Cool with Coolidge

By Meltsner, Michael | The Nation, October 10, 1987 | Go to article overview

Cool with Coolidge


Meltsner, Michael, The Nation


Cool With Coolidge

Conservatives are growing increasingly frustrated in their efforts to find a presidential candidate who will continue Ronald Reagan's policies and leadership style. They have never much liked the front-runner, Vice President George Bush, and fear liberal tendencies in Senator Robert Dole, the leading challenger. The other candidates simply aren't electable--especially if you assume, as most Republican activists do, that the Democratic nominee will be Mario Cuomo.

Calvin Coolidge is an obvious way out of the woods. Reagan admires his brand of politics and can be expected to support him. As a former President, Coolidge plainly has the experience for the job. Voters will learn that he took over the scandal-ridden Harding Administration, calmed Congress and restored faith in government.

The only barrier to a Coolidge election is that he is dead, a circumstance that has far less political than legal significance. That's where Robert Bork comes in. Ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to decide whether a dead man can serve as President; should Bork be confirmed, he will hold the decisive swing vote. In a 1985 speech, Bork insisted that in matters such as "the powers of the President,' we are "ruled by men long dead.' For him, then, the constitutional question will turn on the original intent of the framers.

Article II of the Constitution restricts eligibility for the highest office to those persons who "have attained to the age of thirty-five years.' Significantly, nothing in the text or debates over this provision mentions death; the clear intent of the framers was to insure that the President be of sufficient maturity to meet the demands of the office. Coolidge was born in 1872, making him both eligible and the most mature candidate in the race.

Constitutionalists like Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard University might argue lamely that the Twenty-fifth Amendment renders Coolidge unfit to serve. It provides that "in the case of the . . . death' of the President, the Vice President becomes President. A strict constructionist like Bork, however, would immediately grasp that this language pertains only to death of a President while in office. Coolidge died in 1933, four years after the end of his term.

Another constitutional provision, the Twenty-second Amendment, actually supports the Coolidge claim. …

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