What Washington could learn from President Calvin Coolidge

Rick Klein, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Top Line

President Calvin Coolidge isn’t typically remembered as one of the great American presidents, but as Congress moves to consider the president’s budget released Wednesday, biographer Amity Shlaes makes the case that Washington could learn a thing or two from the 30th president.

“When he left office, the federal budget was lower than when he came in real terms, nominal, with vanilla on top,” Shlaes says of the former president, pointing to this as his great legacy.

“He actually cut the budget."

In her new biography Coolidge, Shlaes lays out how that the former president led a successful battle to rein in the government and cut taxes.

"The big drama of his life was holding the government back, and he did that when he was president by vetoing and by cutting taxes and it wasn't an easy campaign,” Shlaes tells Top Line.

Coolidge is more commonly remembered as “silent Cal” rather than an “economic general,” as Shlaes characterizes him. But Shlaes asserts that his silence was a political philosophy.

“He was selectively silent,” says Shlaes. “He didn't want to hand out political favors.”

Shlaes explains that the president used silence as a way to build political trust, while being careful not to make promises he couldn’t keep. Shlaes says modern politicians focus too much on “their celebrity and their personality” which leads to a sort of insincerity with their electorate, pointing to Gov. Christie (R – N.J.) as an example.

“Today we have an absence of political trust, because they yap on and then do the opposite of what they said, and you actually see that a little bit in Chris Christie, who's supposed to be a ‘free marketeer’ and then was asking for help in this horrible storm,” says Shlaes.

To hear more about how the 30th president might approach the budget if he were in office today, as well as how he would handle immigration reform, check out this episode of Top Line.

Eric Wray and Sherisse Pham contributed to this episode.