Liberalism is not for attacking. It is for recapturing. There is much in “our” movement, whatever that is, that is liberal — the love of freedom, the emphasis on individual character. Libertarianism is an insufficient derivative of true liberalism that often becomes hostage to nonessential causes, whether marijuana legalization or the draft.
A true liberal hero from the past is Grover Cleveland; less purely liberal, but a more useful model still for our kind of liberalism, was Calvin Coolidge, president from 1923 to 1929. Silent Cal opposed special tax exemptions for municipal bonds on principle, fought hard and won for historically low top tax rate of 25%, and served with character. How much character did Coolidge have? When a driver hit him while he was walking after church in Northampton, Coolidge refused to divulge the driver’s name to protect him. Coolidge, like Washington, or Lord Acton, understood that power corrupts. He therefore turned down a chance to run again in 1928, though he knew he would win.
Office and government before individual was his motto. When walking along once on the street past the White House, someone with him asked jokingly of the president — “who lives there?” (pointing). The president’s reply: “Nobody lives there. They just come and go.”
Happy Birthday, Calvin Coolidge, the president who was born on the Fourth of July.
Amity Shlaes is writing a biography of Calvin Coolidge.