Or read the transcript below:
(Transcription by J. C. Hendershot)
Interview with Garland S. Tucker by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, Thursday, September 23, 2010
ROGER ARONOFF: Our guest today is Garland Tucker III, the author of the book The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election. Good morning, Garland! We’re glad to have you on as our guest today on Take AIM!
GARLAND TUCKER III: Roger, good morning. Happy to be here.
ARONOFF: Thank you. Before we discuss your book, I want to tell our listeners a little bit more about your background. Mr. Garland S. Tucker III is President and CEO of Triangle Capital Corporation, a publicly traded specialty finance company located in Raleigh, North Carolina. Mr. Tucker served a term as President of the Mid Atlantic Securities Industry Association, and is a former member of the New York Stock Exchange. He is a graduate of Washington and Lee University, and Harvard Business School. So tell us more about you: You’re not a historian, or, at least, not until you wrote this book. How did you come to write it?
TUCKER: Well, Roger, I don’t think I qualify yet as a historian, but I have been a lifelong student of history, I guess—certainly love to read history, and one of the periods that I’ve grown to be interested in was the 1920s. From a business standpoint, as a businessman, I’ve gotten intrigued with the fiscal policies of the Coolidge and Mellon administration, and, really, felt that they have been very much overlooked and/or misunderstood by most historians over the years. Similarly, I developed an interest in John Davis, and think it’s very sad that, as an individual, he’s been totally overlooked—or almost totally overlooked—by historians. That was, I guess, the genesis of the book.
ARONOFF: I notice that you and John Davis, who was the Democratic candidate in 1924, both attended Washington and Lee University. Did that play a role in your writing this book?
TUCKER: Well, it actually did. The first time I ever heard anything about John Davis, I was a student at Washington and Lee. I had a good friend, who was a retired dean there, who had known Davis. I remember hearing him talk about Davis. It was during my undergraduate years that the one good biography on Davis, entitled Lawyer’s Lawyer, was published. I remember reading that and thinking, Gosh, what a fantastic guy he was, what an exemplary public servant, and thinking, Gee, it’s sad that I’ve never heard of him before. I’ve continued to be amazed, over the last thirty, thirty-five years, that people just don’t know anything about John Davis.
ARONOFF: That’s true. I discovered that while doing research for this interview. It was quite remarkable to me, too. And your book—I want to highly recommend it to everyone. You’re not giving yourself enough credit if you say you’re not a historian, because you took me back, and it was really something. Tell us about the people. We’re going to, later on, bring this current, and talk about how it relates to what’s going on, but I want to cover the history first.
ARONOFF: Tell us about the people who were running for President in 1924. Brief descriptions.
TUCKER: Well, in ’24, Calvin Coolidge was the incumbent. He had come into the Presidency as—been elected as Vice President in 1920, and when Harding died in ’23 he moved into the Presidency. So he’d been President about a year before the election in 1924. As the incumbent, he was blessed with an economy that was steadily improving. Coolidge was a very interesting politician. If any of us, as modern, 21st century historians were to come up with a list of qualifications for a good politician, I don’t think Coolidge would ever make the list. He was a man of very few words, I don’t think he ever slapped anybody on the back, probably never kissed a baby, and was just a quintessential New Englander. And if you think about that kind of personality, and then think about the image of the Roaring ’20s, you would think, Gosh, that’s a match that’s never going to work. But, surprisingly, if you look into the ’20s, Coolidge was extremely popular. The public seemed to be sort of fascinated by the fact that he was not a conventional politician, and, I think, they were very reassured by the fact that he was actually what he seemed: He was a real New England patriot, if you will, never any hint of scandal—the Harding administration had been plagued by a lot of scandals, but there was never any tie to Coolidge. He was a man who didn’t mince words. It was said he never wasted any time, never wasted any words, and certainly never wasted any taxpayer’s money. The public seemed to love that in the ’20s, and he was very, very popular.
Davis, on the other hand, was a very conservative Democrat, and, in retrospect, we can see that he was the last conservative that the Democratic Party ever nominated. But up until 1924, there was a real seesaw back-and-forth within the Democratic Party between the conservatives and the progressive wings, and the conservative wing was quite active. Davis—unlike Coolidge—had, I would say, a very magnetic personality. He was someone, throughout his whole career, that people—even though they might disagree with his policies—found him to be just a very engaging and delightful dinner companion, or whatever. He was Solicitor General, and then, later, Ambassador to Great Britain under Woodrow Wilson. Back to his personality for a second—King George V termed him the most perfect gentleman he’d ever met, which, I think, was quite a compliment for an American to receive from the King of England. But Davis was an outstanding lawyer—he wound up heading a major New York law firm, Davis Polk and Wardwell, that’s still a top firm today; he was President of the American Bar Association; and he represented J. P. Morgan, AT&T, and many major U.S. corporations—and was just, very much like Coolidge, an exemplary public servant. Never any hint of scandal in his whole career. It’s refreshing, I think, even if you’re a diehard liberal, if you go back and read about 1924, you would admit that it’s amazing to see two such qualified men run without having to apologize for any scandal in either career. It’s very refreshing to see that.
ARONOFF: A couple other things. Coolidge had been the Governor of Massachusetts before, and then, also, there was a third candidate running in ’24. Tell us about him. Tell us about how the campaign went, how the election came out.
TUCKER: Right. Yes. Coolidge had worked his way up in politics in Massachusetts, and became the Governor of Massachusetts in 1918. It’s important, as the backdrop for this whole story, to know that the post-War period, post-World-War-I period in the U.S., the country entered a very steep recession. Unemployment surged over 20 percent, GNP took a precipitous drop, and there was a whole series of strikes around in the country. In 1919 the police force in Boston went out on strike. The result of that strike was really what put Coolidge on the national stage: After trying very hard to avoid a showdown, and to find a satisfactory compromise solution, the strikers pressed the issue, and Coolidge responded with a typically very succinct statement that nobody had any right, at any time, to strike against the public interest. And the strike was broken, basically, under that one sentence, and that sentence sort of captured the attention of the people around the country, and Coolidge was swept up on the ticket with Harding, as the Vice President. That’s how he got to Washington. So that’s kind of the background of how he got there. You mentioned La Follette a minute ago.
TUCKER: Robert La Follette was the third party candidate. This is an interesting dimension to the book. In retrospect, as you look back, as we look back, at the election of 1924, in some ways it really was a watershed election, and that’s where the name The High Tide of American Conservatism comes from. Since 1924 we’ve lived with the reality that the Republican Party is the party of the Right, and the Democratic Party is the party of the Left, but that wasn’t really foreordained anywhere, and, up until 1924, both parties—Republicans and Democrats—had had a very active, basically, civil war going on within their parties, between the progressive and the conservative wings. The Democrats were the first party to nominate a progressive for President, William Jennings Bryan in 1896, but the Republicans were the first to elect a progressive, and that was when Teddy Roosevelt was elected in his own right in 1904. And from the early 20th century on, through Woodrow Wilson’s time and into the ’20s, both parties had active progressive wings and active conservative wings. La Follette, Robert La Follette, was a Senator from Wisconsin, and was a Republican. He was a progressive Republican. When Coolidge was nominated in 1924, on a very conservative platform—Coolidge was certainly a conservative individual—La Follette decided that he just couldn’t stomach it, and decided to run as a third party progressive.
Similarly, the Democrats met in convention, 1924—that’s a separate chapter in the book, which is, I think, an interesting one. It was a nightmare of a convention that went on for three weeks and 103 ballots and was deadlocked. Just endless ballots. Finally, Davis was nominated as a compromise candidate. But Davis was clearly a conservative, had strong ties to Wall Street—was a Wall Street lawyer—and that was just too much for some of the progressives in the Democratic Party. In fact, Senator Wheeler, from Montana, became La Follette’s running mate. So it was a Republican, La Follette, and a Democrat, Wheeler, who formed the progressive ticket in 1924. It’s interesting—I commented in the book that generally, in American history, when a third party emerges, it’s not successful as a new party in and of itself, but it usually signals some realignment within or between the two major parties, and that’s exactly what happened in 1924. Coolidge was resoundingly elected, the Democrats made the commitment—in fact, there’s a wonderful quote from FDR, who was a young politician at that time, who said, “Well, we’ve learned our lesson, we’re never going to be able to be more conservative than the Republicans. Let’s go the other direction.”—and so the Democrats became the more liberal party, the Republicans stayed on the Right, and many of the old Teddy Roosevelt progressives moved over and, ultimately, became Democrats. And many of the conservatives, the John Davis conservatives, moved over and, ultimately, became Republicans—certainly by the 1960s or so. Davis himself lived until the mid ’50s, and, after 1932, never endorsed a Democrat for President. After that, he would claim to be a Democrat, but was not—in fact, somebody asked Davis, in the late ’40s, if he was still a Democrat, and he said, “Yes, stand still.” [Laughs.] He was not much of a Democrat by that time!
ARONOFF: A couple things I’d like to point out. You write that “Davis brought to the Solicitor Generalship”—which he had been, as you pointed out, under Wilson—“a conviction that the proper role of the State is limited narrowly to the maintenance of order and national security, and protection of private property and personal liberty.” I think that sounds good to a lot of conservatives today! The fact that it made sense then—and then there was another little bit that I wanted to read from your book about Coolidge’s philosophy of government. “The government can help to maintain peace, to promote economy, to provide a protective tariff, to assist the farmers, to lead the people in the possession of their own property, and to maintain the integrity of the courts. But after all, success must depend on individual effort. It is our theory that the people make the government, not that the government makes the people. Unless there abides in them the spirit of industry of thrift, of sacrifice and self-denial, of courage and enterprise, and a belief in the reality of truth and justice, all the efforts of the government will be in vain.” So I think—you know, we can see the kind of thinkers these people were. It was really quite amazing.
TUCKER: And those are very illustrative quotes from both men. In fact, both Davis and Coolidge said many times that they were both Jeffersonians, in the sense that they believe in a very limited role for the government. There’s a great quote in the book—that Davis actually thought it was immoral to take taxpayers’ money from one group of taxpayers, and give it to another. He just didn’t think that was a function of the government. Coolidge had exactly the same view—and, in fact, that was Davis’s great problem in the campaign of 1924, that he and Coolidge basically agreed on the major issues of the day. There was very little he could do to generate excitement among the Democrats. Coolidge had the benefit of the economy moving in a positive direction, he was the incumbent, and he basically ran a very quiet, but masterful, campaign. Davis was out doing a whistle-stop tour, trying to generate excitement, but he had a very difficult time, because he was, essentially, in agreement with Coolidge on the issues.
ARONOFF: What has been the conventional wisdom about this election, and [what did you see] to overturn that conventional wisdom?
TUCKER: I think the starting point for me, and, maybe, for a lot of people who read history, is that the conventional wisdom for years—back when I was in college, and, probably, Roger, when you were in college—that there really was no debate among historians, at least as far as I could tell, and that was that Woodrow Wilson had a great administration, FDR had a great administration, nothing happened in the ’20s worth even noting or commenting on. Coolidge was dismissed as “Silent Cal,” who didn’t really have a philosophy, just was a tool of Big Business, and as a serious historian you wanted to study the New Freedom under Wilson, and the New Deal under Roosevelt. That really began to change a bit in 1980, when Reagan was elected. Famously, he put Coolidge’s portrait in the Cabinet room, which totally mystified most historians—they couldn’t figure out what in the world he was thinking about. But there began to be a little more interest from historians in Coolidge: Robert Sobel wrote a very good biography of Coolidge in the ’90s, and then, more recently, Amity Shlaes has written an exceptionally good book on the Great Depression, called The Forgotten Man, and she covers—or has a good bit to say—about the ’20s and Coolidge and Mellon’s policies, and then Roosevelt’s policies in the ’30s. Another historian who’s written a lot about that is Paul Johnson, the British historian. So there finally is a bit of a debate. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s been successfully concluded, but at least there’s a debate going on about, you know—were the policies in the ’20s good fiscal policies, or were the policies in the ’30s good—or bad—policies? So that’s how I got interested in it.
TUCKER: And then, when you look back at the election of 1924, I think it’s—as far as I know, no one had written anything much about the election. Certainly I don’t think any historians were thinking of it in terms of a watershed election, but I think you can argue that it really was.
ARONOFF: The other thing that you can’t really have a thorough discussion about Coolidge and not bring up is the famous quote about the “business of America is business,” and how that’s misquoted, actually.
ARONOFF: The thing—as I was researching this, I was reminded that this was given before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, when he made that speech in January, 1925, in the speech titled “The Press Under a Free Government.”
ARONOFF: And if I just can quote this real quick—“After all, the chief business of the American people is business.” And then he went on to say, “Of course, the accumulation of wealth can not be justified as the chief end of existence.” He continues, “American newspapers have seemed to me to be particularly representative of this practical idealism of our people.” And one more from that speech: “We make no concealment of the fact that we want wealth, but there are many other things that we want very much more. We want peace and honor, and that charity which is so strong an element of all civilization. The chief ideal of the American people is idealism. I cannot repeat too often that America is a nation of idealists. That is the only motive to which they ever give any strong and lasting reaction.” So it just points out how you pull one line, and try to characterize a man’s entire life with that—
TUCKER: Well, Coolidge very much believed that the affluence of the 1920s, and of the American economy in general, was the result of the principles that were put in place at the founding of the Republic. He’s been caricatured as just sort of a spokesman for the Chamber of Commerce, or something, saying “Leave business alone, and everything will be all right.” But he had a much more well-articulated philosophy that went back, and was very idealistic. I think the quote you read is important if you’re trying to understand Coolidge, because he thought that the wealth that was becoming manifest in the ’20s was really the result of the kind of government we had, of the restraints on the government, the Constitutional structure, and he was very dedicated to respecting that. That one phrase that has been pulled out has certainly been caricatured, I think.
ARONOFF: Right. Now, JFK—John Kennedy’s often described as the first President to effectively use TV. But you say that Coolidge was the first to adroitly use radio, photography, and public relations. How so?
ARONOFF: What was the media like then? How did he go about trying to use that?
TUCKER: Well, it’s interesting—and, of course, the timing was such that he happened to be President during the ’20s, when radios became very prevalent, the spread of radio stations and networks, and the country was fascinated by the new technology—but Coolidge was blessed with a very good—surprisingly good, but very good—radio voice. He was, apparently, not nearly as impressive in person, and not considered a good, rousing orator by anybody’s estimation, but over the radio, apparently, his voice carried very well, and the Republican Party raised plenty of money in 1924, and they used it for radio, which was, absolutely, a new idea at that point. Davis didn’t raise nearly as much money, and so he had to do a more traditional whistle-stop campaign.
TUCKER: But Coolidge really used radio in the campaign, and in the ensuing four years as President, and he used it very, very successfully. We tend to think that FDR, and the Fireside Chats and all that, was the beginning of the presidential use of radio, but it really started under Coolidge. In terms of photography, I guess that—of course, photography had been around before, but the ability to take a photograph and get it on the front page of papers all over the country was certainly better during—it was steadily improving. Coolidge had kind of a quirky sense of humor, and he was constantly posing with—there are several pictures of him with headdresses on, and at baseball games, and things, and he actually enjoyed doing that, and the press picked up those photos and spread them around, and people seemed to love seeing him. Probably the two most famous photographs that Coolidge and the Republicans used, very much to his advantage—the first one was when he was sworn in as President when Harding died, Coolidge and his wife were up in Vermont, visiting Coolidge’s father at a very remote location, Plymouth Notch, Vermont. He was awakened in the middle of the night. His father, who was a justice of the peace, administered the Oath of President by gas-lamp light. Someone took a photo of that, and it was sent around the country, and was on the front page of every paper in the country. That image was just seared into the public’s mind, of this very plainspoken New Englander who came from a very modest background, a home that looked like most American voters’ home, and there was his father, swearing him in. That image really settled in. Another very famous one was during the campaign of 1924. Coolidge went back up to Vermont to vacation at the family farm, and the story is that he arrived, as he normally would, in the Presidential car, with Secret Service people and all, but they stopped the car when they got to the farm. Coolidge got out, put on some overalls, and started pitching hay over on the side. Well, the photograph was taken of him pitching hay in his overalls, and, of course, the Presidential limousine was nowhere in sight, and the public, again, had this view of him as this simple New England farmer—[laughs]—and the public loved it. It worked very, very well.
ARONOFF: Something else. HBO began its new series last week, Boardwalk Empire. It actually begins in 1920, with Prohibition coming into effect.
ARONOFF: So when Coolidge became President, it had now been in effect for three years or so. With his history, as you described it, with the Boston police strike and all that—how was that relevant to his Presidency? He came in during Prohibition. Was that a factor in 1924?
TUCKER: Well, Prohibition was a huge issue in 1924. The way you could see it most clearly was at the Democratic convention, which wound up, ultimately, nominating Davis, but the two candidates who deadlocked the Democratic convention were Al Smith, who was a very strong proponent of the repeal of Prohibition, and William Gibbs McAdoo, who was Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law, who was a very staunch advocate of Prohibition. They fought it out endlessly for the Democratic nomination, ballot after ballot. There were strong Prohibition—pro-Prohibition, anti-Prohibition—platform fights, and all of that. It’s interesting, when you finally got to the election, Davis and Coolidge had very similar views on Prohibition. Neither Davis nor Coolidge was really an advocate of Prohibition. They had nothing to do with the implementation of Prohibition, but they took the same position, which was that Prohibition is the law, and “As the President,” Coolidge said, “I’ll uphold the law.” Davis said if he was elected, he would do the same thing. So I would say it was not a defining issue in the election because the two candidates, Davis and Coolidge, took a similar view, but it was very much a hot-button issue out there, among the public, and there was a division in the Republican Party over Prohibition, and there was a division in the Democratic Party over Prohibition.
ARONOFF: One more issue, and then I want to bring this more modern.
ARONOFF: The income tax came into effect—the Sixteenth Amendment, 1913—and at the beginning, two percent, three percent, one percent. By the time FDR called for a hundred percent income tax for anything over $25,000 dollars—what was going on in that period with how they were looking to use the income tax to raise money, how it went from two percent to a hundred percent, basically—
TUCKER: Well, you’re exactly right. The amendment, Constitutional amendment, came in shortly before World War I, and at very modest levels—I think, by the time World War I started, I think it was up to about six percent or something—but very few people hit the category of even having to pay income tax. But when World War I came about, then there was a tremendous need, obviously, for the federal government to raise money to finance the war, and Congress discovered the income tax as a way to do that. Amazingly, at the end of the war, the end of Woodrow Wilson’s term, less than eight years later, the tax rate, the top tax rate was 77 percent. Going into the 1920s, with a very serious post-war recession, very sharp recession, the tax rate was at 77 percent, and the fiscal policies that Harding and Andrew Mellon—Andrew Mellon was Harding’s Secretary of the Treasury—began implementing, but which Coolidge and Andrew Mellon very much championed, and, ultimately, were the implementers, was to reduce that tax rate from 77 percent down to 24 percent. Even more impressive and impactful, over a quarter of the taxpayers who were paying taxes in the early ’20s were removed from the taxpayer rolls by the end of the ’20s—in other words, the result was an economy that took off, and the government was able to, basically, eliminate the lower income people from even having to pay income tax as they reduced the rate on the upper income levels down to 24 percent—
ARONOFF: So supply-side economics was really invented back then?
TUCKER: That was really the first time it was tried, and, I think, much to the surprise of a lot of people. Coolidge was very popular at the end of his first full term. In 1928 he elected not to run for reelection. He could have easily been elected. Hoover was nominated and elected in ’28, and then, when the stock market crashed and the recession started, as a surprise to most people Hoover raised the income tax rates and increased government spending. And, in fact, FDR was elected in 1932 on a platform that called for reducing taxes and reducing spending. Of course, when he got in he took the exact opposite tack, and went far beyond anything that Hoover had imagined. There was a real difference in Hoover’s approach and Harding and Coolidge’s approach. Hoover was from the progressive wing of the Republican Party, and once the economy got in trouble, his solution was to raise taxes and raise spending, and more conservative historians would argue that that was the beginning of turning what would have been a just bad recession, turning it into a ten-year-long Great Depression.
ARONOFF: That might be a good place to bring this forward, because we’re currently having this debate about extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and Obama keeps saying that it would cost us $700 billion dollars, and how are we going to pay for that—as if, just by raising tax rates, you’re going to collect all this additional money—when just the opposite has been proven so many times. And this seems to rarely get challenged, at least in the mainstream media.
TUCKER: I think it’s very important that the public at least have a basic understanding of what has happened in the past. The past is never, maybe, a totally flawless road map for the future, but if you don’t know what worked and hadn’t worked in the past, you’re probably going to make some mistakes that you could avoid. I think there’s no question—if you look back in the 20th century, the worst recessions were 1920, and then the end of the ’20s—1929 and ’30—and 1980. They were the worst, most severe recessions that we had, and the policies that Harding, Coolidge, and Andrew Mellon implemented in the 1920s were very much like what Reagan did in the early ’80s. And what Roosevelt did—what Hoover and Roosevelt did, in the late ’20s and ’30s, are much more like what Obama—totally like what Obama’s proposing and implementing now. There’s a lot of difference—historians and economists can argue over whether it’s fair to compare—but certainly the overall economic results of the ’20s and the ’80s were a lot better than the results in the ’30s, and it appears that all the stimulus, the spending, and the increased taxes that we’re in the midst of right now certainly haven’t yet stimulated the economy, and conservatives are arguing that if you look back to the ’30s, you’d see that it just didn’t work.
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. Well, put on your other hat for a minute. As the head of Triangle Capital Corporation—one thing we keep hearing about is how there’s trillions of dollars that business is holding onto now, and doesn’t want to spend or invest or hire, because of uncertainty. You live in that world primarily, so give us some perspective on this concept of uncertainty, and what’s going on in the economy today.
TUCKER: Well, Roger, it’s interesting. At Triangle Capital, we invest in middle market, lower middle market companies, smaller companies. We don’t invest in start-up or venture situations, but just regular companies and lots of different industries that are too small to be public. What we see, as we look around the country, is there really are opportunities for growth, and these smaller companies are aggressively pursuing it, but they’re very hesitant to commit to adding employees because of the uncertainty, really, of two things. I think the uncertainty of what the costs are going to be in health care is the big question mark there, what’s it going to cost for your existing employees, plus any new ones you add. And then I think there’s an absolute conviction that tax rates are going to go up in the next several years, and because there’s that conviction, and nobody knows exactly how much they’re going to go up, it’s difficult to figure out. What’s my payback period if I invest in a new plant, or add to my sales force, or whatever—I’m going to spend x dollars, but if tax rates go up ten percent, or 20 percent, or 50 percent, or whatever, in the next few years, how much they go up affects my payback period, I don’t know what the ground rules are going to be on the tax side, going forward. It’s making businesses very hesitant to invest. They’re convinced that whatever they invest, and then whatever—if they’re lucky enough to make money on it, they’re going to keep less of it than they’d keep today, but they don’t know how much less, and so they’re a little bit hesitant to invest. And that happened all during the ’30s, when Roosevelt would lash out at business and say, “Oh, we’re going to tax a hundred percent,” it would just scare businesspeople to death. They’d say, “Gosh, why should we invest in anything? We’re not going to get to keep any of our profits—if we’re lucky enough to make any!”
ARONOFF: In our remaining minutes, let’s explore one other thing, and that is how the terms liberal, conservative, progressive—how that obviously must have changed over the course of the years. Because to be a “progressive” back in the 1920s meant one thing, but as you time-lapse the federal budget, and you look at the first time this country hit $100 billion was back in the 1960s, LBJ, and then we hit a trillion, then two trillion, and three trillion—just this geometric explosion of the size of government, which is certainly one measure if you’re right-wing, left-wing, whatever—conservative, liberal—
ARONOFF: And the other thing is the way conservative is generally used in the mainstream media just to refer to someone who’s bad, or narrow-minded, or even racist. Or it can refer to the Soviet government, or the theocracy—
ARONOFF: —of Iran, while progressive or liberal are used in place of enlightened, tolerant, open-minded. So they kind of push that—doesn’t really have much to do with political philosophy, or where you stand. Address that concept.
TUCKER: I think one word that has probably changed more—and it started changing very much during the ’30s, Davis certainly commented on it, I think Coolidge did as well—is the word liberal. Davis, for instance, prided himself in being a Jeffersonian liberal. To him, and traditionally, what that meant was someone who believed in small government, maximum individual freedom, just enough government supervision to maintain order and provide national defense, but that’s it. The rest was up to the individual—maximum individual freedom. And that was really the meaning of liberal. I think it started changing when—I think progressivism is the genesis of what we now call liberalism. I think progressivism was the beginning of the feeling that the government really had to step in and be more of a protector of the weak, and a protector against Big Business, or whatever the problem was, that the population really couldn’t solve it on their own, so the government needed to step in. That’s what a progressive believed in in the ’20s. John Davis, if you’d ask him, he would have said, “I’m absolutely a classic liberal.” He made the comment, late in the ’30s, that that’s what he always meant by liberal, but he’d lived to see it become, really, just “being liberal with other people’s money”—that’s what it meant by the time you got to the end of the ’30s. That word really underwent a lot of change, I think. Similarly, conservative probably originally meant somebody who was a monarchist, or somebody who just wanted to have a very structured, regulated class system, or something like that. Today, a conservative, in the United States, is much more in the tradition of a classic liberal, or the John Davis-type liberal.
ARONOFF: Final query: Where do you put Obama in terms of how progressive, or liberal, or left-wing he is, compared to our other Presidents in history?
TUCKER: Well, I guess that’s something people are debating about right now. It seems to me that he is definitely—there’s no question in my mind that he’s come straight out of the progressive wing of American thought, and my feeling is that he’s more doctrinaire than any President we’ve had. I think he’s more doctrinaire than FDR. I think FDR liked to experiment with things—he was willing to try anything, he loved shocking people, and he ventured way to the Left and did shock the American people—but I think Obama really has a very cohesive philosophy that’s well-thought-out, in his mind, and he’s certainly good at articulating, but I think it’s pretty consistent. I think it’s pure progressivism, European-type quasi-socialism, if you will. I think that’s really where he’s coming from.
ARONOFF: All right. Any final, closing thoughts? I want to thank our guest, Mr. Garland Tucker. Again, the book is The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election. Tell people where they can get the book, if there’s other places they can find you on the Internet, and any closing thought you might have.
TUCKER: Roger, it’s been a pleasure to be here. The book is available from, I think, all—as far as I know—all of the Internet sellers, Amazon and the others. Hopefully you’ll be able to find it in any bookstore you go in. If you can’t, please ask them about it. I would just encourage you to read it. I would hope that conservatives would find it reassuring, and, I think, would enjoy the story of Coolidge and Davis, but I also hope that even the most diehard liberal would read it and think that Coolidge and Davis were absolutely two great Americans—even if they didn’t agree with their philosophy.
ARONOFF: Okay. Thank you so much for being with us this week on Take AIM. We will back next week with another guest. Until then, so long!