Why not Calvin Coolidge? In a time when we administer clarion calls to the government that "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!", Coolidge would likely respond, "no it doesn't."
It is with this admiration of our 30th president, the Great Refrainer, the one that presided over the Roaring Twenties when life improved significantly for all Americans, that I read the official results of the 2024 Presidential Greatness Project Expert Survey administered by professors from the University of Houston and Coastal Carolina University.
The survey was issued to members of the American Political Science Association and asked them to rate each president on a greatness scale of 0-100 with 100 being the greatest. Where did Calvin Coolidge rank of the 46 presidents measured... 34th of 46, between Richard Nixon and Chester Arthur.
I disagree. I full-throated disagree. And Silent Cal signed the Immigration Act of 1924 that was designed to reduce immigrants from, among other countries, Italy. Note my last name. By that measure, I should dislike Coolidge. But I don't.
Because Coolidge's philosophy about the United States is in his probably best-known quotes: "the chief business of the American people is business." He was pro-business, and anti-government intervention in economic affairs. Some criticize that this laissez faire attitude led to the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. And non-existent regulation likely played a role in the crash. But there is credible evidence that the actions of Coolidge successors likely caused and extended the Great Depression.
The dramatic stock market crash was probably fueled by wild speculation because of the economic expansion that happened under Coolidge's watch. Coolidge ascended to the presidency from vice president in 1923, when Warren Harding passed away suddenly. In 1923, the GDP was $803 billion, and in 1929 when Coolidge departed for Herbert Hoover, GDP was $977 billion, a 22% increase.
What was Coolidge's greatest attribute: restraint. In a letter to his father when he was Governor of Massachusetts he said "It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones." Where are you today Calvin!
The truth is, he wouldn't make it in today's politics. Doing nothing is not considered a good attribute. I would agree with that to this extent: doing nothing to reduce the myriads of laws and regulations imposed on us by an ever-expanding government bureaucracy would be bad. And I think Coolidge-like leadership would set about righting this listing ship. Restraint in advancing government. Action in reversing its advance.
Silent Cal was his nickname, but truth be told he had two press conferences per week and used the newfangled radio to speak directly to Americans. It takes explanation why he would do nothing, such as when post WWI veterans lobbied for a pension, or when farmers lobbied for aid. No and no. And Coolidge was a farmer!
After he won the presidency in his own right in 1924, and as a result of unprecedented prosperity and human advancement while he was president, he was poised for a landslide victory in 1928. Except he chose not to run. That's what he said to the press: "I choose not to run in nineteen twenty-eight." How many president's today would bask in such popularity, stare in the face of sure victory, and say, "no thank you, it's time for someone new"?
Coolidge might very well have been our humblest president. He didn't seek the limelight, spent most of his time in office reducing taxes and the government. He balanced every budget. And the Federal budget was lower when he left office than when he came in. He didn't need big spending resume bullet bills that were not absolutely necessary. And at the height of his popularity, he walked away.
No, the American Political Science Association got it wrong. They clearly do not value government restraint, humility, and freedom. Coolidge, however, took seriously our Constitution and the context from which it was written.
Some other notable quotes that made Coolidge such a great president courtesy of AZ Quotes:
"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
"Unless the people, through unified action, arise and take charge of their government, they will find that their government has taken charge of them. Independence and liberty will be gone, and the general public will find itself in a condition of servitude to an aggregation of organized and selfish interest."
"Don't expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong."
"You can't increase prosperity by taxing success."
"Wherever despotism abounds, the sources of public information are the first to be brought under its control."
"You can't know too much. But you can say too much."
"A government which lays taxes on the people not required by urgent public necessity and sound public policy is not a protector of liberty, but an instrument of tyranny. It condemns the citizen to servitude."
"Silence can never be misquoted."
"Doubters do not achieve; skeptics do not contribute; cynics do not create."
"Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery."
"It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers."