Words of Wisdom from “Silent Cal”

31 Aug

In a piece by Charles C. Johnson in City Journal, Mr. Johnson pretty much devotes the essay to quotes and interpretations of Calvin Coolidge, about whom Johnson  is readying a book for publication.  Johnson is a researcher with Breitbart News and a writer with Revere Advisors.

 Coolidge may have been “a man of few words”, but the words replayed in this essay are truly on target, even prescient.

 The full essay can be found at http://www.city-journal.org/2012/eon0830cj.html

Excerpts:    [Bolding is mine]

Coolidge .  .  . emphasized the ideal of the common good. “A true citizen of a real Republic can not exist as a segregated, unattached fragment of selfishness,” he told the delegates, “but must live as a constituent part of the whole of society in which he can secure his own welfare only as he secures the welfare of his fellow men.” In other words, we’re all in this together. Promoting the general welfare—and not the selfish interests of a few—meant promoting American principles, but this didn’t mean embracing statism. In language that sounds much like Romney on the campaign trail, Coolidge announced his own first principles:

I believe in the American Constitution. I favor the American system of individual enterprise, and I am opposed to any general extension of Government ownership and control. I believe not only in advocating economy in public expenditure, but in its practical application and actual accomplishment.

With the newly created Budget Bureau, he set about putting the country’s fiscal house in order and became the last president actually to pay down the debt, shrinking the government.

He even confessed a “sort of obsession” with government economy. “I regard a good budget as among the noblest monuments of virtue,” he explained in words that could have been said by Paul Ryan. “We can only be relieved of our present private and public burdens by refraining from private and public extravagance.” Americans should reject expenses for which there is “no commensurate return.” Taxes, contrary to what Senate majority leader Harry Reid has argued, are “not a voluntary contribution. . . . They are a stern necessity.” But when the government spends less, “it grants everybody a life pension,” which they can use “to raise the standard of existence.” Taxing less “increases the value of everybody’s property and raises the scale of everybody’s wages.” Taxing corporations would simply see them pass those costs on to everyday people. The tax that is “theoretically best” interferes with business least.

While Coolidge’s critics ahistorically claim that he was a pawn of Wall Street, he—and his secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon—actually made the tax code far more progressive, while still reducing taxes for everyone and achieving the desired economic growth. “Taxes take from everyone a part of his earnings, and force everyone to work for a certain part of his time for the government,” Coolidge said. Take less from them and they will do more. Economic growth would average 7 percent a year over the course of Coolidge’s first full term. And while in Coolidge’s day “every student knows that excessive high rates defeat their own purpose,” President Obama has yet to learn what Coolidge’s “government of common sense” taught. “Whatever cry the demagogue may make about his ability to tax the rich, at the end of the year it will always be found that the people as a whole have paid the taxes.” Good taxation follows “the straight path of justice” by only taking what the government needs and no more.

Most of all, Coolidge had a sharp sense of the limits of what government could achieve. “We harbor no delusions about securing perfection. We know that mankind is finite,” he warned his fellow Republicans. This is a particularly important lesson for Romney, whose Mr. Fix-It attitude has at times recalled Herbert Hoover, to whom Coolidge referred dismissively as a “Wonder Boy.” There may be some problems that Romney-Ryan cannot fix.

[End of excerpts]

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