Thursday, October 21, 2004

"Hard Work" And Other Reasons

The NRO Cornertards spent the other day bestowing a jaw-popping blow job on the legacy of polishing the plaster bust of President Calvin Coolidge, whom most Republicans who dabble in history consider a saint.

As well they should, because the traits they admire in him are the same they admire in other Republican Presidents: remarkable absence of intellectual curiosity, a religious devotion to money-making, and astonishing indolence. Calvin Coolidge was one lazy bumpkin.

Peter Robinson is succinct:

LAUDING CAL [Peter Robinson ]
While we're at it, another couple of notes on Coolidge:
1. Reagan liked him so much that he had Coolidge's portrait put up in the Cabinet Room. (Reagan could actually remember the Coolidge years.)

Although that parenthetical sentence is laughably optimistic (memory was never Reagan's, shall we say, strongest suit), he is right about the portrait and Reagan's veneration of Coolidge. What he neglects to mention is why: Coolidge slept more (11 hours a night) than any other President until St. Ronnie. And now of course G W Bush upholds the fine tradition of sleep, vacations, and more sleep. I think this characteristic is worth keeping in mind as one is subjected to the constant drone of the Republican "meritocracy" argument that pretty much goes, "work hard and you'll succeed"; with the flip side of the argument, of course, very heavy in the air: that if you're poor, it's because you're lazy.

One or other of the Cornertards recommends H. L. Mencken on the subject of Coolidge. Shall we take them up on that offer? Of course they hope you read this, and it only. But let's read a few other things Mencken wrote on Silent Cal.

First, on Coolidge's fans. You'll find this oddly familiar:

[Coolidge's] merits, in the Babbit view, are immense and incomparable. He seems, indeed, scarcely like a man at all, but more like some miraculous visitation or act of God. He is the ideal made visible, if not audible -- perfection put into a cutaway coat and trotted up and down like a mannequin in a cloak and suit atelier. Nor was their any long stress in training him--no season of doubt and misgiving. Natrue heaved him forth full-blown, like a new star shot into the heavens. In him the capitalistic philosophy comes to its perfect and transcendental form. Thrift, to him, is the queen of all virtues. He respects money in each and every one of its beautiful forms -- pennies, nickels, dimes, dollars, five-dollar bills and so on ad infinitum. He venerates those who have it. He believes that they have wisdom. He craves the loan and use of that wisdom. He invites them to breakfast, and listens to them. The things they revere, he reveres. The things he longs for, they long to give him.

Through the sarcasm, what a perfect picture Mencken paints of Coolidge as a willing prostitute to the superficial and crass classes. And how they, in turn, deify him: the Cult Of Dear Leader, who is an instrument of God. What's old is new again.

(A further and more complete psychological profile of the Coolidge-loving boob may be found in Sinclair Lewis's short piece The Man Who Knew Coolidge.)

What else do they not want you to read?


Calvin Coolidge, whose intelligence is compared to that of a 'cast-iron lawn dog'. Upon hearing of the death of Calvin Coolidge, he launched the often-repeated line 'How can they be sure?'


"Democracy is that system of government under which the people, having 60,000,000 native-born adult whites to choose from, including thousands who are handsome and many who are wise, pick out a Coolidge to be head of state. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies"


In what manner he would have performed himself if the holy angels had shoved the Depression forward a couple of years - this we can only guess, and one man's hazard is as good as another's. My own is that he would have responded to bad times precisely as he responded to good ones - that is, by pulling down the blinds, stretching his legs upon his desk, and snoozing away the lazy afternoons.... He slept more than any other President, whether by day or by night. Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored....

Thus establishing Coolidge's work-ethic -- so archetypical for a Republican -- let us move to other subjects. Two of the probably most quoted Coolidge lines are:

"The business of America is business" and
"The man who builds a factory builds a temple, and the man who works there worships there."

Ahh, but not much work gets done when one sleeps as much as Sainted Republicans; the sentiments Coolidge pushes couldn't be better tailored to the Wall Street Journal crowd. Though most rightwingers are too dense to appreciate irony, it has to jar their psyche at some level to constantly worship lazy, untalented men who constantly bloviate on the Protestant Work Ethic. But then the quintessential WSJ type (think of Chainsaw Al Dunlap) must always try to appear busy busy busy when actually he merely nods this way or that at underlings who do all the work of polluting, outsourcing, downsizing. Elbow grease is for peons; what's important is that vison thing. Of profit.

Which is not to say that Coolidge didn't do any hard work at all. But then when he did, it too was quintessentially of the Republican kind because, as Mencken tells it, "[Coolidge] believes naturally in Law Enforcement--by lawful means if possible: if not, by any means at hand, lawful or lawless...he actually got his first considerable posturing as a fascist of the most advanced type." The context for this description is when Massachusetts Governor Coolidge smashed the Boston Police Union. Such are the times when lazy Republicans are for once eager to do a little hard work. Likewise I imagine the few late nights spent in the current White House were devoted to the hard work of "legally" shredding the Geneva Conventions. Sleepy time, on the other hand, was especially reserved for when, say, Ms. Whitman at the EPA came in to complain about the Preznit's polluting cronies. Yeah, I'll get right on that, Christine zzzzzzz. How Coolidgian!

I will say a couple of nice things about Coolidge, though. For one, he had a sort of dry wit that other Republican Saints entirely lacked. I think it was Alice Roosevelt who related the following anecdote: Coolidge was of course known as a man of few words. She sat down beside him at table and said "I have a bet with [So and so] that I can get you to say more than three words to me". Coolidge, without missing a beat, replied, "You lose." This is a nice contrast to Ronnie's "WHAT? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" and W's "duh duh duhs".

Also, Coolidge wasn't absolutely stupid. Here's Cornertard Mackubin Owens:

One of my favorite lines from the book (from memory) is his description of Coolidge translating Dante for pleasure. “The mind boggles,” Tom wrote, “at the image of Richard Nixon hunched over a copy of The Divine Comedy.”

Amen to that, Mr Owens. But your fellow wingnuts must have been a bit nervous reading it. If the idea of Tricky Dick doing that is mind boggling, then the idea of Reagan or GW Bush doing it is skull-shatteringly impossible -- or if not impossible, hilarious.

The other nice thing about Coolidge is that he followed through on Harding's plans for a disarmament treaty. Very un-Republican that -- why the Lockheeds and Halliburtons of that day might have lost money! And quite mindful of the maxim that a nation armed to the teeth inevitably attacks another or itself. Naturally, this rather lonely virtue of Coolidge's gets little play among his current Wingnut admirers.

*Edit: Cleaned up some typos and coding fuck-ups. And again more typos.
** Onion archive link courtesy of digamma.