When Silent Cal spoke, a few words were golden

July 06, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

The Fourth of July is over. You've celebrated. You've watched the fireworks. You've barbecued and stuffed yourselves on the chicken and the beef and the hot dogs. You've been to the beach. But did any of you pay homage to my main man Calvin Coolidge? I think not.

Born on July 4, Coolidge has been maligned for his taciturnity and the total lack of any significant policies or decisions during his administration.

"He didn't do anything," humorist Will Rogers quipped, "but that's what we wanted done." Writer Dorothy Parker, on hearing that my man Cal had died, couldn't resist finding humor in the situation.

"How can they tell?" Parker reportedly said, dissing Coolidge even in his state of living impairment. But Silent Cal will always be one of my heroes, since I've always been the shy, silent, retiring type myself. Coolidge, like me, elevated taciturnity to the level of a near spiritual imperative. And he may well be the most underrated president we've ever had, at least from the humor standpoint. I believe the body of Coolidge quotables -- cobbled together from a book of anecdotes about famous people -- will prove my point.

"I believe the American people want a solemn ass as president," Coolidge is quoted as saying, "and I believe I'll oblige them."

During one of the many official dinners Coolidge had to attend as president, a woman remarked at how he must be tired of attending so many.

"Yeah," Coolidge answered, "but a man has to eat somewhere."

An adviser once objected to a Coolidge appointment because, in the adviser's words, "He's a son of a bitch."

"Don't they deserve to be represented too?" Coolidge shot back.

A group of reporters questioned Coolidge in the White House one day about a foreign policy matter on which Silent Cal was determined he was not going to give any information.

"I have no comment about that," Coolidge said, refusing to budge. When reporters persisted, Coolidge said he would have no comments about any other matters either.

"And don't quote me!" he shouted to the reporters as they left the room.

As governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge had a state senator come up to him complaining that another senator had told him to "go to hell."

"I've read the law carefully, senator," Coolidge told the deeply hurt legislator. "And you don't have to go."

Before he became governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge held a minor post that required him to listen to a steady stream of constituents throughout the day. He always left at five, and a colleague who stayed until nine once pulled him aside.

"Look," the colleague said. "You and I have the same job. We talk to the same number of people. Yet you leave at five every day and I'm here until nine. How come?"

"You talk back," Coolidge answered.

Coolidge, the vice president in the Warren G. Harding administration, became president in 1923 after Harding died. Coolidge was elected president in 1924, but refused to run in 1928. One day reporters pressed him on the issue, insisting on knowing why he would not run for president.

"Because," Coolidge said in a huff, "there's no room for advancement."

In probably the most famous tale told about Coolidge and his penchant for silence, a woman supposedly said that she had bet she could get him to say more than two words at a dinner one night.

"You lose," Coolidge is said to have responded.

Finally, there's the story that will surely get Coolidge elected to the Anecdote Hall of Fame.

It seems the president and Mrs. Coolidge visited a government farm, where they went on separate tours. Mrs. Coolidge took a particular interest in a prize rooster. A farmer assured her that among the rooster's many talents was the ability to perform the sex act several times a day.

Impressed, Mrs. Coolidge said, "Be sure to tell that to Mr. Coolidge when he comes by." (We can safely assume that whatever else he was, Silent Cal was no Lothario.)

When Coolidge arrived the farmer passed on the message about the rooster's sexual prowess. The ever sharp Coolidge was quick to pose a question of his own.

"Is it with the same hen every time?" the president asked.

"Oh, no," the farmer replied. "It's with a different hen each time."

"Be sure to tell that to Mrs. Coolidge," Silent Cal urged.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Pub Date: 7/06/96

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