“Mr. Coolidge Tells Them”

October 24, 2016

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“Mr. Coolidge Tells Them.” So read the headline on a story covering former President Coolidge’s speech back in another October, that being the October prior to the fateful election of 1932. Speaking at Madison Square Garden, President Coolidge loyally backed his fellow Republican, saying of the incumbent Herbert Hoover, “The more this campaign has progressed, the more I am convinced that he should be elected.” The editors of the paper, the Daily Herald of Biloxi, Mississippi, described Coolidge’s speech as full of “stock arguments” and wrote that Coolidge “re-put-forward old saws.” The paper wasn’t exactly friendly to Coolidge, Hoover, or the GOP.

From what we know of Coolidge, the president too nursed deep ambivalence about Hoover. Yet in his case, party loyalty was paramount, at least in the final leg of that election. If his speech was to be mocked, so be it; it was his duty to give the speech. After the election, which Hoover duly lost, Coolidge had words of consolation for the departing chief executive. “A President on his way out is never given much consideration,” Coolidge noted. “That’s politics.” (Obamas, take heed!)

Coolidge was already ill at the time he went to Madison Square Garden: he would be dead by January. Yet weak as he was, Coolidge did try to supply context to politics, both before, and after, election day. This effort reflected Coolidge’s deep devotion not to politics, but to service to the American political process. Always, he said, the man should serve the republic — not the other way around. In that same period Coolidge commented to former congressman Everett Sanders, then Chairman of the Republican National Committee: “This is not a one-man country,” — no president should serve too long. Yet another wise line from a statesman whose comportment could inform both parties today.

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