Fiscal Sanity: The Case From the Heart

By: David Bozeman

Glenn Beck, appearing on a recent O’Reilly Factor, brought out new Tea Party poster boy Calvin Coolidge for a quick tribute. Our 30th president (1923-29) usually ranks with Millard Fillmore and Zachary Taylor in name recognition and barely above Herbert Hoover in historical surveys. But Beck hailed Silent Cal’s handling of a financial meltdown in the early 20s that may well have averted a Great Depression (the same fact has been attributed to Warren Harding, president from 1921-23).

In any event, the call for fiscal sanity is fueling the resurgence of modern conservatism. From Tea Party rallies to national debt projections to Glenn Beck’s chalkboard presentations, it’s all about the numbers now, and Calvin, the Vermont-born architect of cost-cutting and balanced budgets, is cool again (at least in some circles). But serious students of the man politely reject the one-dimensional portrait of a mere practical-minded budget-cutter, famous for saying that “the chief business of the American people is business.” Far from shilling for the rich, Coolidge spent his public life selling the principles of lean, limited government as a moral imperative for all Americans. Conservatives today are afraid of the word ‘compassion’ — it has been co-opted by liberals and corrupted by the likes of President Bush 43 — but Coolidge freely spoke of and from the heart. He said in 1924, “No matter what anyone may say about making the rich and the corporations pay the taxes, in the end they come out of the people who toil.” He sought to predicate tax policy so as “not to destroy those who have already secured success, but to create conditions under which every one will have a better chance to be successful.”

Today’s Tea Party movement, while passionate, lacks the voice and resonance of human experience. Mostly anti-Obama, members support the Constitution and limited government but have yet to tally up the human toll of hope and change, Obama style. Our current national debt hovers around $13 trillion, a fraction of which, in the hands of families and small business owners, could transform an inner-city community. How many college educations and other dreams have been deferred or abandoned to fund a public sector economy that thrives not merely in lieu of the private sector, but at its very expense?

Harding/Coolidge won by a whopping 7 million votes in 1920, and Coolidge handily won re-election in 1924 by siding closely with the American people over the progressives of the day, firmly anchoring his campaign to the righteousness of his conservative cause. Throughout his public life and on behalf of all Americans, Coolidge campaigned for the soul of this nation, writing in 1930 that “. . . wealth is not an end but a means. We need it only for the use we can make of it. The real standard of life is not one of quantity but of quality, not of money but of character.” Today’s conservative movement is passionate, but passion without moral foundation and human connection means little. On the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he wrote, ” We live in an age of science and abounding accumulation of material things. Those did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp.” Coolidge matters not just for his thrift but for exemplifying a fact little known today, that compassion is not only compatible with conservatism, it is its very essence.

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