Celebrity in Washington" contest. A regular on Fox News and other cable news outlets, Weinstein received a master’s degree in the history of international relations from the London School of Economics in 2009 and a bachelor's degree in history and government from Cornell University in 2006. He is the author of the political satire, "The Lizard King: The Shocking Inside Account of Obama's True Intergalactic Ambitions by an Anonymous White House Staffer."

Calvin Coolidge consistently ranks in the latter half of presidential rankings, but a biographer of the 30th president believes he deserves to be ranked much higher.

“Coolidge is forgotten because his sort of economics is forgotten,” Amity Shlaes, author of the recently released book “Coolidge,” explained to The Daily Caller in an email. “We haven’t taught stability, or hard money, or small state econ since before World War II.”

Shlaes, who authored a New York Times bestselling book on the Great Depression, “The Forgotten Man,” and now directs the Four Percent Growth Project at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, says she greatly admires the subject of her latest tome, and believes he is among the top 10 best presidents in American history.

“He vetoed like crazy, 50 times, and even bills that served constituencies dear to his heart: fishermen, or farmers,” she said.

“He saw the vanity of office clearly, and worked hard to suppress vanity in his own case.”

While President Barack Obama may be no fan of the sequester, the man who occupied his office nine decades ago would likely have been all for it, said Shlaes.

“He would call for a rollback,” she said, when asked whether Coolidge would have supported reforming or eliminating Medicare and Social Security if he were alive today.

“He would say ‘sequester away.’ Why? Not because he was cruel, but because he thought government ought to do what it said it would do.”

See below TheDC’s full interview with Shlaes about her book, what politicians she believes are carrying on Coolidge’s legacy and much more:

What propelled you to write the book?

The story of the 1930s, the subject of “The Forgotten Man,” is really a story of “how they broke it” — the it being the economy. In the 1920s the story is the other way. The economy was essentially broken after World War I. So the bio of the 1920s, and the bio of Harding and Coolidge, is the bio of “how they fixed it.”

What did Coolidge do as president to earn your admiration as a hero?

He vetoed like crazy, 50 times, and even bills that served constituencies dear to his heart: fishermen, or farmers. He saw the vanity of office clearly, and worked hard to suppress vanity in his own case. There’s a famous story in which a senator tried to jolly Coolidge by flattering him and pointing to the White House, saying, “I wonder who lives in that pretty house?” “Nobody,” Coolidge replied, “they just come and go.”

Didn’t he support the minimum wage at one point in his career, and tariffs? How did that square with his anti-regulation ethos?

Coolidge had a long career, and held office nearly every year of it. While a younger man he supported many progressive ventures, including wage increases, and, for example, as governor signed a Massachusetts bill limiting the hours women and children might work (1919). But the older Coolidge got the less progressive he became. This was true for two reasons. While a young man, he still believed in progressive ideas — he grew up, politically, under the star of progressivism, Theodore Roosevelt. But experience suggested to Coolidge that too much law was not even good for the disadvantaged. The second reason for the general shift in Coolidge was his move from state to national government. Coolidge was a “state progressive” — he thought states could and should get involved in social issues, but the national government should not. So as a national leader he turned away from national legislation that he might endorse if the same statute were written for a single state.

On tariffs, he supported them, and he was wrong.