Alex Massie

Defending the indefensible

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Mike Crowley has a jolly piece* in the new issue of The New Republic in which he gallantly makes the case for Fred Thompson. Or rather, strictly speaking, suggests that it's wrong to pick on Thompson's laziness (there being, after all, many other, better, reasons to be suspicious of Thompson's potemkin candidacy). Still, candidates are expected to be busy forever debasing themselves before a largely uninterested electorate like so many demented performing bears, trapped inside the campaign cage and driven crazy. Mike sanely observes:

Knowing this, most candidates dare not allow themselves to be branded as anything but fanatical workers. Indeed, they even find ways of driving themselves to needless exhaustion simply to advertise their tirelessness. Shortly before the 2004 Iowa caucuses, for instance, John Kerry embarked on a nonstop 24-hour bus tour. Kerry advisers touted this, according to The Boston Globe, as "a grueling schedule that would reflect Kerry's own taste for hard work." But Kerry's tour involved little interaction with voters, the Globe noted. It was a "campaign gimmick" staged for the benefit of trailing TV cameras. In other words, Kerry drove around in a bus for 24 hours to show people he's the kind of guy who will drive around in a bus for 24 hours. An important qualification for a Lynyrd Skynyrd roadie, perhaps, but not a president.

Thompson's perfect foil is Mitt Romney, whose unrelenting work ethic suggests a well-coiffed cyborg with a circuitry-packed cranium. According to the Associated Press, Romney frequently hits the campaign trail by 7 a.m. and doesn't stop until 10 p.m. On a good day, Romney might cram in seven appearances. Lest you miss the point, one Romney TV ad features him on an intense jog, drenched in sweat, while a narrator recites his record of accomplishment. Romney has been rewarded with flattering press coverage of his corporate-executive regimen, and we are meant to believe this is the sort of workaholic who should be running the country.

Frankly, a Do-Nothing Presidency seems pretty appealing after the hurly-burly of the past decade. A pause for quiet contemplation might do the United States some good. A President that refrained from emberaking upon mad crusades or launching a 1,000 causes and initiatives during his administration would be no bad thing at all.

Oddly, Crowley doesn't mention the man who, I sometimes think, has a claim to be the most under-rated President in American history. That would, of course, be Calvin Coolidge. As this book review explains:

Coolidge took a hands-off approach for practical and philosophical reasons. Abstemious by nature, Coolidge did not think the federal government should insert itself into local issues, or, for that matter, international ones. "Four-fifths of all our troubles in this world would disappear," he once remarked, "if only we would sit down and keep still." This was also his strategy for dealing with visitors."If you keep dead still," he told Hoover, "they will run down in three or four minutes. If you even cough or smile they will start up all over again." On another occasion, he offered even better odds: "If you see 10 troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you."

Other pieces of Silent Cal's wisdom (at least according to the internets):

In the discharge of the duties of this office, there is one rule of action more important than all others. It consists in never doing anything that someone else can do for you.

Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of my administration has been minding my own business.

They criticize me for harping on the obvious; if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.

Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing.

We draw our Presidents from the people. It is a wholesome thing for them to return to the people. I came from them. I wish to be one of them again.

Any man who does not like dogs and want them about does not deserve to be in the White House.

What a man.

Get your super-groovy "Keep It Coolidge" t-shirts, here.

*Mike's article is, alas, just for subscribers. But it only costs buttons to purchase a digital subscription. Seriously, it's about the same as half a dozen lattes at Starbucks.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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