Coolidge got some surprising attention from Salon.com in its coverage of the No Labels political start-up. Not wholly accurate attention, to be sure. And certainly not in the service of a cause that Coolidge would support. (The author, Alex Pareene, is basically arguing against the notion of civility in politics, or at least against the utility of organizations devoted to it.)
Here’s what Pareene has to say about Coolidge:
Rich self-declared independents, we have been trained to believe, have no ideology. But the ones who support Mayor Bloomberg and fund centrist organizations like this tend to be conservative Democrats — or, more accurately, Calvin Coolidge Republicans. Coolidge was the original reasonable moderate! Silent Cal supported an invisible regulatory state and anti-lynching laws. (Only one of those priorities survived filibusters, of course — a tax cut for the rich has always been easier to get through Congress than protections for a minority group.) And his pro-business policies led to so much growth, for everyone, until … they didn’t, not long after his powerful commerce secretary succeeded him as president.
There’s an element of truth hiding in here somewhere: the notion that Coolidge was devoted to civility.
But in fact, Coolidge demonstrates that civility is not fundamentally “unserious” (to use Pareene’s terminology). And it’s not anti-political. Rather, civility can bolster meaningful politics.
Civility does not mean easy, empty, split-the-difference compromise. It does mean treating your opponents like decent people, rather than enemies of the Republic. It does mean making room for reasonable debate about the role of government, rather than tossing around words like “fascist” and “socialist.”
Seriously, why do we tolerate name-calling and gross exaggeration in the political arena? If it happened at our dining room tables, we’d be aghast. Or in our classrooms. Or anywhere.
OK, call me naive. And let me have it — I can almost hear you folks gnashing your teeth…one