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Aug
30
Robert Sobel
Booknotes, Sunday, August 30, 1998
Robert Sobel discusses Coolidge: An American Enigma.

In the first full-scale biography of Calvin Coolidge in a generation, Robert Sobel shatters the caricature of our thirtieth president as a silent, do-nothing leader. Sobel instead exposes the real Coolidge, whose legacy as the most Jeffersonian of all twentieth-century presidents still reverberates today. Sobel delves into the record to show how Coolidge cut taxes four times, had a budget surplus every year in office, and cut the national debt by a third in a period of unprecedented economic growth. Though his list of accomplishments is impressive, Calvin Coolidge was perhaps best known and most respected by his contemporaries for his character. Americans in the 1920’s embraced Coolidge for his upstanding character, which came as a breath of fresh air after the scandal-ridden administration of Warren G. Harding. The sleaze that characterizes much of American political life today was absent in his administration. In many respects Coolidge was of a bygone era. He was the last president who wrote his own speeches, who spent hours each day greeting White House visitors, who had only one secretary, and who didn’t even keep a telephone on his desk. Yet he remains as relevant today as he was three-quarters of a century ago. Little wonder, then, that Ronald Reagan so admired Coolidge, whose programs in the 1920’s presaged the recent movement toward smaller government and reduced taxes. (It was Reagan who ordered Coolidge’s portrait to be placed in the White House Cabinet Room, next to Lincoln’s and Jefferson’s.) Through research and analysis, Sobel reveals Coolidge’s clear record of political successes and delivers the message that Coolidge had for our time a message that speaks directly to our most important political debates. Coolidge remains an enigma to Americans because he was so unlike any other politician, past or present. Coolidge rose to the highest office in the land without the politician’s familiar trappings the glad-handing, the glib tongue, the empty promises, the negative campaigning. He lacked charisma, presence, charm, or any of the qualities that would make a politician attractive to today’s media. Coolidge’s legacy is his deeds, not his words which is exactly how he would have chosen to be remembered by history. Coolidge: An American Enigma dispels the myths that have gathered around this underappreciated president and gives him the serious consideration he merits. With this timely and important biography, Sobel has surely challenged historians to reassess Calvin Coolidge. —from the publisher's website (timspalding)… (more)
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