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Bittinger: Coolidge Legacy Today

08/06/10 5:55PM By Cyndy Bittinger
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(HOST)  This weekend, commentator Cyndy Bittinger will be thinking about the legacy of Calvin Coolidge  - and why his example is still relevant today.

(BITTINGER)  Tomorrow Governor Jim Douglas will cut the ribbon on a new President Calvin Coolidge Museum and Education Center in Plymouth.  So it's a good time to think about what our 30th U.S. President could teach us today.  My suggestions are the following:

First, civility in political discourse.  As the tea parties chatter and the internet babbles with discordant and strident voices, it is comforting to turn to a politician who never maligned his opponents.  He presented his policies and let the voters decide.

Public service.  He thought serving in public office was a way to serve the people, represent them.  He didn't enrich himself or his family and when he retired, he refused to capitalize on his good name.

Integrity.  His biographer, William Allen White, exclaimed after Coolidge's 1924 success in gaining his own term as president, "One flag, one country, one conscience, one wife, and never more than three words will do him all his life." Coolidge led by example; the White House atmosphere was changed from that of a speakeasy under President Warren Harding to that of a New England parlor under the Coolidges.

Live within your means.  Mindful of the needs of those who struggle in society, Coolidge was determined to balance the budget after World War I.  Of course, in the 1920s, he cut the military since it was peacetime.

Remember that you're in a democracy.  The first letter Coolidge penned in the White House was to a Northampton, Massachusetts cobbler whom he had gotten to know when he was a young, struggling lawyer. As President Coolidge left office he wanted to be one of the people again.  He explained, in his Autobiography, that presidents are not "born to the purple.  Fortunately, they are not supported at public expense after leaving office, so they are not expected to set an example encouraging to a leisure class." Obviously, he wouldn't have understood the interest in Chelsea Clinton's wedding or the millions it cost.

He spoke up for tolerance over and over as the Ku Klux Klan was raising its ugly head - even with Vermont chapters!  He quoted Theodore Roosevelt's apt remark, "I cannot consent to take the position that the door of hope - the door of opportunity - is to be shut upon any man, no matter how worthy, purely on the grounds of race or color."

Then there was women's political participation.  The Republican Party in the early 20th century had been a hotbed for women's rights.  Coolidge was part of the progressive wing that supported suffrage in Massachusetts, his political base.  Then he continued to promote legislation for women and he worked with Harding's appointee, Mabel Walker Willebrandt, his Assistant Attorney General, to prosecute bootleggers during Prohibition.

He remembered his roots and returned to his hometown of Plymouth when he retired.   In 1932, he set about winterizing his house, the homestead, and prepared to spend most of the year with Vermonters.  Those who farmed, ran the local store, quilted, put up jellies, and generally lived within their means would be his neighbors.
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