. . . is business.” This lengthy sentence, uttered in 1925 by the normally taciturn Calvin Coolidge, our last great President, represents the latest sensible message to have emanated from that bastion of bombast on Pennsylvania Avenue. This is not said in derogation of those excellent successors to Silent Cal, Herbert Hoover and Dwight Eisenhower; but for all their applaudable efforts to reaffirm the Coolidge Maxim, they were only moderately successful and neither one was anywhere near as articulate as Cal.
The Roaring Twenties, the last springtime of America, presided over astonishingly enough by the ineffable Cal — Pithy Cal, whose most notable pronunciamentos with recognizable New England thrift were saved and then parsimoniously paid out in six word installments, such as: “I do not choose to run.” To his everlasting credit Coolidge contributed nothing to the roar of the Twenties — in stark contrast to most of his successors, notably Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, both of whom not only debased our sacred coinage, but, worst of all, so inflated political rhetoric that its consequent flatulence to this day curses the atmosphere of polite political society.
The Twenties was America’s last great age, the last bacchanal of a business-dominated society unfettered by social engineers and paternalistic government, properly ending in the purgative of the Great Depression with its potential for unrelieved hardship and consequent strengthening of the national character. Alack! For the lost opportunity of allowing the Depression to run its natural course and the possibility of forging from the heat of the national experience a self-reliant citizenry capable of overcoming the rigors of that time and the bleak future. Le temps perdu.
It was at this time that we most of all needed a Calvin Coolidge to remind us in his no-nonsense manner that “The business of America is business.” Instead, with a tactic equivalent to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater, self-serving politicians invented “fear itself” and in the ensuing panic proclaimed the presidency pre-eminently a place of moral leadership. Given the body politic’s infinite capacity for self-delusion and innate cowardice in confronting hardship, it was not difficult to persuade that training for moral leadership had passed from the seminaries to the smokey warrens of the Dewitt Clinton Hotel in Albany, N.Y. And thus, the republic was denied its trial of strength and instead was nursed with an enervating milk sop diet at the public teat.
O’ Cal, thou didst fail us when thou were needest most! — When parlous times required a narrow mind silently focussed on the virtues of hard work and thrift and resolved to a firm policy of drift, we got what we deserved — mindless yawping and smirking accompanied by bread, circuses and war, the classic program of the originators of Big Government, the dictators of the Later Roman Republic.
And so, my friend, then began in this favored land the misuse of Government. No longer dedicated solely to the maintenance of order, defense from foreign predators and the promotion of commerce and industry, government became the purveyor of something called social justice, a concept as alien to the American spirit as non-violence, vegetarianism, environmental protection and moral foreign policy. Nevertheless, poor self-deluded Americans spurning their true nature began an era extending to this day of following false prophets to the Temple of Justice rather than to the Temple of Mammon.
Not so, the Founding Fathers. The clear vision that characterized the Age of Reason served them well. They understood the nature of America, the business of America — for the Revolution was an enterprise begun and successfully completed by businessmen for business reasons. Successful revolutions (there have been remarkably few) have a single characteristic. To wit: the motivating force is the self-interested sound business reasons of the Revolutionists themselves. The Glorious Revolution of 1689, the American Revolution and the Industrial Revolution were all successfully motivated business enterprises. Contrariwise, failed revolutions such as the French, Russian and War between the States were all motivated by concepts of social justice.
These business men, then our Pateri Pragmatici, aware there is little profit in only sowing the seeds (of revolution), nurtured the seedling of a new nation and in the very first presidential administration brought forth a glorious flowering; the Hamiltonian Business Program established the financial credit of the new enterprise by (1) redeeming the bonds of the Continental Congress, (2) assuming the debts of the states and (3) establishing a national bank for the promotion of commerce and industry. Fittingly enough, as a symbol of its understanding of the role of government, the very first structure of any consequence built by the fledgeling nation was the neo-classic marble fronted monument to money: The First Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. Sadly enough, but in keeping with the twisted temper of our times, instead of now being revered as the first temple of the nation, the building is insultingly misused by the National Park Service as a quaint historical curiosity from which to distribute saccharine nonsense on the lecheries of Benjamin Franklin to unwary virgin schoolteachers.
Mr. Carter, forgive the prolix and perhaps unnecessary historical commentary, perchance you may lend a moment to think on’t — for while we have heard many things from you including references, some complimentary and others not, to your predecessors, yet have you to opine on Calvin Coolidge, or for that matter, on Alexander Hamilton. There are those of us, not many formerly counted among your admirers, who to date take heart from reports of your activities which mayhap ( dare we so hope?) indicate the formulation of a Coolidgean policy of saying little and doing less. Now, if you do not yet have it all together, you are welcome to use the following program fittingly found among the memorabilia in the attic of the two family house in Northampton, Mass., where Calvin Coolidge spent his post-presidential years. The program has been edited and updated for your use.
PROGRAM OF PRESIDENTIAL INITIATIVES: 1977-1981
Request Congress to:
- Declare a moratorium on enacting any new legislation until 1980.
- Set up committees empowered only to recommend repeal of present legislation.
- Adjourn until January 1981. (After all during the 45-year-reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Parliament met only nine times for short periods. The Elizabethan Age continues to be admired.)
For the Office of the President:
- Think slowly, if at all.
- Say little of substance.
- Execute those laws that shall promote commerce and industry. Allow the remainder to fall into disuse.
- Veto any new legislation.
- Choose not to run in 1980. (With this program there is little likelihood of re-election anyway).
* And so, Sy, while I read with interest your open letter to Jimmy Carter, I was disappointed that you never did tie it all together into a brief statement, but as we all know, a December Sun is weak. While we could not hope that everyone might be able to equal the brevity and elegance of Cal Coolidge, Charles E. Wilson made a pretty good try in ten words. How about, “What is good for General Motors is good for America.”?