Hack Amity Shlaes Sells Coolidge As Hero Of Great Depression

Amity Schlaes sells Calvin Coolidge as the hero of the Great Depression, not the goat -- and Face The Nation host Bob Shieffer lets her.
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Even though host Bob Schieffer admitted that he has not read conservative author and columnist Amity Shlaes' recent book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, he and his producers were more than willing to allow her to come on Face the Nation this Sunday and give their viewers a big heaping helping of the right-wing revisionist version of just what Coolidge's economic policies brought to the country.

It's shameful that someone like this right wing hack is still being allowed time on our airways, but not surprising, since I'm sure the bile she's spewing here, dressed up as an intellectual, high-minded conversation about political biographies, fits in perfectly with the economic policies favored by the 1 percent running the network she's appearing on. They don't seem to be concerned one iota if there's nothing but rich and poor left in America, and as long as their pockets continue to be lined.

Here's more on Coolidge that Shlaes and her ilk are doing their best to make sure never makes its way into the history books: What the right forgets about labor history:

Busting unions gave Calvin Coolidge the White House, but it gave America the Great Depression

For years, American workers’ wages have stagnated, even as they produced more. Since 2008, they have been socked with staggering new bills for bank bailouts and hammered by a Great Recession brought on by the very same banks. Now public sector workers are confronted by a new crop of Republican governors who want to put an end to unions. Union workers in Wisconsin have already conceded all of Governor Walker’s draconian demands. But they want to hold onto their right to bargain so that they won’t be at the mercy of the whims of political appointees or rogue school boards. Tens of thousands have swarmed Madison to show their support for the working people of Wisconsin.

Conservatives are tasked with coming up with a narrative that makes villains out of these working folks and heroes out of the powerful people who aim to squeeze them for what’s left of their economic security.

This is not easy. And you have to admire their ingenuity. Amity Shlaes, ever the eager revisionist, has whipped up a widely parroted narrative that contains just enough truth to give it the ring of plausibility.

It goes like this: Governor Scott Walker is a paragon of virtue who will soon be embraced by the American public, just like his union-crushing predecessors Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. According to Shlaes’s account, Coolidge, then governor of Massachusetts, stood boldly against badly abused Boston policemen who walked off the job in 1919 and left the city unprotected against looters. After firing the policemen, Coolidge became a national hero and was promptly swept into the Vice President’s office on a wave of popular admiration. When President Warren Harding died, Coolidge took office and it was suddenly Morning in America. As Shlaes tells it:

Boston Police’ remained American code for the principle that union causes do not trump others. The concern that the U.S. might succumb to European-style revolutions lifted. Strikes abated. Wages rose without unions in Motor City. Private-sector union membership declined. Joblessness dropped. Companies poured cash, which they otherwise would have spent on union relations, into innovation.

Let us fill in some finer detail, shall we?

As Shlaes admits, the Boston police force had been grossly abused with long hours and horrific conditions. And it was true that there was some disorder when they walked off the job, though she somewhat overstates the case. It is also true that Coolidge’s response made his reputation as a Republican politician.

But it was not exactly popular enthusiasm that wafted Coolidge into the White House. Actually, there was a huge orchestrated effort to push Coolidge by powerful financial interests. He ended up on the ticket with Warren Harding not so much because of his overwhelming appeal to the American public – he was known for being taciturn, unsociable, and downright weird (Alice Roosevelt Longworth wondered if he had been “weaned on a pickle”). Rather, it was his overwhelming appeal to American bankers.

They knew a good thing when they saw it.

Young Coolidge, you see, had gone to Amherst College, where he had hardly any friends except Dwight Morrow, who became his bosom buddy. Coolidge went on to become a small town Massachusetts attorney representing banks, while Morrow became a senior partner in House of Morgan. When Morrow saw his pal Coolidge attracting attention in the Boston Police Strike, he wrote to everyone he knew and launched a national campaign to make a legend out of the uncharismatic Coolidge. Morrow and fellow Morgan partner Thomas Cochran lobbied tirelessly for Coolidge at the Chicago Republican Convention in 1920, and their lobbying paid off. Coolidge, first as vice president and then as president in 1923 when Harding died, became a valuable partner for the House of Morgan. Famously declaring that “the business of America is business,” Coolidge stocked his administration with enough Morgan men to fill a banking convention. Historian Murray N. Rothbard notes that

“the year 1924 indeed saw the House of Morgan at the pinnacle of political power in the United States. President Calvin Coolidge, friend and protégé of Morgan partner Dwight Morrow, was deeply admired by J.P. “Jack” Morgan, Jr. Jack Morgan saw the president, perhaps uniquely, as a rare blend of deep thinker and moralist. Morgan wrote a friend: ‘I have never seen any president who gives me just the feeling of confidence in the country and its institutions, and the working out of our problems, that Mr. Coolidge does.’”

Coolidge got to the White House for crushing unions, where he slept ten hours a day and hopped on and off a mechanical horse in his underpants and a cowboy hat.

Here’s what America got: the Great Depression.

Go read the rest -- maybe one of Schieffer's staffers should ask him to do the same thing as well before he has her on again. Transcript below.

SCHIEFFER: And from religion to politics. We're going to turn to authors of new and highly acclaimed books on presidential leadership and just leadership. Amity Shlaes is the author of the new biography of Calvin Coolidge, the nation's 30th president. Not too much written about old Cal Coolidge. Jeffrey Frank's book is "Ike and Dick. It explores the relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and his vice president Richard Nixon. Historian Lynn Olson wrote "Those Angry Days," which focuses on Franklin Roosevelt's dealings with Charles Lindbergh in the days leading up to World War II. And finally, Paul Reid who finished the third volume of William Manchester's majestic biography of Winston Churchill, "The Last Lion." Just as a way of explanation, Manchester was about 100 pages into the writing of this book. He'd done all the research. He knew he was dying and he asked his friend Paul Reid to finish it. And, Paul, I believe that took you what, about eight years.

PAUL REID, AUTHOR: Almost nine.

SCHIEFFER: Almost nine years.

REID: And about in year three I realized I have to do this. I can't fail. And by year seven I thought I'm going to do it.

SCHIEFFER: Well, I want to tell you in full disclosure here, because of you, Paul, I have not read the books on this side of the table and I'm about 100 pages into Lynn Olson's book. Paul Reid's book weighed in on my bathroom scale at about six pounds, but you told me the good news was my scale is weighing heavy, so I'm not -- I don't weigh as much as...

REID: You just lost three pounds.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHIEFFER: Yeah, about three and a half. Let me just talk to you about how you came to do this. You became a friend of William Manchester very late in his life. And he knew he was ill, knew he couldn't finish this book and asked you to do it.

REID: I met him in 1998, when some of his old Marine buddies went up to Middletown, Connecticut, where he lived, to buck him up after two strokes that he had had, and his wife had died that year. I did a feature and he liked it, a feature story. And my daughter was at UMass at the time, and when I visited her, I'd drop in and say hi to Mr. Manchester, and we became friends. And, you know, he was at that age where I'd meet people who asked, "Didn't he pass away?" I mean, no, he's still there. But he couldn't write. The strokes hobbled him. And I never -- I brought up the subject once or twice, and he said, "Not going to happen," as far as anyone finishing the book. And, October 9, 2003, we were watching a Red Sox-Yankees game. The Sox lost as usual. And at the end, Bill turned and said, "I'd like you to finish the book." And it took me a second. I think he repeated himself. He said, "I want you to write the book," and that was it.

SCHIEFFER: Well, it is -- it is a magnificent achievement. I read the first two volumes. And I had always thought before that Churchill was the greatest person, the greatest figure of the 20th century, and this just reinforced my view of that. And we'll talk some more about your book in just a minute. Lynne Olson was my friend, she and her husband, way back to the days of covering the Carter campaign...

OLSON: That's right.

SCHIEFFER: ... and you were a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. And you have, kind of, become the historian of World War II. And you wrote "The Murrow Boys" with your husband, Stan Cloud, and then you wrote "Citizens of London"...

OLSON: Right.

SCHIEFFER: ... and now -- and now this book about Roosevelt and Churchill. You remember -- so many of us remember Lindbergh as, I think, probably the first true celebrity in America, after he flew that solo flight across the Atlantic. But the fact is he -- he was also an isolationist. Franklin Roosevelt thought, frankly, he was a Nazi.

OLSON: Right.

SCHIEFFER: And he spoke out against America getting into World War II. This was a very isolationist period. What -- what surprised you most in your research about this book?

OLSON: I think there were a couple things. One is how brutal, how nasty the fight in this country was in the run-up, in the two years before we actually went into World War II. I mean, we think about Vietnam. We think about McCarthyism. We think about the whole furor over Iraq as being very divisive in this country. But I think that period before the war was even -- before World War II -- was even more divisive, I mean, the interventionists versus the isolationists. The country was incredibly polarized, incredibly divided politically. Washington was, kind of, like now. It was a real snake pit. You know, there were regional differences, regional splits, basically like now, red state, blue state. So it was very similar in a way. But it was, I think, much, much more, as I said, savage. Roosevelt himself said, this was going to be a dirty fight, and he helped, kind of, make it that way. But he and Lindbergh really went at it during this period.

SCHIEFFER: And, Jeffrey, your book "Ike and Dick," what -- why did you decide to do that? I mean, my understanding of that relationship was that Eisenhower always thought of Richard Nixon as something of a doofus, really...

(LAUGHTER)

and -- but it was much more complicated and it was deeper than that?

FRANK: It was much more complicated. And I was -- I've been -- I've thought about it for years, ever since -- ever since -- basically ever since I group in Washington and first saw Nixon in the ballpark and -- but I -- it was a way to cover the entire 20th century. When Eisenhower was born, Benjamin Harrison was president. Civil War veterans were running around Abilene, Kansas. When Nixon died in 1994, the Cold War was over and Bill Clinton was president. And it was a way to cover all of that and a whole century and these two really different men, both of whom became president, and also -- and so for all the Cold War, the atomic threat, the huge Civil Rights issue that, sort of -- that, sort of, never went away but, sort of, arose in the mid-'50s. So to cover all these issues at the same time, and then -- and it was also a great story. It was the story -- it was a family story. He wasn't a doofus, but he didn't -- Eisenhower was not a huge fan of professional politicians in general. Those weren't his friends.

SCHIEFFER: Um-hmm.

FRANK: And at the end of their -- at the end, Eisenhower's grandson, David, married Julie's -- Nixon's younger daughter Julie.

SCHIEFFER: And Eisenhower was not all that keen on that.

FRANK: He -- he wasn't. They all liked Julie, but he wanted David to do -- to have a professional career, be a doctor or be a lawyer. And so this was -- they were children. When they first fell in love and began dating, they were 18 years old. They got married when they were 20. People don't get married at 20 anymore. They did.

SCHIEFFER: Isn't that something? And then, Amity, we come to Cal Coolidge, who, I must say, and I don't mean this in a disrespectful way, most of the time what we read about Coolidge, it was, kind of, that he was a joke, that, you know, it was Cal Coolidge; he just never said anything.

And yet you give us a very different picture. I have read the reviews of your book.

SHLAES: Well, I'll try not to speak too long because Silent Cal would not, but one reason he's so attractive as a subject for biography is he achieved a lot. So if he were a stock, he'd be a buy. He's underrated for his achievement. You can look at the economy of that period and see very low unemployment, high wages, strong growth, 3 percent or 4 percent, and general happiness in the U.S. That was the decade when people got toilets, electricity and automobiles, Coolidge's decade, the 1920s. And we've been talking here about leadership. This is a different kind of leader. That's the other reason he's intriguing. Silent Cal led by refraining. He was our great refrainer. He did by not doing and holding government back, often. So Washington didn't know what to make of him. You've heard the stories. People said, oh, you know, "a well of silence," but he -- this was intentional, sort of, because he thought, if the president got out of the way and just presided, then the government might function better and commerce, the economy, might as well.

SCHIEFFER: One of the reviews of your book -- and I do intend to read it -- is that -- how humble he was. I mean, he was, sort of, the -- he was a man of such humility. And when he left the White House, he went back and lived in a rented house. He didn't even buy a home.

SHLAES: That's right. Here in this studio we have a picture of the White House. And Coolidge had such a sense of service, he didn't feel it was a bully pulpit or, you know, the presidency, or that that was his house. Once he was walking along with a senator and the senator, to cheer up Silent Cal, said "I wonder who lives in that pretty house." And Coolidge said, "Nobody does. They just come and go." That is, we're here to serve, preside, and -- and there's something behind this that's of utility today, which is a president should reestablish trust in the office when politics are angry and people don't trust the government. He was doing that after Harding's time of scandal through his sense of service. [...]

SCHIEFFER: Isn't that something? And then, Amity, we come to Cal Coolidge, who, I must say, and I don't mean this in a disrespectful way, most of the time what we read about Coolidge, it was, kind of, that he was a joke, that, you know, it was Cal Coolidge; he just never said anything.

And yet you give us a very different picture. I have read the reviews of your book.

SHLAES: Well, I'll try not to speak too long because Silent Cal would not, but one reason he's so attractive as a subject for biography is he achieved a lot. So if he were a stock, he'd be a buy. He's underrated for his achievement. You can look at the economy of that period and see very low unemployment, high wages, strong growth, 3 percent or 4 percent, and general happiness in the U.S. That was the decade when people got toilets, electricity and automobiles, Coolidge's decade, the 1920s. And we've been talking here about leadership. This is a different kind of leader. That's the other reason he's intriguing. Silent Cal led by refraining. He was our great refrainer. He did by not doing and holding government back, often. So Washington didn't know what to make of him. You've heard the stories. People said, oh, you know, "a well of silence," but he -- this was intentional, sort of, because he thought, if the president got out of the way and just presided, then the government might function better and commerce, the economy, might as well.

SCHIEFFER: One of the reviews of your book -- and I do intend to read it -- is that -- how humble he was. I mean, he was, sort of, the -- he was a man of such humility. And when he left the White House, he went back and lived in a rented house. He didn't even buy a home.

SHLAES: That's right. Here in this studio we have a picture of the White House. And Coolidge had such a sense of service, he didn't feel it was a bully pulpit or, you know, the presidency, or that that was his house. Once he was walking along with a senator and the senator, to cheer up Silent Cal, said "I wonder who lives in that pretty house." And Coolidge said, "Nobody does. They just come and go." That is, we're here to serve, preside, and -- and there's something behind this that's of utility today, which is a president should reestablish trust in the office when politics are angry and people don't trust the government. He was doing that after Harding's time of scandal through his sense of service. [...]

SCHIEFFER: And, Amity, back to you, and I'm sorry we're running out of time. What is the lesson that you would like people to know about Calvin Coolidge?

SHLAES: That a politician may serve uncynically and still win. Coolidge cut the budget over and over again because he thought it was good for the economy, and he was enormously popular, which is interesting. Nowadays politicians says, oh, that's not possible. You have to always give the voter something. The voter knew that it might be better for the economy if the government cut back, and they saw Coolidge doing it, which was painful -- painful for him, too -- but he did. He left a budget smaller than he found it, and he was -- the Republican Party had a nervous breakdown when he withdrew.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, thank you all. I wish we could go on. I could do this all afternoon, but it's time to go. We'll be right back.

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