Very little attention is being paid to the holiday today, except as a traffic annoyance. When I was a child, we still celebrated Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and Washington’s birthday (February 22). Since the holidays were combined and made into a long weekend, like most other American holidays, interest has declined in the subject. It has been for many years the weekend of the Midwinter yacht races in southern California, so I enjoyed it as much as anyone.
Amity Schlaes’ new biography of Coolidge, which has been delayed for nearly a year from the original date promised, is now out and I have begun reading it. It has also attracted a hostile review in the New York Times by Jacob Heilbrunn author of such profound works as God Bless Bernie Sanders, an encomium on the Socialist Senator from the “people’s republic of Vermont”, as it is known in New Hampshire, and another tiresome attack on Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife.
Mr Heilbrunn does not seem to be an economist and I am not certain of his qualifications to criticize President Coolidge, other than the obvious invitation by the New York Times.
James Ceaser, a political scientist at the University of Virginia and a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard, said it was important to revive the “moral stigma” of debt, and added, “I want to go back to Coolidge and even McKinley.” The Claremont fellow Charles Kesler, author of “I Am the Change,” a recent book denouncing President Obama and liberalism, agreed: “We’re in for a Coolidge revival.”
Indeed we are. Coolidge was a figure of sport in his own era. H. L. Mencken mocked his daily naps — “Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored” — and Dorothy Parker reportedly asked, “How could they tell?” when his death was announced. But such quips have only heightened the determination of a growing contingent of Coolidge buffs to resurrect him. They abhor the progressive tradition among Democrats (Woodrow Wilson) and Republicans (Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover) as hostile to big business and prosperity. Instead, their aim is to spread the austere doctrine of what might be called Republican Calvinism.
Mr Heilbrunn seems to consider debt a good thing, if one can judge from his rhetoric.
No one, however, is offering as silky a defense of Coolidge as Amity Shlaes. Shlaes, whose new biography is blurbed by Representative Paul Ryan as a “must-read,” has always had a deft finger on the conservative pulse. Her previous book — the best seller “The Forgotten Man,” which assailed both Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt for perpetuating the Great Depression through big-government activism — was described in 2009 by Politico as an essential text for House Republicans, who were, it said, “tearing through . . . ‘The Forgotten Man’ like soccer moms before book club night.”
Aside from the snide tone, he seems to be about right here. It is high time Republican Congressmen began to wonder why the 1920s were so prosperous and the 1930s so dismal. I would submit that the 20s resemble the 1990s and the 30s resemble the present day. What no one of Mr Heilbrunn’s persuasion seems to comprehend is that there was a severe crash and recession in 1920-21 after World War I ended and Wilson’s regime of Progressive legislation left a hangover. How was this steep recession ended so quickly ?
I expect Schlaes’ book to be informative. I do wonder if the delay in publication was caused by some rewriting in order to add more information about Barack Obama’s recreation of the Roosevelt Depression.
Like the Bourbons, Mr Heilbrunn has learned nothing and forgotten nothing about the economic history of this past century.
The bogus nostrums that Coolidge touted have directly led either to enormous deficits during the Reagan era or to outright catastrophe during the Bush era. Shlaes never stops to ponder the abundant literature chafing at and exposing the conformity and avarice of the Roaring Twenties, but the prosperity offered by Calvinism has always proved as elusive as the promise of the green light that Jay Gatsby watches at the end of Daisy’s dock. Conservatives may be intent on excavating a hero, but Coolidge is no model for the present. He is a bleak omen from the past.
It never occurs to Mr Heilbrunn. and other Obama supporters, that the coming financial events will make Reagan and Bush’s alleged sins seem like a golden era we will never be able to recover.