Sunday, July 07, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Twenty-Three, I Got Nothing But a One-Termer Again

Another One-Term President to evaluate.  This shouldn't take too long...

The Republicans had enjoyed from Lincoln up to Arthur an extended period of White House control.  Grover Cleveland broke the cycle, bringing into office a reform-minded but-strict-as-hell Democrat that may have functioned but remained vulnerable to the whims of an electorate frustrated when Cleveland's administration failed to respond to their wants (not exactly their needs...).  They came into the 1888 election cycle with high hopes... and promptly ran into a deadlocked convention between two popular choices at the time.  Forced to find a compromise candidate, they settled on Benjamin Harrison, grandson of the late William Henry Harrison (yeah, they facepalmed about that back then too), scion of Ohio, officer of the Civil War (still a major campaign plus), occasionally elected to various offices... and pretty much one of the most bland unremarkable figures to get tabbed for the Boss job.

I exaggerate, I suppose.  Harrison had to have some qualities of value that made him an acceptable candidate.  Unfortunately, the biggest value he had was his malleability: the party bosses knew they could manage him.

Harrison's personality was one of reluctance.  He had to be talked into running for Governor of his state once (he lost a narrowly contested campaign).  Tabbed to serve as Senator (back then, a Senator was nominated by the controlling powers of the state legislature, not direct vote), he did so with little distinction preferring to vote along party interests and rarely making a name for himself.

And yet, Harrison doesn't entirely fit the Passive-Negative model of Presidential Character.  He shared a positive view of government's role in education and social improvement: he was the first President since Grant to make serious efforts to break the Jim Crow power in the south by pushing for federalizing the elections process and ensuring education funding for all.  Both didn't get far in a Congress where Republican allies traded away those issues for economic ones.

If I had to, I'd have to put Harrison right on the edge of the Passive-Negative line, but would make him a Passive-Positive.  Either way, he reacted to issues rather than acted, sought compromise, and worked with others to achieve their goals more than his own.

Next Week: Hey, didn't we meet this guy already...?

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