When the idea was first suggested to me I barely could muster a yawn. As a "liberal" filmmaker, what little I knew of Coolidge came from New Deal historians who view him as a somnambulant "capitalist tool" whose presidency served only as a prelude to disaster.What did Karol learn? Well, among other things:
"Read his autobiography — 250 pages, large print."
I did, and was intrigued. I moved on to his speeches, all of which he wrote himself. A master at delegating duties, Coolidge was not one to delegate beliefs. His speeches read like lay sermons to the American public, revealing fundamental values and ideals any small "d" democrat should embrace. I was hooked.
Others may disagree, but I can't imagine Coolidge rising to political bait like flag burning, the Pledge of Allegiance, gay marriage, or school prayer. In my opinion, he would have viewed these "hot-button" issues as inappropriate, having nothing to do with presidential business.What's in the film and what conclusions are drawn?
"Things of the Spirit" takes a deeper than usual look at the personal and political life of our thirtieth President. We already have completed the research, preproduction, production and story edit. Among other things, "Things of the Spirit":Regarding the Coolidge's economic record, Karol explains:
- Is the first fully researched film that has ever been made on Calvin Coolidge and the political and economic issues of the 1920's.
- Dispels the assumption of most American history textbooks that Coolidge was a small-minded materialist who served only as a handmaiden to business.
- Establishes clearly and finally that the Coolidge-Mellon tax cuts of the 1920's generated increased revenue to the federal government; that Coolidge ran surpluses in all his annual budgets; and that by the time he left office he had cut the national debt by one-third.
- Challenges the popular opinion of historians that the Coolidge Prosperity led inevitably to the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression of the 1930's.
- Illustrates America's leadership in post World War I European recovery, and prominence in worldwide economic and cultural development during the 1920's.
- Inspires viewers to give open minded consideration to the political beliefs, moral character and spiritual values of perhaps our most misunderstood President, Calvin Coolidge.
Maybe forgotten Cal will become "cool" again.
Harding, Coolidge, and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon sought to kick-start the economy by reducing the top marginal tax rate to 25%. They did. Revenues increased dramatically, presaging Arthur Laffer by half a century. Both presidents ran surpluses in all their annual budgets. By the time Coolidge left office, the national debt had been cut by one-third.
New Deal historians maintain that the tax cuts of the 1920s reversed the progressive tax policies of Woodrow Wilson. Far from it. Exemptions increased so much that by 1927 almost 98% of the American people paid no income tax whatsoever. When Coolidge left office in 1929, wealthy people paid 93% of the tax load. During Wilson's last year in office they had paid only 59%.
Less remembered, and less appreciated by contemporary politicians, was Coolidge's aversion to farm subsidies. At great political risk, Coolidge twice vetoed the popular McNary-Haugen farm subsidy bill. As Coolidge put it:
"If the government gets into business on any large scale, we soon find that the beneficiaries attempt to play a large part in the control … and those who are the most adroit get the larger part of it." Although some may wish otherwise, Coolidge was not one publicly to condemn private organizations. Rather than censure the Ku Klux Klan following its massive 1925 march in Washington, Coolidge chose to address the annual meeting of the American Legion in Omaha on "toleration and liberalism," concluding:
"I recognize the full and complete necessity of 100 percent Americanism, but 100 percent Americanism may be made up of many various elements … Whether one traces his Americanisms back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years to the steerage … we are all now in the same boat … Let us cast off our hatreds."
I can't think of any other public figure who would have dared deliver that message to that audience at that time.