Friday, September 24, 2021

"Spoiled with praise and...spoiled with abuse"

Today the Wall Street Journal has a review of a new edition of The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge. I've ordered it. From Barton Swaim's review:
.... Coolidge takes two of the book’s seven chapters to recall his 512 years as president. “It is a great advantage to a President, and a major source of safety to the country,” he writes, “for him to know that he is not a great man. When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions.” ....

“I was convinced in my own mind that I was not qualified to fill the exalted office of President,” he recalls. Harding died in 1923, making Coolidge president. He won the presidency in his own right in 1924, taking a majority of the popular vote against two opponents—Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive Robert LaFollette—while hardly mentioning either by name.

Republicans expected him to run again in 1928, but he declined. Vacationing in South Dakota the year before, he issued a terse statement: “I do not choose to run for President in 1928.” Why? Because, as he puts it in the Autobiography, “the people would not have confidence in a man that appeared to be grasping for office”—if only!—and in any case “the chances of having wise and faithful public service are increased by a change in the Presidential office after a moderate length of time.” ....

The myth of Silent Cal is loosely connected to truth. The most famous story of his taciturnity—at a dinner, a woman told him she’d bet a friend that she could get more than two words out of the president, to which he replied, “You lose”—is likely an invention. But he was parsimonious with words. In the Autobiography he writes of “the value of a silence which avoids creating a situation where one would otherwise not exist.”

Coolidge’s reticence was not a sign of dullness. He had a gift for perceiving the heart of a political question and expressing what he saw in clear, direct prose. ....

The book’s finest passage appears in its penultimate chapter, mundanely titled “Some of the Duties of the President.” The president must remember at all times, he writes, that he is “dealing with two different minds.” The first is the “mind of the country,” desiring the nation’s welfare but remaining “unorganized, formless, and inarticulate.” The other is the “political mind”: “a strange mixture of vanity and timidity, of an obsequious attitude at one time and a delusion of grandeur at another time, of the most selfish preferment combined with the most sacrificing patriotism. The political mind is the product of men in public life who have been twice spoiled. They have been spoiled with praise and they have been spoiled with abuse. With them nothing is natural, everything is artificial.” .... (more, probably behind a subscription wall)
"‘The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge’ Review: Quiet, Modest, Memorable"

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