Were Barack Obama, America’s most loquacious president (699 first-term teleprompter speeches), capable of learning from someone with whom he disagrees, he would profit from Amity Shlaes’s new biography of Coolidge, whom she calls “our great refrainer” with an “aptitude for brevity,” as when he said, “Inflation is repudiation.” She says that under his “minimalist” presidency, he “made a virtue of inaction.” As he said, “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” During the 67 months of his presidency, the national debt, the national government, the federal budget, unemployment (3.6 percent) and even consumer prices shrank. The GDP expanded 13.4 percent. …

When Harding died in August 1923, Coolidge had not seen him since March, but the new president, assisted by a splendidly named former congressman, C. Bascom Slemp, continued Harding’s program of cutting taxes, tariffs and expenditures. “I am for economy. After that, I am for more economy,” said the 30th president, whose administration’s pencil policy was to issue one at a time to each bureaucrat, who if he or she did not entirely use it up had to return the stub. Coolidge and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon advocated “scientific taxation,” an early iteration of the supply-side economics theory that often lowering rates will stimulate the economy so that the government’s revenue loss will be much less than the taxpayers’ gain. Soon Coolidge was alarmed that economic growth was producing excessive revenue that might make government larger. …

This absence, however, is a kind of admonitory presence for him who said, “It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.” The 1933 funeral for this man of brevity lasted 22 minutes.