Politics

The Tao of Coolidge

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A refreshing flashback to the days before the cult of the presidency achieved dominance:

keeping cool

In a wonderful little essay on Calvin Coolidge (Calvin Coolidge: Puritanism de Luxe) written in 1926, Walter Lippmann described the president as having mastered the "technique of anti-propaganda" by sapping public interest in government, by deflating enthusiasm for programs, projects, and political dreams coming from Washington. The Democrats of his time worked hard to whip up passions for policies, programs, for politics generally--but it was "Mr. Coolidge's skill in destroying issues."…

"Mr. Coolidge's genius for inactivity is developed to a very high point. It is far from being an indolent inactivity. It is a grim, determined, alert inactivity which keeps Mr. Coolidge occupied constantly. Nobody has ever worked harder at inactivity, with such force of character, with such unremitting attention to detail, with such conscientious devotion to the task. Inactivity is a political philosophy and a party program with Mr. Coolidge, and nobody should mistake his unflinching adherence to it for the soft and easy desire to let things slide. Mr. Coolidge's inactivity is not merely the absence of activity. It is on the contrary a steady application to the task of neutralizing and thwarting political activity wherever there are signs of life."

Lippmann's full essay, which contrasts Coolidge's quiet frugality with the consumer culture that swept the country at the same time, can be read here.