CLINTON AND COOLIDGE: AN UNLIKELY-SOUNDING DUO | 2001-01-27
Bill Clinton may be leaving office at just the right time. With OPEC once again squeezing America and a wimpish American response, some say we could be ready for a major economic downturn.
In other words, Clinton is leaving office after two terms of unbroken peace and economic prosperity, and just as he leaves office there is an economic cloud on the horizon. The last time this happened, the outgoing president was Calvin Coolidge.
One thing that keeps people from comparing those situations is that the two men, Coolidge and Clinton, are so different as to make any comparison seem hilarious.
Clinton tends to be fat, Coolidge was always gaunt-looking. Coolidge never spoke one word more than he had to. As a wild understatement, let us just say that Clinton doesn't mind the sound of his own voice.
Coolidge was absolutely moral and monogamous. I think you may have heard otherwise about our Bill. Coolidge slept twelve hours a day. It is hard to imagine Clinton sleeping at all, and certainly not with his wife.
It is certainly hard to make the intellectual leap that is required to see Clinton and Coolidge in any common category.
But in the two areas where the Federal Government is pivotal, there are a number of chilling parallels between the president who left just before the last depression and the one who might be leaving just before the next depression.
Today, international affairs look a lot like they did when Coolidge left office. Both Coolidge and Clinton served their terms when it was assumed that The War To End War had ended -- World War I in Coolidge's case, the Cold War in Clinton's.
During Coolidge's term, a treaty was signed making war illegal.
Winning the Cold War seemed to make the world safe for democracy, just as the 1918 defeat of Germany made the world safe for democracy. All that was left after World War I was to distribute the lands of the empires we had defeated in World War I and to establish a peaceful New World Order.
But in the 1920's, our defeated enemy, Germany, was in one crisis after another. In fact, our defeated enemy then looked a great deal like Russia does today.
In Coolidge's time, Germany's next ally, Japan, was a poverty-stricken underdeveloped country, no real threat.
With a little imagination, it is not hard to see Iran and the Arab countries, which we do our best to alienate, as the Japan of our day.
As I pointed out on May 22, 1999 in KINKY SEX, there is no excuse today for having anything but a continuing boom. But that doesn't mean that government policy or international problems can't PRODUCE a depression.
One more thing to keep in mind: Coolidge was never blamed for the Depression. He remained a fondly remembered public figure until his death in 1933. The shacks of the unemployed were called Hoovervilles, not Coolidgevilles, even though Hoover had been in office less than a year when the Depression began.
In short, if the parallels hold, Bush will take the rap.