A man of a few apt words

LIVING in Washington for the last quarter-century has not made it easier to accept the long-winded remonstrations of the city's politicians. That's one reason that one of my favorite Presidents is Calvin Coolidge, who uttered fewer words in his capital days than any other politician in United States history. When a college sophomore wrote him for his views regarding the goals of a student, Coolidge sent a 17-word reply. ``The aims or duty of a college man should be to behave himself and to work hard.''

On another occasion, after attending church alone, Coolidge was queried by his wife about the subject matter of the sermon. ``Sin,'' he replied. ``But what did the preacher say about it?'' his wife continued. ``He was against it,'' said Cal.

Coolidge's closest advisers marveled about his indisposition to talk except when it was absolutely necessary. On the day he was nominated for the vice-presidency, he took a 90-mile ride with an aide and uttered only seven words. During his twice-daily walks as president, he often went days without saying a word to his Secret Service agents.

Among his more notable full-length quotations are ``Do the day's work''; ``Don't hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table''; and ``One of my reasons for retiring from public life was in order to avoid further speechmaking.''

Unlike other politicians, Coolidge shunned social mixing, backslapping, oratory, baby-kissing, and deference to voters. When a neighbor chided him on the street with the words ``I didn't vote for you,'' Coolidge kept walking and said, ``Some did.''

To the prominent socialite who cornered the President at one of his rare dinner appearances and warned, ``I made a wager that I can make you say more than three words,'' he replied, ``You lose.''

My favorite Coolidge speech is one of his longest - a total of 19 words. ``Patriotism,'' he said, ``is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country.''

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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