Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Modern Lessons from Coolidge

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Modern Lessons from Coolidge

Article excerpt

British historian Paul Johnson was in Washington at the beginning of the month to address a gathering at the Library of Congress on the subject "Calvin Coolidge and the Last Arcadia." Sounds dry, doesn't it? Not something you'd choose over, say, the Beatles reunion.

But Johnson's visit was timely, coming as it did in the heat of the war between the Clinton administration and the Republican Congress over whether and how to balance the budget. "We have too much legislation by clamor, by tumult and by pressure," said Coolidge more than seven decades ago. Who could disagree?

In normal times, Coolidge believed, minimal government must be the norm. He spoke of "restoring Lincoln's principles" by insisting on government of the people, for and by the people. "The chief task before us," he said, "is to repossess the people of their government and their property."

Property and profit, he believed, were keys to national prosperity. When government attacked such things, it weakened the nation and government itself. "Don't expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong," he said in his 1914 inaugural address as president of the Massachusetts Senate. It remains a powerful rebuke to the current welfare state, which believes in punishing "the rich" by ever-higher taxation to subsidize the poor and thus perpetuate their poverty.

"The normal must take care of themselves," Coolidge believed. "Self-government means self-support. Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing. History reveals no civilized people among whom there is not a highly educated class and large aggregation of wealth. Large profits mean large payrolls." It was essential, he believed, to judge political morality not by its intentions, but by its effects. The welfare state and big government are dismal failures.

In his 1925 Inaugural Address as president, Coolidge said, "Economy is idealism in its most practical form." Later that year, in an address in New York, he said, "Government and business should remain independent and separate; one directed from Washington, the other from New York. …

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