Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Coolidge and the Zen of Politics

Expand Messages
  • Ram Lau
    Coolidge and the Zen of Politics: How An Aloof, Reticent and Austere Man Achieved Success in Politics By Hendrik Booraem V Hendrick Boornem V earned a Ph.D. in
    Message 1 of 3 , Sep 6, 2004
    • 0 Attachment
      Coolidge and the Zen of Politics: How An Aloof, Reticent and Austere
      Man Achieved Success in Politics
      By Hendrik Booraem V

      Hendrick Boornem V earned a Ph.D. in history at Johns Hopkins. His
      The Provincial: Calvin Coolidge and His World, 1885-1895, was
      published in 1994. He has written similar studies of the adolescent
      years of James A. Garfield and Andrew Jackson and is currently
      working on Gerald R. Ford.


      ---------------------------------------------------------------------
      -----------

      The central problem of Calvin Coolidge's career has never been
      more clearly stated than by an Amherst classmate of his, Jay
      Stocking. In a letter to Coolidge's biographer Claude Fuess,
      reminiscing about college days sixty years earlier, Stocking
      wrote: "I was not one of those who expected Coolidge to have any
      spectacular career. I did not think he would become famous. The last
      place in the world I should have expected him to succeed was
      politics. He lacked small talk, and he was never known, I suspect,
      to slap a man on the back. He rarely laughed. He was anything but a
      mixer. The few who got into personal contact with him had to go the
      whole way."1 Stocking's account of Coolidge's behavior is echoed by
      many other Amherst classmates; but the arresting statement in it,
      the one I intend to focus on, is the offhand comment: "The last
      place in the world I should have expected him to succeed was
      politics."

      In the 1960s, the political scientist James David Barber in his
      book on twentieth-century American presidents pigeonholed Coolidge
      as what he called a "passive-negative" Chief Executive--one who
      spent relatively little time on the duties of the job and who got
      relatively little satisfaction from it. He then restated Stocking's
      observation in his own academic terms: "The factors are consistent--
      but how are we to account for the man's political role-taking? Why
      is someone who does little in politics and enjoys it less there at
      all?" 2

      That is the question I would like to consider for a few minutes
      this morning: why Coolidge was in politics at all. Stocking's
      observation was right: Coolidge did find contact with other people
      uncongenial, and politicking did not come easily to him. But
      Barber's question, I will argue, does have an answer: there were
      satisfactions for Coolidge in politics, and he put considerable
      effort into attaining them.

      There can be no doubt that Coolidge experienced extreme
      discomfort in trying to deal socially with strangers, or people he
      did not know well. His inability to make small talk, legendary
      around Washington, earned him the nickname "Silent Cal" and gave
      rise to many well-known anecdotes. The unspoken premise of these
      stories, some of them very funny, was that reticence was a strategy
      Coolidge adopted because it suited him to do so. This was a
      misstatement. There was nothing voluntary about it; Coolidge found
      social contact excruciating.

      To his friend and admirer, the Boston businessman Frank
      Stearns, who had been urging him to broaden his acquaintance and
      meet more people, Coolidge once told a story so revealing of his
      true feelings that almost every biographer has felt compelled to
      include it in one version or another. "When I was a boy," Coolidge
      told Stearns, "there were perhaps fifty inhabitants of Plymouth. I
      knew them all, of course. But if I was aware that one of them
      happened to be in my mother's kitchen, it was a little short of
      torture for me to go in. At the age of twelve, I made up my mind
      that I must overcome this feeling. Gradually I did, but some of it
      still stays with me."3 In other words, his shyness had been torture
      to him as a boy; now it was less than torture, perhaps only
      discomfort. But it was still there. And he said this while he was
      Vice President.

      Intense shyness, according to students of the subject, is "a
      subjective and entirely horrifying experience," and so it seems to
      have been for Coolidge. A private letter to Stearns on another
      occasion during his Vice Presidency, was a cry of anguish: "You have
      no conception of what people do to me. Even small things bother Me."
      4

      It hardly needs underscoring how atypical such feelings are in
      a successful politician. Most people in politics enjoy contact with
      others and go out of their way to initiate it--the present occupant
      of the White House is a good example. They use such contact, and
      their personal charm, to persuade others to carry out their goals.
      Not Coolidge. Justice Harlan Stone, another Amherst classmate of
      his, told William Allen White, "It was very rare for him to make any
      effort by way of social contact to impress his views upon others or
      to influence their actions." 5

      Coolidge was unusual in American history, but he was not
      unique. Another major political leader who was conspicuously not
      a "people person" was Massachusetts' own Charles Sumner, a serious,
      self-absorbed, humorless man whose career casts a contrasting light
      on Coolidge's. Sumner, like Coolidge, was an impossible dinner-party
      guest; he had no small talk at all. But he won election to four
      Senate terms, for an easily discernible reason: he was the political
      symbol for Massachusetts abolitionism in the Civil War years. His
      icy integrity seemed evidence of his pure, passionate commitment to
      that cause. Sumner was an American example of a type fairly common
      in world history, the cold, impersonal ideological leader. But this
      type is not much help in explaining Calvin Coolidge, who had no
      devoted following and no ideology to promote. Coolidge did have well-
      defined beliefs about government, to which I will return later; but
      they were not revolutionary, as Sumner's were. 6

      If it was not ideological fervor that overrode Coolidge's fears
      and got him into politics, it certainly was not a thirst for money
      or power. During the Gilded Age there were American city and state
      bosses who had practically no charisma, back room types who had
      risen through the party organization by their efficiency and single
      mindedness. When Coolidge became nationally prominent in the 1920s,
      American intellectuals seem to have taken him for one of these men,
      dull, limited, and actuated by sordid motives. 7

      Of course they were wrong. Coolidge showed remarkably little
      interest in concentrating power at any stage of his career. As
      President he left as much administrative work as possible entirely
      to his Cabinet, justifying this approach as the most efficient way
      of using human resources. He suggested legislation to Congress but
      rarely exerted any pressure to get it passed. ("I have never felt it
      was my duty to attempt to coerce Senators and Representatives, or to
      take reprisals," he wrote in the autobiography. "I felt I had
      discharged my duty when I had done the best I could with them.") 8
      Power was not enough of a stimulant to him to change his daily
      routine; as President, historians have observed with wonder,
      Coolidge still followed the schedule of a small-town lawyer or New
      England farmer, going to bed early, getting up with the chickens,
      and napping for a couple of hours after lunch. The life of a Chief
      Executive, with its trappings of power, had no more fascination for
      him per se than life in Plymouth or Northarnpton. 9

      Money did not motivate him either. The Coolidge lifestyle was
      not lavish. When the Coolidges came to Washington in 1921, they were
      living in a two-family house in Northampton; when he left office,
      they returned to it. Coolidge expected no pecuniary reward from his
      office holding, He wrote drily in the Autobiography that ex-
      presidents, fortunately, are not supported at public expense, "so
      they are not expected to set an example encouraging to a leisure
      class." 10

      One other motivation should be considered as a possible reason
      for an exceedingly shy man's entering politics: intellectual
      arrogance. Another Massachusetts president, John Quincy Adams,
      described himself as "a man of reserved, cold, austere, and
      forbidding manners," a "gloomy misanthropist" in the opinion of his
      political opponents. 11 In other words, he was still another of the
      interpersonally challenged politicians New England has had a history
      of presenting to the rest of the country. Adams was in politics
      partly because of his name, partly because of his unquestioned
      ability, but mostly because of his conviction that he was the most
      qualified man to serve his country if the opportunity offered--a
      quiet, absolutely firm intellectual arrogance that was accepted by a
      good number of American voters because of his illustrious descent.

      But there is no counterpart of this attitude in Coolidge's
      story--indeed, quite the reverse. An especially poignant passage
      from Coolidge's autobiography deals with the death of his son,
      Calvin, Jr., when Coolidge was running for election to the office he
      had inherited by Harding's death. Coolidge describes the boy's
      suffering and his own inability to save him from death--then he
      adds "I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the
      White House." 12 The notion that one should have to pay a price for
      occupying the White House seems to rest on a belief that one is
      unworthy, incapable of attaining it honestly, without some kind of
      payment. It resembles what present-day psychologists have described
      as the "impostor phenomenon" that affects high-level executives in
      the private sector as well as public service--a belief that one is
      fundamentally incapable of the duties of the office one occupies,
      and that getting to that post was some sort of fluke. 13 Coolidge, I
      am suggesting, felt unworthy of the Presidency, and feared that his
      son's death was divine judgment on his unworthiness.

      This feeling of unworthiness, low self-esteem if you will, is
      where I would like to begin my explanation of Coolidge's involvement
      in politics. There is much evidence for it. To begin with,
      psychologists find that people who suffer from extreme shyness, as
      Coolidge did, generally have low feelings of self-esteem as well.14
      Several people who were close to him called attention to behavior
      patterns that suggested this trait. Ike Hoover, the chief White
      House usher, noted his unusual sensitivity and self-consciousness,
      his capacity to fly into a rage over trifles. Robert Washburn, a
      journalist and politician who knew him during his Boston years,
      mentioned the same characteristic. "Our hero has never known what it
      is to be happy," he wrote of Coolidge. "He is sensitive, with a full
      appreciation of his limitations." And adding what was then a trendy
      diagnosis in 1920s psychology, Washburn noted, "He has an
      inferiority complex." 15

      Pop psychology from reporters and members of the White House
      staff is, I realize, not conclusive; there is more evidence from
      Coolidge himself, which I will bring forward in a moment. First,
      however, I want to draw a distinction. A popular theory about
      politics, which some of you may have heard, associated especially
      with the name of Harold Lasswell, holds that many politicians have
      low self-esteem, are basically unsure of themselves. and went into
      politics precisely because contact with the voters satisfied their
      need for affection and reaffirmed their sense of self-worth. 16 Even
      if I believed this theory, which I don't, I would have to point out
      that it has nothing in common with Coolidge's case. Charming the
      voters and winning reassurance based on personal contact was
      precisely what he was not good at. His feelings of inadequacy were
      not to be assuaged by the crowd's approval. Throughout his career, I
      will suggest,. Coolidge was performing for an audience of one: his
      father, John Coolidge.

      John Coolidge was far and away the most important person in his
      son's life from an early age. Coolidge lost his mother when he was
      twelve; his only sibling, a sister, died when he was seventeen.
      Calvin and his father were left with each other. Coolidge found his
      father an impressive, even awesome, audience, and he was not shy
      about proclaiming his inferiority to him. "My father had qualities
      greater than any I possess," he said late in life. "It always seemed
      possible for him to form an unerring judgment of men and things. I
      cannot recall that I ever knew of his doing a wrong thing." 17

      Trying to live up to the standards of such a superhuman being
      was a difficult, frustrating task, and it was easy to entertain
      feelings of inadequacy. Witness a letter Coolidge, aged twenty-five,
      wrote his father in 1897. They were debating how to launch his law
      practice: "I have tried to do the best I could by my feeble efforts
      to carry out other plans which did not appeal to me very strongly
      and if I have sometimes faltered, if I have failed to meet with the
      success you desired, forgive me--I think I tried my best." 18

      Coolidge, not surprisingly, was hypersensitive to criticism
      from his father and often nursed his hurt feelings for years.
      Several years after graduating from Amherst, he kidded his father in
      a letter: "You made a good deal of fun of me when I was in college
      for putting two o's in lose-- it is with some satisfaction that I
      note you have now adopted the same way." That criticism had stuck
      with him for five years. 19 Similarly, in his senior year at
      college, Coolidge wrote an essay on the principles of the American
      Revolution which, he informed his father, was awarded a silver medal
      as the best essay submitted at Amherst. John Coolidge's comment was
      disparaging, the medal, he wrote, would buy no bread and butter. The
      essay went on to a nationwide contest, where it won the first prize,
      a gold medal. Coolidge's reaction reveals how much his father's
      comments had stung; he tucked the medal in a drawer and said nothing
      to John about it, letting him learn of the award indirectly, through
      the newspapers. 20

      In later years, Coolidge put the best construction possible on
      his father's criticism of the medal. "He had questioned some whether
      I was really making anything of my education, in pretense I now
      think," Coolidge wrote in the Autobiography, "not because he doubted
      it but because he wished to impress me with the desirability of
      demonstrating it." But there is no question that at the time it
      hurt. 21

      This same kind of cosmetic reconstruction after the fact
      applies to the principal point of contention between father and son,
      the choice of a career for Coolidge. Young Calvin, it is clear, did
      not want to go to college at all. The first time he was sent to
      Amherst, he developed an illness, which seems to have been largely
      psychosomatic, at the entrance examinations and had to drop out,
      delaying his entrance by an entire year. The second time he
      enrolled, he came home at midwinter and begged not to have to
      continue; but as he wrote John in 1897, ,you sent me back to college
      five years ago." When he graduated, he wanted either to go on to law
      school or to return to his home village of Plymouth; John also
      vetoed both ideas and insisted that he enroll as a clerk in a law
      office. Over a period of seven or eight years, in other words, young
      Coolidge saw his desires and his plans repeatedly rejected and
      overridden by his father. 22

      This library, as it happens, is a rather appropriate venue for
      talking about an American president whose early life was dominated
      by his father's purposes. But John Coolidge's motivation is a little
      harder to figure out than Joe Kennedy's. Kennedy wanted power and
      recognition for his sons. John Coolidge worried a lot about money;
      it may have been his judgment that his shy, bookish son was unlikely
      to succeed in business, that he needed the armor of a college
      education and a professional certificate simply to support himself
      in adult life.

      Calvin Coolidge, looking back in maturity on the experience of
      his father's dominance, convinced himself he had found the key to
      his motivation. He mentions it in the account of his midnight
      inaugural in August 1923; his father's voice trembled on that
      occasion, he observed, with "the thought of the many sacrifices he
      had made to place me where I was ... and all the tenderness and care
      he had lavished upon me ... in the hope that I might sometime rise
      to a position of importance." All along, in other words, John
      Coolidge's purpose had been to put his son into the presidency or a
      comparable position. 23

      There is really no evidence to back up this statement. Not all
      of John Coolidge's letters to Calvin have survived, but in those
      that have there is no trace of a suggestion that Calvin should go
      into politics, no offer of political aid. Coolidge's belief seems to
      be an interpretation that he put on the facts long afterwards. One
      can see it taking form in a letter he wrote to his father in 1925,
      two years after his swearing in. Speaking of the presidency, he
      said: "I am sure I came to it largely by your bringing up and your
      example. If that was what you have wanted you have much to be
      thankful for that you have lived to so great an age to see it." 24

      The way it actually worked, I think, was this. A shy young man,
      dominated and frequently criticized by a parent whom he saw as
      superior, Coolidge desperately wanted to please his father. Although
      the two men had very different personalities and interests in some
      ways, there were a few areas they both regarded as interesting and
      important. One was firm management; they discussed the details of
      maple sugaring and the care of livestock at length in their letters,
      and John seems to have considered Calvin his equal perhaps his
      superior, in making and judging maple sugar. 25 Another was politics.

      From childhood Coolidge attended the Plymouth town meetings
      with his father. As a boy he carried apples and popcorn balls to
      sell, because, as he relates in the Autobiography, "my grandmother
      said my father had done so when he was a boy, and I was exceedingly
      anxious to grow up to be like him." 26 He watched as John was
      elected to a string of town offices: tax collector, town agent,
      state representative, superintendent of education. He enjoyed
      watching John canvass for support from his neighbors and keep a
      mental tally of who was for him and against him. His memories of
      town meetings were wholly of practical politics, counting heads and
      putting together majorities. 27

      This kind of politics was a pleasurable experience for Coolidge
      and remained so most of his life. He evidently thought about it a
      lot, or at least one might draw that conclusion from a dream he had
      as a teenager. It was during the presidential campaign of 1888,
      Harrison versus Cleveland, nine days before Election Day. Coolidge
      woke up and scribbled on a back page of his diary: "dreamed
      Cleveland carried Indiana by some 4000 votes and New York by 30."
      Evidently he wrote his dream down because he wanted to see if it
      would come true. It was a professional politician's dream: Indiana
      and New York were critical states in the election, and the margins
      he dreamed of were not unreasonable. (His numbers, however, turned
      out to be wrong; he was a politician, not a prophet.) 28

      In college, at the end of sophomore year, Coolidge's roommate
      decided to run for the editorial board of the yearbook, and Coolidge
      got involved in his campaign, buttonholing classmates to ask for
      their support. He did not find this difficult to do, apparently.
      Psychologists have found that reticent people are comfortable with
      interpersonal transactions that are structured, that have a clear
      beginning and end; open-ended social interaction is what terrifies
      them. Coolidge's behavior fits that pattern; emulating his father,
      he got out and spoke to classmates who hardly knew him before. 29 He
      did the same thing in senior year, when he ran for and won the
      position of Grove Orator, the student who delivered the comic
      valedictory address. "I put more work into it than Alfred did into
      Freemen's Meeting," he wrote John, comparing himself to a Plymouth
      man who had recently been active in local politics, "and was elected
      on the first ballot 53 to 18 against a man from Brooklyn." 30

      When Coolidge wrote his father about politics, he often
      supplied the numbers in detail; this was the kind of information
      that they both enjoyed. An example is his letter after being elected
      mayor of Northampton in 1909: "1 and 5 are strong democrat wards. 1
      is about 100 and last year 5 went 175. You see I cut I1to 20 and 5
      to 75 and got big majority in 2, 3, and 4. Ward 6 is about even but
      there is a row on out there so no republican can get only one
      faction of the republican strength in that ward. Ward 7 is democrat
      by about 40." He went on to analyze the vote by ethnic groups, in
      terms a little more familiar to present-day political workers: "I
      got all the Italians, Jews, Polish, most of the French and hundreds
      of Irish. 31

      What I am saying, then, is that the part of politics Coolidge
      found most congenial was local political activity: getting out and
      canvassing for votes, calculating the margins needed for victory. He
      liked it in itself, and found it doubly congenial because it was an
      activity his father shared and approved of. He was good at it; he
      worked hard and almost always won his elections, and these triumphs
      boosted his sense of accomplishment still further. The first reason
      he cited for running for mayor, for instance, was that "the honor
      would be one that would please my father." 32 He and his father
      enjoyed comparing their political careers, often in the dry language
      of statistics, like baseball fans. One comparison both of them found
      meaningful--they cited it on separate occasions--was this: Calvin
      Coolidge was precisely two months and two days old when his father
      was first elected to the Vermont legislature. In turn, he was
      elected to the Massachusetts legislature when his firstborn son John
      was two months and two days old. Political trivia? Precisely; that
      was the level on which politics engrossed both men. 33

      Coolidge's election as mayor in 1909 began fifteen years of
      uninterrupted political success, rising from one office to another,
      aided by four or five truly remarkable strokes of luck that he could
      not have anticipated or planned for, and culminating in the
      presidency. As he says in the Autobiography, simply, almost
      numbly, "I did not plan for it but it came." 34 What he did plan for
      and shared with his father were the political maneuvering that got
      him from one office to the next, and finally to the vice presidency
      in 1920. In 1923, of course, it was his father who swore him in as
      president and gave him his symbolic blessing. (One should point out
      that there was some doubt as to John Coolidge's authority, on the
      basis of his Vermont notary's commission, to administer the
      presidential oath, and that Coolidge took it again in Washington to
      be on the safe side.) 35

      On March 18, 1926, about three years later, John Coolidge died
      in Plymouth. The President, tied up with public business, was unable
      to be at his father's side. Historians have commented on a general
      lethargy or weakness that overtook the Coolidge administration
      during the full term that began in 1925. This afternoon we will hear
      Robert Gilbert talk about that phenomenon and connect it with the
      psychological trauma Coolidge suffered when his son died in 1924.
      But it might make sense to consider the implications of the father's
      death as well. With it, Coolidge lost the benign, powerful force
      that, as he saw it, had steered him into high office, with whom he
      had shared his victories and strategies, for whom he had done the
      best he could to prove his worth. Now there was no one to satisfy,
      and he was left in an unfriendly milieu saddled with irksome duties.
      A loss like this could easily have been responsible for draining the
      meaning and commitment from his presidency.

      During most of his years in politics, however, Coolidge's
      approach to politics was distinctive, because his motivation was so
      unusual. He had none of the common political goals--money, power,
      policy aims--but only an internal need to satisfy. Other American
      leaders have been accused of being in politics on an ego trip; for
      Coolidge, one could fairly call it an ego salvage expedition. Trying
      to prove himself to his father by doing the best job possible, he
      approached political performance in the spirit of a Zen master,
      detached from results, doing the thing for its own sake. The
      practical problems of compromise that beset politicians
      consolidating power, forming alliances, controlling money, meeting
      the needs of influential groups--bothered him very little. He
      concentrated on the task itself--studied problems and made
      recommendations, expressed his views in eloquent but somewhat
      impersonal speeches, and made executive decisions, sometimes
      difficult ones, as in the Boston police strike. But he was
      relatively unconcerned with outcomes. immediately after the police
      strike, he came up for election to a second term as governor. "This
      is a very uncertain election," he wrote his father; "more than last
      year it may go strongly for me or against me. At any rate I shall
      not have anything to regret. It is necessary to make sacrifices for
      the welfare of the state. I am willing to make mine. 36

      The voters of Massachusetts and the United States, I believe,
      in Coolidge's rhetoric and in his executive actions, sensed his
      indifference to consequences. They interpreted it as fearlessness, a
      quality voters admire in politicians, and repeatedly gave him
      substantial majorities. They freed him to an unusual degree, to
      govern entirely in accordance with his principles.

      Those principles, which were his father's as well as his own,
      were simple, and Zen-like in their simplicity and stress on self-
      discipline. They sprang from assumptions based on an upbringing in
      the bleak New England hill country. Resources were limited;
      therefore, the main task of public service was to govern efficiently
      and not waste the people's money, to do what needed doing and to
      refrain from doing more. Corruption and extravagance were the two
      main dangers.

      One particular temptation to be avoided was the urge to long-
      range planning. Coolidge and his father shared a preference for
      letting things evolve and responding only to immediate needs. "Do
      the day's work," Coolidge's favorite maxim, was not only an
      injunction to work hard, but also an admonition that leaders needed
      to concentrate on what was in front of them--to do the day's work,
      not the year's, not the decade's, not the century's--not tie up the
      people's money in grandiose and probably futile efforts to change
      society. His attitude comes out clearly in the well-known comment
      about his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, one of the great
      planners of twentieth-century America: "That man has offered me
      unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad." 37

      Coolidge's legacy, then, is a presidency founded on principle--
      indeed, an entire political career based on the principles of
      frugality and restraint, and on the belief that society is capable
      of transforming itself rather than an inert mass waiting for the
      healing power of government to transform it. In this regard, he made
      a revealing comment in the Autobiography, talking about his
      governorship, which was a very active one. It had to be, he
      explained, because Massachusetts was in transition from a heavily
      regulated wartime economy to more normal peacetime
      conditions. "Nothing was natural, everything was artificial," as he
      put it. But by the end of his two terms, in his words, "people had
      found themselves again, and were ready to undertake the great work
      of reconstruction in which they have since been so successfully
      engaged." 38 In other words, it was now time for government to back
      off.

      "Genius is the ability to harmonize with circumstances,"
      Coolidge had written his father during his sophomore year at
      Amherst, doubtless unaware that he was echoing the teaching of the
      Tao Te Ching: "if you want to be a great leader, you must learn to
      follow the Tao. Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and
      concepts, and the world will govern itself." 39 At the end of a
      century scarred with disasters brought about by governments'
      attempts to remodel society, this point of view, which Coolidge held
      in essentials all his career, offers a refreshing contrast.

      H.L. Mencken wrote a piece on Coolidge just after his death in
      1933 that showed, if not an appreciation of Coolidge's style, at
      least an understanding of the dangers it avoided. "We suffer most,"
      he wrote, "not when the White House is a peaceful dormitory, but
      when it is a jitney Mars Hill, with a tin-pot Paul bawling from the
      roof. Discounting Harding as a cipher, Coolidge was preceded by one
      world Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American,
      having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would
      hesitate for an instant?" 40 What enlightened American, indeed.
      Sixty-five years later, with the benefit of ample experience from
      our own country and abroad, Mencken's point--and Coolidge's--looks
      more and more persuasive.


      ---------------------------------------------------------------------
      -----------

      Notes

      1. Claude M. Fuess, Calvin Coolidge: The Man from Vermont (Boston:
      Little, Brown, and Company, 1939), 71.

      2. James David Barber, The Presidential Character (3d ed.; Englewood
      Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), 10.

      3. Quoted in Grace Coolidge, "The Real Calvin Coolidge,"
      Cosmopolitan, May, 1935, 247.

      4. Gerald M. Phillips, "Reticence: A Perspective on Social
      Withdrawal" in John A. Daly and James C. McCroskey, eds., Avoiding,
      Communication: Shyness. Reticence, and Communication Apprehension
      (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publishers, 1984), 58; Coolidge to Frank W.
      Stearns, 16 March 1922. Stearns Papers, College of the Holy Cross,
      Worcester, MA.

      5. Harlan F. Stone to William Allen White, 13 April 1933, Stone
      Papers, Library of Congress.

      6. On Sumner's personality and career, see David Donald, Charles
      Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
      1965), 93-94, 173-175, and passim.

      7. See, for example, the closing paragraphs of Oswald Garrison
      Villard's editorial, "Warren G. Harding," The Nation 15 August 1923.
      Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux,
      1995), 16-18, points out that most Manhattan intellectuals of the
      period ignored politics and thought it incapable of making
      significant contributions to American culture.

      8. Calvin Coolidge, Autobiography (New York: Cosmopolitan Book
      Corporation, 1929), 232 (hereafter Autobiography)

      9. Fuess, 323-327.

      10.Robert Sobel, Calvin Coolidge: An American Enigma (Washington:
      Regnery Publishing, 1998), 242-243.

      11. Quoted in Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Ouincy Adams and the
      Foundations of American Foreign Policy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
      1949), 253.

      12. Autobiography, 190.

      13. See, e.g., Pauline Clance, The Imposter Phenomenon: Overcoming,
      the Fear That Haunts Your Success (Atlanta: Peachtree Press, 1985),
      and J.C. Harvey and C. Katz, If I'm So Successful, Why Do I Feel
      Like A Fake? (New York: Random House, 1985).

      14. Irwin H. Hoover, Forty-two Years in the White House (Boston:
      Houghton 1934), 232-233, 256, 273; Robert Washburn, My Pen and its
      Varied Styles (Cambridge, MA: University Press, 1939), 65, 66.

      15. Arnold H. Buss, "A Conception of Shyness," in Daly and
      McCroskey, 44.

      16. Harold D. Lasswell, Power and Personality (New York: Viking
      Books, Compass edition, 1962), 39.

      18. To John Coolidge, 12 July 1897, in Edward C. Lathem ed., Your
      Son, Calvin Coolidge (Montpelier, VT: Vermont Historical Society,
      1968), 81.

      19. To John Coolidge, 23 September 1898, in Lathem. 95.

      20. To John Coolidge, 10 January [1 896], in Lathem, 78.

      21. Autobiography, 74.

      22. Hendrik Booraem V, The Provincial: Calvin Coolidge and His
      World, 1885-1895 (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1994),
      223-224, footnote 18.

      23. Autobiography, 173-174.

      24. To John Coolidge, 2 August 1925, in Lathem, 211.

      25 Booraem, 76.

      26. Autobiography, 23.

      27. Ernest C. Carpenter, The Boyhood Days of President Calvin
      Coolidge (Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Company, 1925),127-128;
      Autobiography, 25.

      28. Booraem, 87-88.

      29 Booraem, 167.

      30. To John Coolidge, 21 September 1894, in Lathem, 71-72, footnote
      4.

      31. To John Coolidge, 25 December 1909, in Lathem, 113.

      32. Autobiography, 99.

      33. Autobiography, 15; "My Son, Calvin Coolidge," as told by John C.
      Coolidge to Joe Toye, Boston Traveler, 14 August 1923.

      34 Autobiography, 99.

      35. Fuess, 315.

      36. To John Coolidge, 10 October 1919, in Latham, 152.

      37. Quoted in Paul Johnson, Modern Times (New York: Harper & Row,
      1983), 229. On "Do the day's work," see Booraem, 189.

      38. Autobiography, 136-137.

      39. To John Coolidge, 13 November 1892, in Lathem, 42; Tao Te Ching,
      ed. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 57.

      40. Alistair Cooke, ed., The Vintage Mencken (New York: Vintage
      Press, 1956), 223.
    • greg
      Thank you for sending that, Ram. It greatly improved my knowledge, and opinion, of Coolidge. We need more politicians like him today.
      Message 2 of 3 , Sep 6, 2004
      • 0 Attachment
        Thank you for sending that, Ram. It greatly improved my knowledge, and
        opinion, of Coolidge. We need more politicians like him today.
        --- In prezveepsenator@yahoogroups.com, "Ram Lau" <ramlau@y...> wrote:
        > Coolidge and the Zen of Politics: How An Aloof, Reticent and Austere
        > Man Achieved Success in Politics
        > By Hendrik Booraem V
        >
        > Hendrick Boornem V earned a Ph.D. in history at Johns Hopkins. His
        > The Provincial: Calvin Coolidge and His World, 1885-1895, was
        > published in 1994. He has written similar studies of the adolescent
        > years of James A. Garfield and Andrew Jackson and is currently
        > working on Gerald R. Ford.
        >
        >
        > ---------------------------------------------------------------------
        > -----------
        >
        > The central problem of Calvin Coolidge's career has never been
        > more clearly stated than by an Amherst classmate of his, Jay
        > Stocking. In a letter to Coolidge's biographer Claude Fuess,
        > reminiscing about college days sixty years earlier, Stocking
        > wrote: "I was not one of those who expected Coolidge to have any
        > spectacular career. I did not think he would become famous. The last
        > place in the world I should have expected him to succeed was
        > politics. He lacked small talk, and he was never known, I suspect,
        > to slap a man on the back. He rarely laughed. He was anything but a
        > mixer. The few who got into personal contact with him had to go the
        > whole way."1 Stocking's account of Coolidge's behavior is echoed by
        > many other Amherst classmates; but the arresting statement in it,
        > the one I intend to focus on, is the offhand comment: "The last
        > place in the world I should have expected him to succeed was
        > politics."
        >
        > In the 1960s, the political scientist James David Barber in his
        > book on twentieth-century American presidents pigeonholed Coolidge
        > as what he called a "passive-negative" Chief Executive--one who
        > spent relatively little time on the duties of the job and who got
        > relatively little satisfaction from it. He then restated Stocking's
        > observation in his own academic terms: "The factors are consistent--
        > but how are we to account for the man's political role-taking? Why
        > is someone who does little in politics and enjoys it less there at
        > all?" 2
        >
        > That is the question I would like to consider for a few minutes
        > this morning: why Coolidge was in politics at all. Stocking's
        > observation was right: Coolidge did find contact with other people
        > uncongenial, and politicking did not come easily to him. But
        > Barber's question, I will argue, does have an answer: there were
        > satisfactions for Coolidge in politics, and he put considerable
        > effort into attaining them.
        >
        > There can be no doubt that Coolidge experienced extreme
        > discomfort in trying to deal socially with strangers, or people he
        > did not know well. His inability to make small talk, legendary
        > around Washington, earned him the nickname "Silent Cal" and gave
        > rise to many well-known anecdotes. The unspoken premise of these
        > stories, some of them very funny, was that reticence was a strategy
        > Coolidge adopted because it suited him to do so. This was a
        > misstatement. There was nothing voluntary about it; Coolidge found
        > social contact excruciating.
        >
        > To his friend and admirer, the Boston businessman Frank
        > Stearns, who had been urging him to broaden his acquaintance and
        > meet more people, Coolidge once told a story so revealing of his
        > true feelings that almost every biographer has felt compelled to
        > include it in one version or another. "When I was a boy," Coolidge
        > told Stearns, "there were perhaps fifty inhabitants of Plymouth. I
        > knew them all, of course. But if I was aware that one of them
        > happened to be in my mother's kitchen, it was a little short of
        > torture for me to go in. At the age of twelve, I made up my mind
        > that I must overcome this feeling. Gradually I did, but some of it
        > still stays with me."3 In other words, his shyness had been torture
        > to him as a boy; now it was less than torture, perhaps only
        > discomfort. But it was still there. And he said this while he was
        > Vice President.
        >
        > Intense shyness, according to students of the subject, is "a
        > subjective and entirely horrifying experience," and so it seems to
        > have been for Coolidge. A private letter to Stearns on another
        > occasion during his Vice Presidency, was a cry of anguish: "You have
        > no conception of what people do to me. Even small things bother Me."
        > 4
        >
        > It hardly needs underscoring how atypical such feelings are in
        > a successful politician. Most people in politics enjoy contact with
        > others and go out of their way to initiate it--the present occupant
        > of the White House is a good example. They use such contact, and
        > their personal charm, to persuade others to carry out their goals.
        > Not Coolidge. Justice Harlan Stone, another Amherst classmate of
        > his, told William Allen White, "It was very rare for him to make any
        > effort by way of social contact to impress his views upon others or
        > to influence their actions." 5
        >
        > Coolidge was unusual in American history, but he was not
        > unique. Another major political leader who was conspicuously not
        > a "people person" was Massachusetts' own Charles Sumner, a serious,
        > self-absorbed, humorless man whose career casts a contrasting light
        > on Coolidge's. Sumner, like Coolidge, was an impossible dinner-party
        > guest; he had no small talk at all. But he won election to four
        > Senate terms, for an easily discernible reason: he was the political
        > symbol for Massachusetts abolitionism in the Civil War years. His
        > icy integrity seemed evidence of his pure, passionate commitment to
        > that cause. Sumner was an American example of a type fairly common
        > in world history, the cold, impersonal ideological leader. But this
        > type is not much help in explaining Calvin Coolidge, who had no
        > devoted following and no ideology to promote. Coolidge did have well-
        > defined beliefs about government, to which I will return later; but
        > they were not revolutionary, as Sumner's were. 6
        >
        > If it was not ideological fervor that overrode Coolidge's fears
        > and got him into politics, it certainly was not a thirst for money
        > or power. During the Gilded Age there were American city and state
        > bosses who had practically no charisma, back room types who had
        > risen through the party organization by their efficiency and single
        > mindedness. When Coolidge became nationally prominent in the 1920s,
        > American intellectuals seem to have taken him for one of these men,
        > dull, limited, and actuated by sordid motives. 7
        >
        > Of course they were wrong. Coolidge showed remarkably little
        > interest in concentrating power at any stage of his career. As
        > President he left as much administrative work as possible entirely
        > to his Cabinet, justifying this approach as the most efficient way
        > of using human resources. He suggested legislation to Congress but
        > rarely exerted any pressure to get it passed. ("I have never felt it
        > was my duty to attempt to coerce Senators and Representatives, or to
        > take reprisals," he wrote in the autobiography. "I felt I had
        > discharged my duty when I had done the best I could with them.") 8
        > Power was not enough of a stimulant to him to change his daily
        > routine; as President, historians have observed with wonder,
        > Coolidge still followed the schedule of a small-town lawyer or New
        > England farmer, going to bed early, getting up with the chickens,
        > and napping for a couple of hours after lunch. The life of a Chief
        > Executive, with its trappings of power, had no more fascination for
        > him per se than life in Plymouth or Northarnpton. 9
        >
        > Money did not motivate him either. The Coolidge lifestyle was
        > not lavish. When the Coolidges came to Washington in 1921, they were
        > living in a two-family house in Northampton; when he left office,
        > they returned to it. Coolidge expected no pecuniary reward from his
        > office holding, He wrote drily in the Autobiography that ex-
        > presidents, fortunately, are not supported at public expense, "so
        > they are not expected to set an example encouraging to a leisure
        > class." 10
        >
        > One other motivation should be considered as a possible reason
        > for an exceedingly shy man's entering politics: intellectual
        > arrogance. Another Massachusetts president, John Quincy Adams,
        > described himself as "a man of reserved, cold, austere, and
        > forbidding manners," a "gloomy misanthropist" in the opinion of his
        > political opponents. 11 In other words, he was still another of the
        > interpersonally challenged politicians New England has had a history
        > of presenting to the rest of the country. Adams was in politics
        > partly because of his name, partly because of his unquestioned
        > ability, but mostly because of his conviction that he was the most
        > qualified man to serve his country if the opportunity offered--a
        > quiet, absolutely firm intellectual arrogance that was accepted by a
        > good number of American voters because of his illustrious descent.
        >
        > But there is no counterpart of this attitude in Coolidge's
        > story--indeed, quite the reverse. An especially poignant passage
        > from Coolidge's autobiography deals with the death of his son,
        > Calvin, Jr., when Coolidge was running for election to the office he
        > had inherited by Harding's death. Coolidge describes the boy's
        > suffering and his own inability to save him from death--then he
        > adds "I do not know why such a price was exacted for occupying the
        > White House." 12 The notion that one should have to pay a price for
        > occupying the White House seems to rest on a belief that one is
        > unworthy, incapable of attaining it honestly, without some kind of
        > payment. It resembles what present-day psychologists have described
        > as the "impostor phenomenon" that affects high-level executives in
        > the private sector as well as public service--a belief that one is
        > fundamentally incapable of the duties of the office one occupies,
        > and that getting to that post was some sort of fluke. 13 Coolidge, I
        > am suggesting, felt unworthy of the Presidency, and feared that his
        > son's death was divine judgment on his unworthiness.
        >
        > This feeling of unworthiness, low self-esteem if you will, is
        > where I would like to begin my explanation of Coolidge's involvement
        > in politics. There is much evidence for it. To begin with,
        > psychologists find that people who suffer from extreme shyness, as
        > Coolidge did, generally have low feelings of self-esteem as well.14
        > Several people who were close to him called attention to behavior
        > patterns that suggested this trait. Ike Hoover, the chief White
        > House usher, noted his unusual sensitivity and self-consciousness,
        > his capacity to fly into a rage over trifles. Robert Washburn, a
        > journalist and politician who knew him during his Boston years,
        > mentioned the same characteristic. "Our hero has never known what it
        > is to be happy," he wrote of Coolidge. "He is sensitive, with a full
        > appreciation of his limitations." And adding what was then a trendy
        > diagnosis in 1920s psychology, Washburn noted, "He has an
        > inferiority complex." 15
        >
        > Pop psychology from reporters and members of the White House
        > staff is, I realize, not conclusive; there is more evidence from
        > Coolidge himself, which I will bring forward in a moment. First,
        > however, I want to draw a distinction. A popular theory about
        > politics, which some of you may have heard, associated especially
        > with the name of Harold Lasswell, holds that many politicians have
        > low self-esteem, are basically unsure of themselves. and went into
        > politics precisely because contact with the voters satisfied their
        > need for affection and reaffirmed their sense of self-worth. 16 Even
        > if I believed this theory, which I don't, I would have to point out
        > that it has nothing in common with Coolidge's case. Charming the
        > voters and winning reassurance based on personal contact was
        > precisely what he was not good at. His feelings of inadequacy were
        > not to be assuaged by the crowd's approval. Throughout his career, I
        > will suggest,. Coolidge was performing for an audience of one: his
        > father, John Coolidge.
        >
        > John Coolidge was far and away the most important person in his
        > son's life from an early age. Coolidge lost his mother when he was
        > twelve; his only sibling, a sister, died when he was seventeen.
        > Calvin and his father were left with each other. Coolidge found his
        > father an impressive, even awesome, audience, and he was not shy
        > about proclaiming his inferiority to him. "My father had qualities
        > greater than any I possess," he said late in life. "It always seemed
        > possible for him to form an unerring judgment of men and things. I
        > cannot recall that I ever knew of his doing a wrong thing." 17
        >
        > Trying to live up to the standards of such a superhuman being
        > was a difficult, frustrating task, and it was easy to entertain
        > feelings of inadequacy. Witness a letter Coolidge, aged twenty-five,
        > wrote his father in 1897. They were debating how to launch his law
        > practice: "I have tried to do the best I could by my feeble efforts
        > to carry out other plans which did not appeal to me very strongly
        > and if I have sometimes faltered, if I have failed to meet with the
        > success you desired, forgive me--I think I tried my best." 18
        >
        > Coolidge, not surprisingly, was hypersensitive to criticism
        > from his father and often nursed his hurt feelings for years.
        > Several years after graduating from Amherst, he kidded his father in
        > a letter: "You made a good deal of fun of me when I was in college
        > for putting two o's in lose-- it is with some satisfaction that I
        > note you have now adopted the same way." That criticism had stuck
        > with him for five years. 19 Similarly, in his senior year at
        > college, Coolidge wrote an essay on the principles of the American
        > Revolution which, he informed his father, was awarded a silver medal
        > as the best essay submitted at Amherst. John Coolidge's comment was
        > disparaging, the medal, he wrote, would buy no bread and butter. The
        > essay went on to a nationwide contest, where it won the first prize,
        > a gold medal. Coolidge's reaction reveals how much his father's
        > comments had stung; he tucked the medal in a drawer and said nothing
        > to John about it, letting him learn of the award indirectly, through
        > the newspapers. 20
        >
        > In later years, Coolidge put the best construction possible on
        > his father's criticism of the medal. "He had questioned some whether
        > I was really making anything of my education, in pretense I now
        > think," Coolidge wrote in the Autobiography, "not because he doubted
        > it but because he wished to impress me with the desirability of
        > demonstrating it." But there is no question that at the time it
        > hurt. 21
        >
        > This same kind of cosmetic reconstruction after the fact
        > applies to the principal point of contention between father and son,
        > the choice of a career for Coolidge. Young Calvin, it is clear, did
        > not want to go to college at all. The first time he was sent to
        > Amherst, he developed an illness, which seems to have been largely
        > psychosomatic, at the entrance examinations and had to drop out,
        > delaying his entrance by an entire year. The second time he
        > enrolled, he came home at midwinter and begged not to have to
        > continue; but as he wrote John in 1897, ,you sent me back to college
        > five years ago." When he graduated, he wanted either to go on to law
        > school or to return to his home village of Plymouth; John also
        > vetoed both ideas and insisted that he enroll as a clerk in a law
        > office. Over a period of seven or eight years, in other words, young
        > Coolidge saw his desires and his plans repeatedly rejected and
        > overridden by his father. 22
        >
        > This library, as it happens, is a rather appropriate venue for
        > talking about an American president whose early life was dominated
        > by his father's purposes. But John Coolidge's motivation is a little
        > harder to figure out than Joe Kennedy's. Kennedy wanted power and
        > recognition for his sons. John Coolidge worried a lot about money;
        > it may have been his judgment that his shy, bookish son was unlikely
        > to succeed in business, that he needed the armor of a college
        > education and a professional certificate simply to support himself
        > in adult life.
        >
        > Calvin Coolidge, looking back in maturity on the experience of
        > his father's dominance, convinced himself he had found the key to
        > his motivation. He mentions it in the account of his midnight
        > inaugural in August 1923; his father's voice trembled on that
        > occasion, he observed, with "the thought of the many sacrifices he
        > had made to place me where I was ... and all the tenderness and care
        > he had lavished upon me ... in the hope that I might sometime rise
        > to a position of importance." All along, in other words, John
        > Coolidge's purpose had been to put his son into the presidency or a
        > comparable position. 23
        >
        > There is really no evidence to back up this statement. Not all
        > of John Coolidge's letters to Calvin have survived, but in those
        > that have there is no trace of a suggestion that Calvin should go
        > into politics, no offer of political aid. Coolidge's belief seems to
        > be an interpretation that he put on the facts long afterwards. One
        > can see it taking form in a letter he wrote to his father in 1925,
        > two years after his swearing in. Speaking of the presidency, he
        > said: "I am sure I came to it largely by your bringing up and your
        > example. If that was what you have wanted you have much to be
        > thankful for that you have lived to so great an age to see it." 24
        >
        > The way it actually worked, I think, was this. A shy young man,
        > dominated and frequently criticized by a parent whom he saw as
        > superior, Coolidge desperately wanted to please his father. Although
        > the two men had very different personalities and interests in some
        > ways, there were a few areas they both regarded as interesting and
        > important. One was firm management; they discussed the details of
        > maple sugaring and the care of livestock at length in their letters,
        > and John seems to have considered Calvin his equal perhaps his
        > superior, in making and judging maple sugar. 25 Another was politics.
        >
        > From childhood Coolidge attended the Plymouth town meetings
        > with his father. As a boy he carried apples and popcorn balls to
        > sell, because, as he relates in the Autobiography, "my grandmother
        > said my father had done so when he was a boy, and I was exceedingly
        > anxious to grow up to be like him." 26 He watched as John was
        > elected to a string of town offices: tax collector, town agent,
        > state representative, superintendent of education. He enjoyed
        > watching John canvass for support from his neighbors and keep a
        > mental tally of who was for him and against him. His memories of
        > town meetings were wholly of practical politics, counting heads and
        > putting together majorities. 27
        >
        > This kind of politics was a pleasurable experience for Coolidge
        > and remained so most of his life. He evidently thought about it a
        > lot, or at least one might draw that conclusion from a dream he had
        > as a teenager. It was during the presidential campaign of 1888,
        > Harrison versus Cleveland, nine days before Election Day. Coolidge
        > woke up and scribbled on a back page of his diary: "dreamed
        > Cleveland carried Indiana by some 4000 votes and New York by 30."
        > Evidently he wrote his dream down because he wanted to see if it
        > would come true. It was a professional politician's dream: Indiana
        > and New York were critical states in the election, and the margins
        > he dreamed of were not unreasonable. (His numbers, however, turned
        > out to be wrong; he was a politician, not a prophet.) 28
        >
        > In college, at the end of sophomore year, Coolidge's roommate
        > decided to run for the editorial board of the yearbook, and Coolidge
        > got involved in his campaign, buttonholing classmates to ask for
        > their support. He did not find this difficult to do, apparently.
        > Psychologists have found that reticent people are comfortable with
        > interpersonal transactions that are structured, that have a clear
        > beginning and end; open-ended social interaction is what terrifies
        > them. Coolidge's behavior fits that pattern; emulating his father,
        > he got out and spoke to classmates who hardly knew him before. 29 He
        > did the same thing in senior year, when he ran for and won the
        > position of Grove Orator, the student who delivered the comic
        > valedictory address. "I put more work into it than Alfred did into
        > Freemen's Meeting," he wrote John, comparing himself to a Plymouth
        > man who had recently been active in local politics, "and was elected
        > on the first ballot 53 to 18 against a man from Brooklyn." 30
        >
        > When Coolidge wrote his father about politics, he often
        > supplied the numbers in detail; this was the kind of information
        > that they both enjoyed. An example is his letter after being elected
        > mayor of Northampton in 1909: "1 and 5 are strong democrat wards. 1
        > is about 100 and last year 5 went 175. You see I cut I1to 20 and 5
        > to 75 and got big majority in 2, 3, and 4. Ward 6 is about even but
        > there is a row on out there so no republican can get only one
        > faction of the republican strength in that ward. Ward 7 is democrat
        > by about 40." He went on to analyze the vote by ethnic groups, in
        > terms a little more familiar to present-day political workers: "I
        > got all the Italians, Jews, Polish, most of the French and hundreds
        > of Irish. 31
        >
        > What I am saying, then, is that the part of politics Coolidge
        > found most congenial was local political activity: getting out and
        > canvassing for votes, calculating the margins needed for victory. He
        > liked it in itself, and found it doubly congenial because it was an
        > activity his father shared and approved of. He was good at it; he
        > worked hard and almost always won his elections, and these triumphs
        > boosted his sense of accomplishment still further. The first reason
        > he cited for running for mayor, for instance, was that "the honor
        > would be one that would please my father." 32 He and his father
        > enjoyed comparing their political careers, often in the dry language
        > of statistics, like baseball fans. One comparison both of them found
        > meaningful--they cited it on separate occasions--was this: Calvin
        > Coolidge was precisely two months and two days old when his father
        > was first elected to the Vermont legislature. In turn, he was
        > elected to the Massachusetts legislature when his firstborn son John
        > was two months and two days old. Political trivia? Precisely; that
        > was the level on which politics engrossed both men. 33
        >
        > Coolidge's election as mayor in 1909 began fifteen years of
        > uninterrupted political success, rising from one office to another,
        > aided by four or five truly remarkable strokes of luck that he could
        > not have anticipated or planned for, and culminating in the
        > presidency. As he says in the Autobiography, simply, almost
        > numbly, "I did not plan for it but it came." 34 What he did plan for
        > and shared with his father were the political maneuvering that got
        > him from one office to the next, and finally to the vice presidency
        > in 1920. In 1923, of course, it was his father who swore him in as
        > president and gave him his symbolic blessing. (One should point out
        > that there was some doubt as to John Coolidge's authority, on the
        > basis of his Vermont notary's commission, to administer the
        > presidential oath, and that Coolidge took it again in Washington to
        > be on the safe side.) 35
        >
        > On March 18, 1926, about three years later, John Coolidge died
        > in Plymouth. The President, tied up with public business, was unable
        > to be at his father's side. Historians have commented on a general
        > lethargy or weakness that overtook the Coolidge administration
        > during the full term that began in 1925. This afternoon we will hear
        > Robert Gilbert talk about that phenomenon and connect it with the
        > psychological trauma Coolidge suffered when his son died in 1924.
        > But it might make sense to consider the implications of the father's
        > death as well. With it, Coolidge lost the benign, powerful force
        > that, as he saw it, had steered him into high office, with whom he
        > had shared his victories and strategies, for whom he had done the
        > best he could to prove his worth. Now there was no one to satisfy,
        > and he was left in an unfriendly milieu saddled with irksome duties.
        > A loss like this could easily have been responsible for draining the
        > meaning and commitment from his presidency.
        >
        > During most of his years in politics, however, Coolidge's
        > approach to politics was distinctive, because his motivation was so
        > unusual. He had none of the common political goals--money, power,
        > policy aims--but only an internal need to satisfy. Other American
        > leaders have been accused of being in politics on an ego trip; for
        > Coolidge, one could fairly call it an ego salvage expedition. Trying
        > to prove himself to his father by doing the best job possible, he
        > approached political performance in the spirit of a Zen master,
        > detached from results, doing the thing for its own sake. The
        > practical problems of compromise that beset politicians
        > consolidating power, forming alliances, controlling money, meeting
        > the needs of influential groups--bothered him very little. He
        > concentrated on the task itself--studied problems and made
        > recommendations, expressed his views in eloquent but somewhat
        > impersonal speeches, and made executive decisions, sometimes
        > difficult ones, as in the Boston police strike. But he was
        > relatively unconcerned with outcomes. immediately after the police
        > strike, he came up for election to a second term as governor. "This
        > is a very uncertain election," he wrote his father; "more than last
        > year it may go strongly for me or against me. At any rate I shall
        > not have anything to regret. It is necessary to make sacrifices for
        > the welfare of the state. I am willing to make mine. 36
        >
        > The voters of Massachusetts and the United States, I believe,
        > in Coolidge's rhetoric and in his executive actions, sensed his
        > indifference to consequences. They interpreted it as fearlessness, a
        > quality voters admire in politicians, and repeatedly gave him
        > substantial majorities. They freed him to an unusual degree, to
        > govern entirely in accordance with his principles.
        >
        > Those principles, which were his father's as well as his own,
        > were simple, and Zen-like in their simplicity and stress on self-
        > discipline. They sprang from assumptions based on an upbringing in
        > the bleak New England hill country. Resources were limited;
        > therefore, the main task of public service was to govern efficiently
        > and not waste the people's money, to do what needed doing and to
        > refrain from doing more. Corruption and extravagance were the two
        > main dangers.
        >
        > One particular temptation to be avoided was the urge to long-
        > range planning. Coolidge and his father shared a preference for
        > letting things evolve and responding only to immediate needs. "Do
        > the day's work," Coolidge's favorite maxim, was not only an
        > injunction to work hard, but also an admonition that leaders needed
        > to concentrate on what was in front of them--to do the day's work,
        > not the year's, not the decade's, not the century's--not tie up the
        > people's money in grandiose and probably futile efforts to change
        > society. His attitude comes out clearly in the well-known comment
        > about his Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, one of the great
        > planners of twentieth-century America: "That man has offered me
        > unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad." 37
        >
        > Coolidge's legacy, then, is a presidency founded on principle--
        > indeed, an entire political career based on the principles of
        > frugality and restraint, and on the belief that society is capable
        > of transforming itself rather than an inert mass waiting for the
        > healing power of government to transform it. In this regard, he made
        > a revealing comment in the Autobiography, talking about his
        > governorship, which was a very active one. It had to be, he
        > explained, because Massachusetts was in transition from a heavily
        > regulated wartime economy to more normal peacetime
        > conditions. "Nothing was natural, everything was artificial," as he
        > put it. But by the end of his two terms, in his words, "people had
        > found themselves again, and were ready to undertake the great work
        > of reconstruction in which they have since been so successfully
        > engaged." 38 In other words, it was now time for government to back
        > off.
        >
        > "Genius is the ability to harmonize with circumstances,"
        > Coolidge had written his father during his sophomore year at
        > Amherst, doubtless unaware that he was echoing the teaching of the
        > Tao Te Ching: "if you want to be a great leader, you must learn to
        > follow the Tao. Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and
        > concepts, and the world will govern itself." 39 At the end of a
        > century scarred with disasters brought about by governments'
        > attempts to remodel society, this point of view, which Coolidge held
        > in essentials all his career, offers a refreshing contrast.
        >
        > H.L. Mencken wrote a piece on Coolidge just after his death in
        > 1933 that showed, if not an appreciation of Coolidge's style, at
        > least an understanding of the dangers it avoided. "We suffer most,"
        > he wrote, "not when the White House is a peaceful dormitory, but
        > when it is a jitney Mars Hill, with a tin-pot Paul bawling from the
        > roof. Discounting Harding as a cipher, Coolidge was preceded by one
        > world Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American,
        > having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would
        > hesitate for an instant?" 40 What enlightened American, indeed.
        > Sixty-five years later, with the benefit of ample experience from
        > our own country and abroad, Mencken's point--and Coolidge's--looks
        > more and more persuasive.
        >
        >
        > ---------------------------------------------------------------------
        > -----------
        >
        > Notes
        >
        > 1. Claude M. Fuess, Calvin Coolidge: The Man from Vermont (Boston:
        > Little, Brown, and Company, 1939), 71.
        >
        > 2. James David Barber, The Presidential Character (3d ed.; Englewood
        > Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), 10.
        >
        > 3. Quoted in Grace Coolidge, "The Real Calvin Coolidge,"
        > Cosmopolitan, May, 1935, 247.
        >
        > 4. Gerald M. Phillips, "Reticence: A Perspective on Social
        > Withdrawal" in John A. Daly and James C. McCroskey, eds., Avoiding,
        > Communication: Shyness. Reticence, and Communication Apprehension
        > (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publishers, 1984), 58; Coolidge to Frank W.
        > Stearns, 16 March 1922. Stearns Papers, College of the Holy Cross,
        > Worcester, MA.
        >
        > 5. Harlan F. Stone to William Allen White, 13 April 1933, Stone
        > Papers, Library of Congress.
        >
        > 6. On Sumner's personality and career, see David Donald, Charles
        > Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
        > 1965), 93-94, 173-175, and passim.
        >
        > 7. See, for example, the closing paragraphs of Oswald Garrison
        > Villard's editorial, "Warren G. Harding," The Nation 15 August 1923.
        > Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux,
        > 1995), 16-18, points out that most Manhattan intellectuals of the
        > period ignored politics and thought it incapable of making
        > significant contributions to American culture.
        >
        > 8. Calvin Coolidge, Autobiography (New York: Cosmopolitan Book
        > Corporation, 1929), 232 (hereafter Autobiography)
        >
        > 9. Fuess, 323-327.
        >
        > 10.Robert Sobel, Calvin Coolidge: An American Enigma (Washington:
        > Regnery Publishing, 1998), 242-243.
        >
        > 11. Quoted in Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Ouincy Adams and the
        > Foundations of American Foreign Policy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
        > 1949), 253.
        >
        > 12. Autobiography, 190.
        >
        > 13. See, e.g., Pauline Clance, The Imposter Phenomenon: Overcoming,
        > the Fear That Haunts Your Success (Atlanta: Peachtree Press, 1985),
        > and J.C. Harvey and C. Katz, If I'm So Successful, Why Do I Feel
        > Like A Fake? (New York: Random House, 1985).
        >
        > 14. Irwin H. Hoover, Forty-two Years in the White House (Boston:
        > Houghton 1934), 232-233, 256, 273; Robert Washburn, My Pen and its
        > Varied Styles (Cambridge, MA: University Press, 1939), 65, 66.
        >
        > 15. Arnold H. Buss, "A Conception of Shyness," in Daly and
        > McCroskey, 44.
        >
        > 16. Harold D. Lasswell, Power and Personality (New York: Viking
        > Books, Compass edition, 1962), 39.
        >
        > 18. To John Coolidge, 12 July 1897, in Edward C. Lathem ed., Your
        > Son, Calvin Coolidge (Montpelier, VT: Vermont Historical Society,
        > 1968), 81.
        >
        > 19. To John Coolidge, 23 September 1898, in Lathem. 95.
        >
        > 20. To John Coolidge, 10 January [1 896], in Lathem, 78.
        >
        > 21. Autobiography, 74.
        >
        > 22. Hendrik Booraem V, The Provincial: Calvin Coolidge and His
        > World, 1885-1895 (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1994),
        > 223-224, footnote 18.
        >
        > 23. Autobiography, 173-174.
        >
        > 24. To John Coolidge, 2 August 1925, in Lathem, 211.
        >
        > 25 Booraem, 76.
        >
        > 26. Autobiography, 23.
        >
        > 27. Ernest C. Carpenter, The Boyhood Days of President Calvin
        > Coolidge (Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Company, 1925),127-128;
        > Autobiography, 25.
        >
        > 28. Booraem, 87-88.
        >
        > 29 Booraem, 167.
        >
        > 30. To John Coolidge, 21 September 1894, in Lathem, 71-72, footnote
        > 4.
        >
        > 31. To John Coolidge, 25 December 1909, in Lathem, 113.
        >
        > 32. Autobiography, 99.
        >
        > 33. Autobiography, 15; "My Son, Calvin Coolidge," as told by John C.
        > Coolidge to Joe Toye, Boston Traveler, 14 August 1923.
        >
        > 34 Autobiography, 99.
        >
        > 35. Fuess, 315.
        >
        > 36. To John Coolidge, 10 October 1919, in Latham, 152.
        >
        > 37. Quoted in Paul Johnson, Modern Times (New York: Harper & Row,
        > 1983), 229. On "Do the day's work," see Booraem, 189.
        >
        > 38. Autobiography, 136-137.
        >
        > 39. To John Coolidge, 13 November 1892, in Lathem, 42; Tao Te Ching,
        > ed. Stephen Mitchell (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 57.
        >
        > 40. Alistair Cooke, ed., The Vintage Mencken (New York: Vintage
        > Press, 1956), 223.
      • Ram Lau
        Greg, check out this new group too: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SilentCalSociety/ There are some cool Cool Cal fans over there. Ram
        Message 3 of 3 , Sep 6, 2004
        • 0 Attachment
          Greg, check out this new group too:
          http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SilentCalSociety/

          There are some cool Cool Cal fans over there.

          Ram
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.