Reviewing "Coolidge," a biography on the 30th U.S. President by Amity Shlaes, Jacob Heilbrunn notes in the Sunday New York Times Book Review that Calvin Coolidge (left), has been resurrected as a "prophet on the right" by George Will, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, among others. "Silent Cal" was noted for his opposition to progressive taxation, labor rights and financial regulation–and for his support of supply-side economics. Heilbrunn, though, does not share the conservative Shlaes' admiration for her subject and is particularly critical of her contention that Coolidge had no responsibility for the Depression. He notes that Coolidge, Reagan and George W. Bush all supported similar policies that had negative economic impacts. One might also note that these are the same disastrous policies promoted by today's conservative Coolidge fans:
...No, Coolidge was not single-handedly culpable for the economic calamity of the 1930s. But neither can he be safely extracted from the ruin that followed his presidency. Quite the contrary. Coolidge was the pre-eminent cheerleader for the economic nostrums that led to the crash. His opposition to regulation allowed Wall Street and the banks to engage in rampant speculation and insider trading, practices that were not curbed until Joseph Kennedy was appointed head of the new Securities and Exchange Commission by Franklin Roosevelt to ban the very practices he himself had employed. So deep was Coolidge’s antipathy to any form of government action that he even viewed his gifted secretary of commerce and successor Herbert Hoover with a measure of contempt, calling him the “wonder boy” because he fell into the progressive Republican camp.
With yet another tribute about to appear — “Why Coolidge Matters,” by the former Claremont Institute fellow Charles C. Johnson, will be published in March — Coolidge will surely continue to enjoy a comeback on the right. Yet his actual record shows that he was an extraordinarily blinkered and foolish and complacent leader, no less than George W. Bush before the stock market plummeted in 2008. The bogus nostrums that Coolidge touted have directly led either to enormous deficits during the Reagan era or to outright catastrophe during the Bush era. Shlaes never stops to ponder the abundant literature chafing at and exposing the conformity and avarice of the Roaring Twenties, but the prosperity offered by Calvinism has always proved as elusive as the promise of the green light that Jay Gatsby watches at the end of Daisy’s dock. Conservatives may be intent on excavating a hero, but Coolidge is no model for the present. He is a bleak omen from the past.