George F. Will: The brevity of Silent Cal

Published: February 14, 2013
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He met his wife, the vivacious Grace, after hearing her laughter when she saw through a window him shaving while wearing a hat. Shlaes' biography would be even more engaging had she included this oft-repeated anecdote:

When President and Mrs. Coolidge were being given simultaneous but separate tours of a chicken farm, Grace asked her guide whether the rooster copulated more than once a day. “Dozens of times,” she was told. “Tell that to the president,” she said. When told, Coolidge asked, “Same hen every time?” When the guide said, “A different one each time,” the president said: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

In 1924, after the lingering illness and death of his 16-year-old son from blood poisoning, Coolidge demonstrated — if only our confessional culture could comprehend this — the eloquence of reticence: “When he was suffering he begged me to help him. I could not.”

Coolidge, says Shlaes, thought his office “really was one of ‘president,' literally one who presided.” And “the best monument to his kind of presidency was no monument at all.” This absence, however, is a kind of admonitory presence for him who said, “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.” The 1933 funeral service for this man of brevity lasted 22 minutes.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

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