Saturday, June 29, 2013

President Character: Week Twenty-Two, Gone To The White House

When we write of Grover Cleveland, we write of a man best-known to Americans as "The Guy Who Served Two Separate Terms".  A guy good for a punchline in the Simpsons/Futurama 'Verse.  There are other things he should be known for.

He should be known as one of the few Presidential candidates to win the popular vote three straight times (FDR is the other, and he's got the excuse of being a Four-Termer).  He didn't win the Presidency the second time because of the Electoral College.  Cleveland was also the first Democrat elected to the Presidency since 1860 (Johnson was not elected to it, Tilden should have won it but the corruption of the electoral system in 1876 blocked him), breaking the Republican monopoly on the office of 24 years.

He's also a candidate that had one of the biggest bombshells of a Presidential campaign ever: the revelation days after his nomination that he had fathered a child out of wedlock (he was enjoying the bachelor lifestyle up to that point).  It didn't help that he publicly acknowledged the child as his (although he and his supporters took pains to note he provided financial support).  Republicans gleefully took to the streets chanting "Ma! Ma! Where's My Pa!"  This was a huge load on Cleveland's election hopes, because outside of his personal lifestyle, Cleveland was arguably the most incorruptible political figure this nation ever saw: this was a guy with a reputation for vetoing bad bills, for gutting out corruption in local and state office, for going against Tammany Hall (the political machine of the 19th Century) and winning.  Cleveland was quoted as saying "Public Office is a Public Trust" and he damn well meant what he said.

His opponent was one of the Grant-era ethically-challenged congressmen, Blaine, who was reportedly pious in his personal life but up to his hips in corruption in his public job.  As a result, the debate became a question between voting for a man with questionable personal habits but clean policy record or for a man with questionable policy records and clean personal habits.

And it was a close race, the mudslinging involved one of the nastiest since Andrew Jackson's era and unrivaled until, well, Clinton and/or Obama's.  It took a last-minute PR faux pas of a Protestant preacher denouncing Irish voters in New York to switch the vote there to Cleveland's favor, in which he squeaked out  a win by 1,000 votes.

Democrats responded to the Republican rally cry by answering "Gone to the White House Ha! Ha! Ha!"

And what did Cleveland do once he reached the White House?

He vetoed more Congressional bills than any other President in history.  Granted, a lot of those bills were individually written to pension out war veterans rather than there being one over-arching congressional bill that would have covered them all.  But Cleveland wasn't the sort to let a single bill pass his inspection, and he didn't agree that Congress should override the veterans' Pension Office that had denied those pension petitions already.  But this was a sign of how Cleveland worked: he believed in limited government in the small-c conservative way, and every political stance - reducing the tariffs (taxes) because there was an ongoing surplus, supporting the gold standard over silver (which meant cheap money) - reflected that.

All in all, Cleveland demonstrated a lot of the traits - highly driven but unimaginative, reactive rather than active, Uncompromising above all - that are found in Active-Negative Presidents.  Granted: he never demonstrated obsessive self-interest and self-loathing most Negatives have, and had the love and faith in public office that an Active-Positive has, probably putting him more on the borderline between the two traits than most other Presidents.  But he was more A-N than A-P.

I'd say more, but there's still another blog entry I gotta write on the guy.  Non-consecutive blog entries, after all we got a schedule to maintain and Cleveland won't begrudge us that...

Next Week: Benjamin's just this guy, ya know?

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