Today marks the 87 anniversary of Calvin Coolidge’s first State of the Union address. The speech also marked another “first” — the dawn of the radio era in presidential rhetoric. According to the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, Coolidge’s address was the first to be broadcast by radio — a move that reflected the soaring popularity of radio receivers. In 1923, there were 2.5 million receivers in private homes across the nation. Three years earlier, there had been fewer than 5,000.
The speech itself is remembered for its indication that Coolidge would continue the policies of his predecessor, Warren Harding. Reflecting my abiding interest in 1920s-era taxation, let me offer this quick selection:
For seven years the people have borne with uncomplaining courage the tremendous burden of national and local taxation. These must both be reduced. The taxes of the Nation must be reduced now as much as prudence will permit, and expenditures must be reduced accordingly. High taxes reach everywhere and burden everybody. They bear most heavily upon the poor. They diminish industry and commerce. They make agriculture unprofitable. They increase the rates on transportation. They are a charge on every necessary of life. Of all services which the Congress can render to the country, I have no hesitation in declaring to neglect it, to postpone it, to obstruct it by unsound proposals, is to become unworthy of public confidence and untrue to public trust. The country wants this measure to have the right of way over any others.
Forgive me for pointing out (again), that Coolidge was willing to walk the walk when it came to fiscal conservatism. He never suggested tax cuts that weren’t “paid for” with spending cuts. As he put it (and I test your patience by repeating it, yet again), “the taxes of the Nation must be reduced now as much as prudence will permit, and expenditures must be reduced accordingly.”
Contemporary deficit hawks should emulate that kind of honest, candid budgeting.
The full transcript of Coolidge’s speech is available from the Miller Center.