The wit and wisdom of Ronald Reagan have not yet been codified and published, since he is only now approaching the climax of his career.
But as everyone knows, he thinks the world of Calvin Coolidge, whose portrait at the White House will be elevated to a place of honor in the Cabinet Room, and we may expect to hear more about Coolidge in the next few years.
Coolidge had a reputation for silence, for austerity, even. In actual fact, according to ample testimony by those who knew him, Coolidge was friendly and charming. It is said Coolidge did not suffer fools gladly, so of course he said very little in this capital.
Once President Coolidge was motoring through Rock Creek Park and saw the distinguished Sen. Borah on horseback. Borah was a Republican, but a man of independent marching orders who rarely (Coolidge believed) agreed with anything or anybody. After a chat, the president left, remarking to his driver:
"Must bother him to be going the same direction as the horse."
Coolidge made only $1,500 a year before assuming high government office, but was nevertheless in favor of economy. After his marriage to Grace Goodhue in 1905 somebody said he should stop renting that cruddy room for a dollar a day at some rooming house in Boston. He should get a place where he could entertain. So he rented a second room in the rooming house, which cost him another dollar a day.
Once he was almost run down on F Street by a woman driver. The president said, "Dangerous combination -- woman and a Ford."
Ha-ha. Right, of course. But Coolidge is not the patron saint of liberated women, it is said.
Sour people say Coolidge never said anything witty in his life. Grace Coolidge, they say, invented it all.
Mrs. Coolidge, who you gather was an early Cosmopolitan Girl, wrote some articles for that magazine relaying some of the good stories. Some say she made them all up.
John Hiram McKee in 1933 published a batch of them in "Coolidge Wit and Wisdom," relying partly on Cosmopolitan sources.
Coolidge himself, at least, never denied any of the wit ascribed to him. My own favorite is not in the McKee collection, but is beautiful:
"See how closely they have shorn those sheep," said a man to Coolidge as they rode through Vermont.
"At least on this side," said the president.
Once some old Amherst boys in Spain were having a get-together and requested Coolidge to send them a cable for the occasion (Coolidge was an Amherst boy and, no doubt, a typical product wit-wise of that great school).
"And now," said the emcee at the bash in Spain, "a cable from the president of the United States."
Everybody clapped and sat back to hear from Coolidge.
The entire text of his message is as follows:
In college he had been asked if he would like to join a certain fraternity. His answer, in its entirety, has been preserved for us:
Once an ill-tempered person trotted up to him and said:
"I didn't vote for you."
The president said:
There was an alarm system in the White House. If the button was pushed, all hell broke out with people running towards the president from all directions.
With traditional White House efficiency, perhaps, the button was nowhere near the president's office. But Coolidge on slow days used to sneak out and push it.
He did not like having a lot of guards around him. Once he went fishing and shook them off and was silently fishing in a pool just below some rapids.
The guards were hot after him, however -- they hate for presidents to get away from them -- and Coolidge heard a splash upstream, then saw a canoe paddle float past, then a pillow from the canoe, and then a guard's hat, sailing on down like a duck.
"Been expecting that," Coolidge at last said to his companion.
Shortly before Herbert Hoover got the presidential nomination, photographers showed up to get a shot of him with Coolidge, and a photographer said if they talked it would make a better shot. So Coolidge said something but Hoover didn't reply.
"Can't make the fellow talk," said Coolidge.
A man sent Coolidge some expensive cigars. Months later he was at Coolidge's house and the president said "Have a cigar."
"Aren't those the cigars I sent you?" the man asked, seeing the box was just now being opened.
The president said yes, but it was like the fellow who sent his New England buddy a crate of oranges from Florida. Months later he visited in New England and saw the oranges had never been opened.
"We were afraid," he was told, "they'd spoil our appetite for prunes."
Coolidge left his office one day to have his picture taken with some visiting firemen. He parked his cigar near the door, intending to pick it up after the picture session. A photographer noticed this and sat in wait to get a picture of Coolidge bending over to pick up the cigar. But Coolidge walked right on past.
After the disappointed photographer packed up and left, Coolidge darted out and recovered his cigar.
The White House used to have a closet full of jams and pickles and things the good housewives of America used to send him as tokens of their love. Nobody knew if they would kill the president if he ate them, so they were never served.
But often when Coolidge could not be located, he was eventually found in that closet, dipping into pickle jars. He loved pickles. Never was poisoned by American housewife cooking.
When Coolidge became president the chief of a small Washington bank begged him to make a small deposit at that bank. It would really help business if word got around that the president had an account there.
"Why don't you make me an honorary depositor?" the president asked.
As governor of Massachusetts Coolidge was approached by a legislator complaining another legislator had told him to go to hell.
"I've looked up the law," Coolidge said. "You don't have to go."
Coolidge is not generally ranked among the great presidents, but persons on pep pills who have been able to read his biography say he was a good man, all wool and a yard wide, as it were.
"Like a singed cat," said a fellow in a beautiful tribute, "Coolidge is better than he looks."
The same may someday be said of the least promising among us.