nothing. and very adroitly
President Obama will be visiting Vermont today and bringing with him all the heavy baggage of the Imperial Presidency. The big airplane, the heavy security, the military salutes, the private luncheon with people willing and able to pay what it would cost to feed a family for a year. The entire business of "the Presidency" seems to lack a sense of proportion no matter who is holding down the job or to which party the occupant of the White House belongs.
It seems so, anyway if you belong to the shrinking band of Americans who prefer their government small and their politicians humble and life sized. Who do not believe that presidents can do most – or even very much – of what they promise and wish, accordingly, that they would try to leave us alone as much as possible to work it out for ourselves. And who also believe that such dignity as does attach itself to the office is severely tarnished by incessant shoulder rubbing with fat cats for the purpose of raising money with which to campaign. Again, this is a non-partisan complaint. The only reason, no doubt, that no Republican president has recently visited Vermont is that it would not have been cost effective.
Coolidge kept his own council (did he ever) and governed by the principle that:
"If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you."
The standard issue lament about Coolidge among those who favor an active executive is that the did nothing. But if that is so then, as our friend Amity Shlaes explains, nobody did it better:
... when [Coolidge] left office the federal government was smaller than when he entered it. The economy was growing at four percent annually, taxes were low, and the budget was balanced.
Find out what brand he drinks, as another president said, and send a barrel to all the candidates.
Ms. Shlaes has a book on Coolidge coming out sometime soon and one expects it will be widely read and discussed. And, of course, slammed by those who cannot imagine a smaller government or a less magesterial presidency.
There is another aspect of Coolidge that provokes a sense of nostalgia. His wit.
Those who can afford lunch with President Obama today in Burlington may hear the knee slapper he has been using lately about how those who are skeptics of renewable energy projects (skepticism his administration has done much to kindle) should take out membership in the Flat Earth Society. Har har.
Coolidge, who was famously described by Alice Roosevelt Longworth as having been "weaned on a pickle.” Was capable of the kind of wit that doesn't occur to White House speech writers. He was famously reticent but when he chose to speak, he could make his words cut. As for instance on the occasion of a White House dinner when a woman seated next to him said, "I made a bet with a friend that I couldn't get you to say more than two words.".
President Coolidge turned to her and said, "You lose!"
We eagerly await the publication of Ms. Shlaes book as it will be a welcome distraction through an election year of 30 seconds spots and empty campaign speeches that both speaker and audience realize are hopeless.
In the meantime, there is Jeff Wennberg's essay which we published a while back and is worth rereading on the occasion of a rare presidential visit to Vermont.
(revised and corrected from initial posting)