Grover G. Norquist and Patrick Gleason, both of Americans for Tax Reform, have opined via Reuters that Gov. Scott Walker “would be a smart model” for the Republican Party along the lines of Pres. Calvin Coolidge. Norquist and Gleason claim that Walker’s work in Wisconsin is much like Coolidge’s limited-government philosophy, a slashing of taxes that “fueled a stunning prosperity” in the 1920’s.
If Wisconsin as a whole under Gov. Walker is now stunningly prosperous, or even a little more prosperous, nearly half the state didn’t see enough evidence of it to vote for him. And the other half seems to have voted for him because he made public school teachers and other modestly-compensated public servants less prosperous while easing the tax burden of big corporations and the wealthy.
The Norquist/Gleason sense of history is incomplete. The “Roaring Twenties” –a period of tax-cutting, monopoly power, lax regulation, and Wall Street greed– was not prosperous for all. Some 60% of Americans— farmers, African-Americans and women among them–lived just below the national poverty line.
Coolidge presided over a general government reaction against Progressive era policies, saying “The man who builds a factory builds a temple” and “The chief business of the American people is business.” So under Coolidge there was a greater worshipping in the Church of Corporate Greed until the inevitable economic collapse occurred–the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression.
Norquist and Gleason link to a David Greenberg post at Slate to prove that Pres. Reagan was a big fan of Coolidge, but ignore the rest of it. The post from Nov. 2011 by professor and historian David Greenberg, who wrote a book on Coolidge, explains why the politics of Calvin Coolidge were bad for the nation and are so popular with current Republicans. Here’s a short sample of some real history from Greenberg’s post:
“Although the economy boomed in the 1920s, wealth grew unevenly. According to a 1928 Brookings Institution report, more than one-half of American families remained near or below subsistence at the time—despite an economic boom that was dubbed the “Coolidge Prosperity.”This maldistribution of wealth—in some ways similar to today’s—meant that while business was able to produce record numbers of cars, radios, and appliances, many citizens were hard-pressed to buy them. In 1927, the popular economists William Foster and Waddill Catchings published Business Without a Buyer, arguing that supply did not in fact create its own demand, and that overproduction could be dangerous. Coolidge’s fiscal policy failed to correct these imbalances.”
Greenberg concludes his post:
“The Depression buried Coolidge’s economics. The success of the New Deal sealed the coffin, seemingly forever. But Reagan’s legions have labored hard to bring them back from the dead, and as memories have faded and historical knowledge atrophied, their arguments have gained adherents—to the point where they now go unquestioned in many precincts of the right.”
One of the more well-intentioned ideas to come out of the Coolidge administration was the Kellogg-Briand Pact, an international treaty to end war as a means of settling disputes that was signed by 62 nations, including the U.S. The multilateral agreement was approved by the U.S. Senate 85 to 1, the only dissenter being Wisconsin Republican John J. Blaine. The Senate did say, however, that the pact did not apply to military self-defense, a loophole big enough to fly a bomber through, and the K-B Pact did not provide a way to enforce it. So, despite all international attempts then and since to end war as a solution, it goes on.
Somehow, I can’t see Scott Walker, or any of the other prominent Republicans likely to run for president, with the possible exception of Sen. Rand Paul, being a proponent of ending, or even avoiding, war. What little Walker has said of foreign policy is not encouraging. So a Walker presidency, both domestically and foreign, might be even worse than the reign of Calvin Coolidge.