The good folks at Greenleaf Publishing sent me a review copy of Garland Tucker’s The High Tide of American Conservatism. In it Tucker tells the story of the little discussed 1924 election between Calvin Coolidge, John W. Davis, and Robert La Follette. Though he focuses mostly on the race (if you can call it that) between Davis and Coolidge.
Tucker’s main argument is that both mainstream parties (Democrat and Republican) were mostly conservative and that it was after the 1924 election that the Democratic Party became more “liberal” embracing progressive ideals. He takes great pains to paint a picture of Coolidge’s Democratic opponent, John W. Davis, that shows him as qualified, conservative, and frankly quite the noble fellow. Tucker goes on to point out that it is hard to unseat an incumbant when times are good – especially when there is not much difference politically between the two. Tucker shows a President Coolidge almost not campaigning for reelection while Davis struggled to find a way to campaign against such a candidate.
Overall, the book is indeed a good read. Tucker is not a historian but he writes historical narrative well. My only complaint is with the Epilogue where Tucker tries to draw a parallel between Coolidge and Ronal Reagan. On page 306 Tucker states, “Harding, Coolidge, and Reagan sharply cut taxes and simultaneously reduced federal domestic spending”. Here is where Tucker’s conservative views and idolization of Ronald Reagan distort history. Reagan in his first year did indeed cut taxes, but in subsequent years (1982-87) actually saw taxes go up, including increasing the gasoline tax. He also grew the size of the Federal government as well as the deficit. Tucker needed to stick to the historical narrative of the 1924 election and not try to draw greater parallels. When he did his politics got in the way.
In sum, it is a good book for the 1924 election and Tucker seems to have done his homework. However, one need not read the Epilogue as there are parts that are factually incorrect.