Since the world appears to be self-correcting — Massachusetts voters have matters in hand, the Supreme Court has come to its senses on the First Amendment, each day brings new revelations that the report of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was a fraud, and President Obama acknowledges that his agenda has hit a “buzz saw” — it’s safe to detour into the personal.
We have a new puppy — an eight-week-old golden retriever who looks (I hope you won’t think me immodest) like the pups they pose in catalogues to make you buy down jackets and lawn furniture. She’s the kind of puppy pictured in saccharine wall calendars, toilet-tissue commercials, and anywhere else that melting adorableness is required.
In keeping with our family tradition, we have named her after a U.S. president. Our first dog, who died last July, was called Gipper to honor Ronald Reagan. Teddy (Roosevelt) came next. We’ve named this pup Cali (my husband’s idea), for Calvin Coolidge.
The most-remembered fact about our 30th president is a misquotation. He did not say, “The business of America is business.” In a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1925, Coolidge said, “After all, the chief business of the American people is business.” But this was prefatory to his main point, which was this: “Of course the accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of existence.” In fact, Coolidge prized “practical idealism,” a trait he believed U.S. newspapers represented very well. He closed with these words:
We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction.
Coolidge’s example is a timely one. As David Pietrusza helpfully outlines in Silent Cal’s Almanack, he cut taxes four times and produced a budget surplus each year of his presidency. He also shifted the burden of taxes, which had fallen heavily on low earners during the Wilson administration, to the rich. Per capita income increased by 30 percent between 1922 and 1928. Unemployment averaged 3.3 percent. Coolidge respected his fellow citizens and believed in the government’s duty not to overburden them. “The men and women of this country who toil are the ones who bear the cost of the government. Every dollar that we carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager. Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form.”
“Duty,” he said, “is not collective. It is personal.”
He was known as “Silent Cal” for his Vermont taciturnity. A woman seated to his left at a dinner party once told him she’d made a bet that she could get him to say more than two words. “You lose,” he deadpanned. He clearly longed for others to emulate his example. “Many times I say only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to people,” he lamented to Bernard Baruch. “Even that is too much. It winds them up for 20 minutes or more.”
Coolidge spoke sparingly because he could fit much wisdom into few words. “It is characteristic of the unlearned,” he observed, “that they are forever proposing something which is old and, because it has recently come to their own attention, supposing it to be new.”
Above all, Coolidge had his priorities in order. Regarding qualifications for the presidency, he is said to have declared, “Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.”
Cali is not quite getting the spirit of her name. “Silent” is not the word that came to mind as our family was kept awake the other night by her howls of indignation at being confined to her crate. Between midnight and 5 a.m., we took turns escorting her to the backyard, in the rain, in January, and then gently but firmly returning her to the place she is supposed (ha!) to sleep.
But in the morning, her endearing face and wagging tail greet us joyously, and no one complains.
– Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2010 Creators Syndicate, Inc.