The Virtuous Brevity of Silent Cal
Before Ronald Reagan traveled the 16 blocks to the White House after his first inaugural address, the White House curator had, at the new presidents instruction, hung in the Cabinet room a portrait of Calvin Coolidge. The Great Communicator knew that "Silent Cal" could use words powerfully 15 of them made him a national figure because he was economical in their use, as in all things.
Were Barack Obama, Americas most loquacious president (699 first-term teleprompter speeches), capable of learning from someone with whom he disagrees, he would profit from Amity Shlaes new biography of Coolidge, who she calls "our great refrainer" with an "aptitude for brevity," as when he said, "Inflation is repudiation." She says that under his "minimalist" presidency, he "made a virtue of inaction." As he said, "It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones." During the 67 months of his presidency, the national debt, the federal budget, unemployment (3.6 percent) and even consumer prices shrank. The GDP expanded 13.4 percent.
In 1898, at 26, he won his first of 10 public offices, a seat on the City Council of Northampton, Mass. Like Reagan, Coolidge benefited from being underestimated: The letter of reference he carried to Boston when elected to Massachusetts General Assembly said, "Like the singed cat, he is better than he looks." Tougher, too. During the chaos of the 1919 Boston police strike, Gov. Coolidge electrified the nation with these 15 words: "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time."
Nine months later, Republican leaders in the famous "smoke-filled room" in Chicagos Blackstone Hotel decided to nominate for president Ohio Sen. Warren Harding, whose dreadful rhetoric ("not nostrums, but normalcy ... not surgery, but serenity") drove H.L. Mencken to rhapsodies of disgust: "It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. …