Since the world appears to be self-correcting Massachusetts voters
have matters in hand, the Supreme Court has come to its senses on the
First Amendment, each day brings new revelations that the U.N.'s
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was a fraud, and
President Obama acknowledges that his agenda has hit a "buzz saw"
it's safe to detour into the personal.
We have a new puppy an 8-week-old Golden Retriever who looks (I hope
you won't think me immodest) like the pups they pose in catalogues to
make you buy down jackets and lawn furniture. She's the kind of puppy
pictured in saccharine wall calendars, toilet tissue commercials, and
anywhere else that melting adorableness is required.
In keeping with our family tradition, we have named her after a U.S.
president. Our first dog, who died last July, was called Gipper to honor
Ronald Reagan. Teddy (Roosevelt) came next. We've named the pup Cali (my
husband's idea), for Calvin Coolidge.
The most remembered fact about our 30th president is a misquotation. He
did not say "The business of America is business." In a speech to the
American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1925, Coolidge said, "After
all, the chief business of the American people is business." But this
was prefatory to his main point, which was this: "Of course, the
accumulation of wealth cannot be justified as the chief end of
existence." In fact, Coolidge prized "practical idealism," a trait he
believed U.S. newspapers represented very well. He closed with these
"We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are
many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor,
and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The
chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too
often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to
which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction."
Coolidge's example is a timely one. As David Pietrusza helpfully
outlines in "Silent Cal's Almanack," he cut taxes four times and
produced a budget surplus each year of his presidency. He also shifted
the burden of taxes, which had fallen heavily on low earners during the
Wilson administration, to the rich. Per capita income increased by 30
percent between 1922 and 1928. Unemployment averaged 3.3 percent.
Coolidge respected his fellow citizens, and believed in the government's
duty not to overburden them. "The men and women of this country who toil
are the ones who bear the cost of the government. Every dollar that we
carelessly waste means that their life will be so much the more meager.
Every dollar that we prudently save means that their life will be so
much the more abundant. Economy is idealism in its most practical form."
"Duty," he said, "is not collective. It is personal."
He was known as "Silent Cal" for his Vermont taciturnity. A woman seated
to his left at a dinner party once told him she'd made a bet that she
could get him to say more than two words. "You lose," he deadpanned. He
clearly longed for others to emulate his example. "Many times I say only
'yes' or 'no' to people," he lamented to Bernard Baruch. "Even that is
too much. It winds them up for 20 minutes or more."
Coolidge spoke sparingly because he could fit much wisdom into few
words. "It is characteristic of the unlearned," he observed, "that they
are forever proposing something which is old, and because it has
recently come to their attention, supposing it to be new."
Above all, Coolidge had his priorities in order. Regarding
qualifications for the presidency, he said, "Any man that does not like
dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House."
Cali is not quite getting the spirit of her name. "Silent" is not word
that came to mind as our family was kept awake last night by her howls
of indignation at being confined to her crate. Between midnight and 5
a.m., we took turns escorting her to the back yard, in the rain, in
January, and then gently but firmly returning her to the place she is
supposed (ha!) to sleep.
But in the morning, her endearing face and wagging tail greet us
joyously, and no one complains.