From the Right: Coolidge: The Godfather of modern conservatism
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 01:03
Conservatism is more than an ideology or set of principles. It is a governing philosophy that when applied results in prosperity, opportunity and freedom. Let there be no doubt the conservative message has been cluttered and at times forgotten. Too many candidates for office often reject the label and principle and try to run as a smarter version of Democrats. This is not the approach and it is not a path for victory. Conservatism is not a dirty word. It is not taboo. It is a philosophy that restrains the size of government and protects the liberties and freedoms of all citizens. It is the saving grace so needed in our country today.
Generally, it is Ronald Reagan who is considered the hero of modern conservatism, and if another name is to be mentioned it’s Barry Goldwater. However, before Goldwater became an icon of conservatism and Reagan the great standard bearer, one man presided over an era of small-government conservatism long before the expansionist arrival of the New Deal and The Great Society. That man was Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States from 1923 to 1929.
Known as Silent Cal, Coolidge is mostly a forgotten president buried in the history pages and overshadowed by the larger-than-life figures of FDR and Kennedy, and eclipsed by Reagan as the conservative giant for the Republican Party. However, in this big government era where progressivism is displacing conservatism as the governing philosophy, the man America should look to is Calvin Coolidge and the policies America should embrace are the ones he championed while he was president: lower taxes, spending cuts, personal responsibility and respect for the Constitution.
Before Reagan transformed the conservative agenda and spoke of smaller government and lower taxes, Coolidge succeeded in implementing a vision so closely associated with Reagan. In essence, Coolidge was Reagan before there was Reagan. He was the first conservative president, taking office in an era that otherwise was dominated by big government liberals, an era not quite unlike today.
The liberals of the time pushed the same big government agenda much like the current one that is being shoved down our throats today: higher taxes, more spending and encroaching entitlement state. American society was an echo chamber. Democrats and even Republicans trumpeted progressivism, yet Coolidge came in and turned the progressive agenda on its head and showed that through spending cuts, lower taxes and a lassiez-faire government prosperity would reign.
Coolidge’s motto was that “the people of America should be able to work less for the government and more for themselves.” He saw big government as unnecessary and as an infringement on the lives of the American people. Taxes should be low, not high, government spending should shrink not rise, and if done in unison (as he succeeded in doing), the people not only benefit, but so to does the government. At the end of his term the budget ran a surplus, the economy was booming and the size of government shrunk.
So, how is a man who presided over an era of prosperity so widely forgotten among contemporaries and even by the Republican Party? As a president, Coolidge was not an outspoken figure and he saw the role of the president for what it was in the Constitution. His job was not to go out and grow the size of government or plaster his name and image all over the place. Instead he envisioned his job to manage the country, to govern it in accordance to the very principles established by the framers, to preside over a government of enumerated powers with respect for the rights of states and to let the American people live their lives on their own terms without social engineering from the government.
In today’s America, the goal of both political parties is to pander to one specific group or another. To promise certain gifts from government and to pledge tax cuts for some and tax increases for others. Coolidge didn’t see America through the class prism. He saw America as one nation and executed policies that didn’t benefit just the rich or the middle class, but every American. Sadly, the Democrats will never learn this common sense lesson, but Republicans must. Rather than look to Reagan as the conservative paragon, it is time to look back at the man whom Reagan considered his favorite president – Calvin Coolidge.
Coolidge, unlike some, understood conservatism as a governing philosophy and put its principles of small government, lower taxes and less spending into effect. For a man who actually reduced the size of government and cut the top marginal rate to 25 percent (lower than Reagan), it is time for Republicans to get with the program and realize that following in the footsteps of Coolidge will lead them back to 1600 Pennsylvania.
History forgot him, but Republicans should not. To win again Republicans need only follow Coolidge’s path and embrace his brand of conservatism. It proved popular then, and certainly, in this big government era, it’ll be more popular today.
Phil Boynton is a junior political science major and considers himself a common-sense minded conservative.