Like many Americans, I’ve been immersed in the 2016 Presidential debates. Truthfully, I’m not the least bit impressed. They seem like nothing more than a series of clown shows. I’d rather curl up with a cup of fair-trade coffee and read Nietzsche. So last night, I decided to create my own Presidential ticket. I’m calling it Election Fantasy Football.
Back in the eighties when I was attending a Catholic Jesuit high school in my native Columbus, Ohio, one of the requirements for graduation was to recite all of the U.S. Presidents in order with their terms in office. My recall is good, so I jogged my memory in search of the one president most closely aligned with my libertarian bent.
Drum roll please. My choice……………
Calvin Coolidge, the 30th U.S. President
And for his running mate, I chose Jack Kemp, former New York Congressman and Housing Secretary under George H.W. Bush.
Below, I’ll make the argument as to why Americans should support a Coolidge/Kemp Presidential ticket. But before you read this, I want to remind you not to get too far upstream with your excitement because they’re both dead.
The Case for Coolidge
I know, I know term limits – as well as Coolidge’s death – would prohibit this fantasy from occurring. But work with me here. As the 30th U.S. President, he was a modest and humble man (unlike Trump), and he is arguably the last true laissez-faire, libertarian-oriented political leader to see the Oval Office.
Coolidge was a huge advocate of limited government, and he had a track record a mile long to prove it. He oversaw the Roaring Twenties, a period of unprecedented economic prosperity for the U.S. He reduced the national debt, had budget surpluses, and he engineered massive cuts to income taxes. He despised government regulation and minimized it at every turn.
Based on my reading of Robel Sobel’s masterpiece of a book, ‘Coolidge: An American Enigma’, it’s clear that Coolidge’s policy record would resonate well with today’s disenfranchised voter. Just prior to his term in office, America had recently emerged from World War I with a gargantuan debt obligation and was facing a severe economic depression. The unemployment rate had soared to 11.7% in 1921, and the country’s debt obligation had ballooned from $1.5 billion in 1916 to $24 million in 1919. ”
Coolidge and his predecessor Warren Harding quickly went to work in righting the ship, reducing federal spending by a remarkable 43% from $5.1 billion to $2.4 billion. Moreover, he led a series of tax measures that reduced the top marginal rate from 73% to 24%. What’s most stunning about this feat is that Coolidge out into effect these tax reductions while simultaneously reducing the national debt by nearly a third, from $24 billion to $16.9 billion.
Coolidge’s record on individual rights and liberty was equally stellar. In studying his Presidency, I was particularly surprised to learn about his enlightened views on race. He championed efforts around civil rights, openly advocating for the passage of anti-lynching legislation on a national level. Coolidge also pressed for support of outreach efforts to bridge the divide between the races. Unfortunately, both initiatives failed to pass muster in Congress.
In a dedication speech featuring the statute of Swedish immigrant John Ericsson, Coolidge remarked:
“As we do not recognize any inferior races, so we do not recognize any superior races. We stand on an equality of rights and of opportunity, each deriving honor from his own worth and accomplishments.”
And His Running Mate, Jack Kemp
My fondest memory of Jack Kemp dates back to when he was Housing Secretary under President George H.W. Bush. The Queen of England was in Washington on an official visit, and Kemp gave her a tour of an inner city neighborhood that was being revitalized under his famed Enterprize Zone initiative. At one point, they got out of the car to visit the home of an African-American woman living in a small transitional home. As they proceed up the sidewalk to the front door, a woman of substantial girth emerged from the home and proceeded to swallow up the stunned Queen with a loving embrace. “Welcome to my palace,“ she blurted out, as an amused and somewhat embarrassed Kemp look on.
This encounter symbolized Jack Kemp at his core; a grassroots, pragmatic politician who had a comfort level in rubbing shoulders with folks of all stripes. A famed football player at both the college and professional levels, Kemp – who, like Coolidge, was a Republican – went on to serve nine terms as a Congressman from Western New York before his stint as Housing Secretary from 1989 to 1993 under President George H.W. Bush. Kemp was a staunch advocate of supply-side economics and fervent tax cuts. He was also a self-described ‘bleeding heart conservative’ who championed self-reliance, economic empowerment, cultural diversity and racial justice.
Perhaps his crowning accomplishment as a supply-side adherent was persuading the GOP – and later President Ronald Reagan – to adopt his tax-cut initiative, known as Kemp-Roth. Through a series of measures, the top tax rate on individual income was reduced from 70% to 50%. He also led a tax reform movement which in 1986 yielded a reduction in the top rate to 28%.
Kemp was a man hell-bent on fighting the dual scourge of high taxes and big government. His rationale was that by slashing taxes, the Treasury would actually collect more money as the economy simultaneously create more wealth and job opportunities. He felt that this would do more to lift the poor out of their plight than to have them continue to rely on welfare programs.
Kemp also ascribed to the idea of eliminating tax traps that hinder the poor in their efforts to transition off of welfare. Kemp despised initiatives that fostered government dependency and promoted the redistribution of wealth.
Finally, it is interesting to note that Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 Presidential candidate, albeit barely alive in the race, is using a version of Kemp’s highly successful low-tax, deregulated Enterprise Zone Model as a part of his economic freedom platform. It is doubtful that this remix will bring Paul’s campaign back to life, but he deserves a high-five for reintroducing it.
At the end of the day, I’m well aware that my call for a Coolidge/Kemp Presidential ticket is dead in the water. But maybe it will awaken the other candidates from their delusional slumber in time to rescue our nation from its precipitous downward spiral.
Michael Scott is a Denver-based journalist focusing on the intersection between free markets and economic freedom