Author: Robert Sobol
After reading about Franklin Roosevelt, I wanted to take on the task of reading about someone I knew little about. After reading about Calvin Coolidge, the title of the book is apropos. He is certainly an enigma, although more specifically, just a boring guy!
I will not recite the book to you though I would like to highlight the accomplishments of one of our former Presidents, but I honestly cannot. What made hime unique was, get this, his honesty. That was the common thread through the book. He was honest, thrifty, slow to speak , and VERY pragmatic.
Coolidge is from Vermont but lived in Massachusetts where he was a mayor, state senator, Lt. governor, and governor. He became Vice President to Warren Harding and the President after Harding passed away in the middle of his term. Not a wealthy man until after he left the White House, he did not own a home until after he was President.
His defining moment is a speech called "Have Faith in Massachusetts" that was certainly a fine speech but not one that I would recite after reading this book. Politically he was a Republican that believed in little government interaction and a balanced budget. He was one of Ronald Reagan's favorite Presidents.
Robert Sobol is certainly a Calvin Coolidge apologist and defends him against the various criticisms that Coolidge faced after his Presidency. Among them were:
- Coolidge did little to regulate the market which led to the Great Depression. While that may be true, no know could have predicted the magnitude of a market crash of the like we saw in 1929. However, the way so many people were buying stocks on margin in the 1920s was certainly an indicator. Also Coolidge did little to interact with the Congress of the time.
- Coolidge laizze faire attitude towards foreign affairs led to events that started World War II. The coutnry was in no mood for war and what surprised me was that World War I turned out to be a very unpopular war in the 1920s. Coolidge led the way to reducing the Navy Fleet and the military was neglected during this time. Coolidge's only foreign relations success was working with Mexico. Europe and the US were at odds with the protective tariffs of the time and Japan was largely unchecked.
- Domestic Issues dominated the 1920s scene and not for the better. While Coolidge did focus on the homefront, his silence on Prohibition was a huge failure. Coolidge was a "wet" (favored drinking) but did not voice that. The Teapot Dome Scandal he inherited and did a nice job of cleaning it up. For the most part, the Congress ran the country and the country meandered on its way with not a heavy rudder.
Coolidge was the last of that era of Presidents. McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge. The coutnry was moving too fast for Coolidge by the time he left office. Radio was a common household staple, Henry Ford had made the automobile a family institution and the economy was moving from the farm to the city.
Finally, the best part of the book was how Coolidge was nominated. Sobol devotes a large chunk of the book to the wheeling and dealing of political bosses and the party conventions. The primaries and media frenzy of our time does not remotely resemble the bank room deals made during that period of American history. Get this, Coolidge gets nominated for VP and he is not even at the convention AND the the presidential nominee has NO say in who is chosen.
RECOMMENDATION: Read only if you have to read a book about every US President. I caught myself thinking I should have read a shorter book.
SOURCE: St Louis Public Library
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