Saturday, July 22, 2017

Book Review: Coolidge by Amity Schlaes

By Rich Kozlovich

Often I'll read about a book I think is worthwhile and I buy it immediately.  But often times -  I don't read them immediately.  I always have at least ten, and at times twenty books, on my shelves waiting to be read.  My problem is I'm reading more but I'm reading less books.  This is a pattern I've decided to change by reading a book a week as does my friend Jay Lehr who has inspired me to make that change.  Articles are great, but limited.  They're the sign posts which create a direction of thought, and point the way to the books that need to be read in order to get a depth of understanding on any given subject.  Coolidge is one of those books.

I thought I bought Coolidge about two years ago - wrong!  It originally came out in 2013, so clearly it was longer than two years and I finally got into it.  I thought I knew a lot about Coolidge - wrong again!  However, I'm glad I waited because there are remarkable similarities between the Coolidge and the Trump Presidencies, and if I'd read it four years ago I wouldn't have grasped that.

This may seem a bit strange to everyone since there are real differences between Coolidge and Trump, both in their life experiences personal conduct.  But the similarities existing in the political arena are remarkable. 

There were only three conservative Presidents in the 20th century, Harding, Coolidge and Reagan.  Harding was elected in 1920 but died two years into his first term.  Coolidge became President of the United States, much to the dismay of Henry Cabot Lodge.  I found his character and conduct reminded me of John McCain.  A distracting, derogatory, ego driven, stumbling block who was a constant thorn in the side to Coolidge as is McCain to Trump. 

Harding won the 1920 election and Coolidge won the 1924 election.  Eight years of conservative thought and action, but not another conservative until 1980 when Coolidge admirer Ronald Reagan won.  Reagan wasn't the dunce the media and the left claimed, just as Coolidge wasn't and neither is Trump.  Those intervening years were dominated by political "progressives", on both sides of the aisle.

"Progressives" in both parties wanted maximum tax returns in order to spend, spend, spend, and Coolidge wanted to cut spending, cut government and bring fiscal sanity to the government and the nation and grow opportunities for the nation's businesses by leaving them alone to do what do without unnecessary government involvement or interference.  Much of that interference started by Teddy Roosevelt and made insane with Woodrow Wilson's fascist policies.  Nothing has changed over the last one hundred years, the battle continues. 

Both Coolidge and Trump face many of the same policy problems.  What's worth noting is Coolidge's tax plan.  It was formulated by his Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, and referred to as "scientific taxation", operating under the principle that reducing taxes would create growth thereby generating more capital which in turn would generate more taxes.  He was right, and it's clear Trump is wanting to go down that same road. 

It's clear one of the major turning points of the 20th century was Coolidge's decision not to run for his second term in 1928.   So why didn't he run?   Coolidge had a son who died while he was in office and that destroyed any joy he had being President.  He also was not feeling well and he had some serious problems within his family, and it may have included a problem with his wife and a Secret Service agent.  That's not confirmed in the book but it's certainly hinted at strongly. 

That opened the door to Herbert Hoover, whose policies laid the foundation for the Great Depression after the stock market crash of 1929, followed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt whose policies kept the nation in the Great Depression until 1942. 

Like so many historians Amity Schlaes works, including the book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, demonstrates she's a brilliant researcher.   But she's not a great story teller.  I loved both books, but not because she spins a great tale, but because she delved into historical reality, and the subjects aren't conducive to the telling of tales. 

Coolidge was probably the greatest President of the 20th century and he's largely unknown and unappreciated. My take is everyone interested in history, especially the history that demonstrates foundation for what we're facing today, needs to read Coolidge. I loved it but I'm a history buff, not a fiction reader.  If you love history, this is for you, especially now.

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