For Calvin Coolidge, one of our greatest presidents, reticence was both a personality trait and a political strategy. As Coolidge told his Commerce secretary and successor, Herbert Hoover, “Nine-tenths of [visitors to the White House] want something they ought not to have. If you keep dead still, they will run down in three or four minutes.”
It seems that Ronald Reagan,–an admirer of Coolidge’s who hung Silent Cal’s portrait in the Cabinet Room–adopted a similar strategy, though one more in keeping with Reagan’s gregarious persona. Alas, Ted Kennedy, who recounted the story in his upcoming memoir, wasn’t sharp enough to figure out what was going on. From an article on the Kennedy book in today’s New York Times:
[Senator Kennedy] said it had been difficult to get Reagan to focus on policy matters. He described a meeting with him that he and other senators had sought to press for shoe and textile import limits.
The senators were told that they would have just 30 minutes with the president. Reagan began the meeting, the book said, commenting on Mr. Kennedy’s shoes — asking if they were Bostonians — and then talking for 20 minutes about shoes and his experience selling shoes for his father. “Several of us began conspicuously to glance at our watches.” But to no avail. “And it was over!” Mr. Kennedy said. “No one got a word in about shoe or textile quota legislation.”
Huh. Go figure.
(For an introduction to Coolidge’s virtues, try John Derbyshire’s wonderfully strange and charming novel Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream.)