Saturday, March 19, 2011

Winter 2010/11, List & Book VII

I. James Madison by Jack N. Rakove

II. The Law by Frederic Bastiat

III. Present at the Creation by Dean Acheson

IV. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

V. The Math Book by Clifford A. Pickover

VI. Before the Dawn by Shimazaki Toson and translated by W.E. Naff.

VII. The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge

30th President of the United States
In office
August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929

This read was not on the original list that I suggested for the winter 2010/2011. But, after receiving it as a Christmas gift from my daughter-in-law who sent it along with the ‘buzz’ she heard as a terrific read, I could not resist the temptation to spend a weekend with it. “Silent Cal”, scrupulously honest and a man of few words, was the 30th President of the United States taking office upon the sudden death of Harding.

Elected in his own right in 1924, he gained a reputation as a small-government conservative Republican and presided over the “Roaring Twenties”. Coolidge elected not to run for a second full term and departed office with considerable popularity. Subsequently falling out of favor during the depression and the Progressive movement toward bigger government, he was resurrected during the Reagan years as an icon of thriftiness.

Most of the recent autobiographies by public servants tend to be a “mile wide and an inch deep” where they write the script that defends their actions and excoriates their enemies. Few are worth reading. But, Coolidge’s along with Grant’s and Acheson’s are the opposite, they can be more rightly described as a “mile wide and a mile deep.”

For some time I have touted Grant’s and Acheson’s as the two best autobiographies by America’s public servants. Each detailed their lives and decisions within the context of the chaos they faced during their tenures without ad hominem attacks upon their political enemies. They were true memoirs about their lives and times spread over hundreds of pages of script by their own hand. Each was interesting and informative; and, we still live with many of the decisions they ushered into our thread of life. These were bonafide works of history that became a part of the critical documentation of the workings of our government.

But, Coolidge takes a slightly different tact with his. In a mere 247 pages he describes his life and the Presidency in minimalist terms loaded with amazing insights about the American people. As one historian noted, “He embodied the spirit and hopes of the middle class….” Following his terse speaking and writing style, not only was Coolidge silent about his enemies, he never mentions them. He felt that a large part of his success was linked to his refrain from abusing other people. Coolidge knew the words of a President have an enormous weight and were to be used judiciously.

Coolidge fits well the stereotypical view of early New England citizens with their responsible, honest, hard working ethos that settled the country, leaders during the Revolution; and, mostly, just wanted to be left alone to pursue their own path to happiness with their families that a free country with limited government provides. However, when called upon for public service, they were quick to respond with honesty and hard work. During those early years they never shirked their civic duty and they were fully trusted by their fellow man. That was Coolidge: quiet, unassuming, trustworthy, responsible, a family man, and above all actually had the best interest of his constituents in the forefront of his policies. He always felt that being entrusted with public service was of the highest calling. Many view Coolidge as the most underrated President ever to serve the country.

It is likely that the first two chapters, “Scenes of My Childhood” and “Seeking an Education”, will be of most interest to C-133 Crew members. As New England sages were quick to note, the education of a child should begin several generations before birth. Further, one’s power over the future depends upon what one does with himself in the present. It seems that within these two chapters is a description of the childhood and the quest for education that many of us had upon joining the USAF. At our last reunion, many of the attendees mentioned how grateful they were to have been part of an organization that helped them fulfill those dreams of their childhood.

The Autobiography of Coolidge is a pithy insight from a seemingly ordinary man who became President largely through the trust the people had in him; and, it was successful because of the trust he had in the people. The declaration of the belief by the people in his presidency was his greatest satisfaction.

Coolidge and the people believed that wealth comes from industry and from the hard work of human toil; and, for that reason Coolidge worked to create an economy that would not unduly burdened either group. It was to be an economy that enriched each in all forms of life, and it came to be called “The Roaring Twenties”. What better proof of his success? Enjoy!

Richard Spencer

39th ATS, DAFB 1962-1965

Last Winter Book Review to Come:
(watch for the Summer List)

VIII. The Citizens' Constitution by Seth Lipsky

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