Friday, October 8, 2010

Grover Cleveland

Having no concept that somehow there has been a world, and a USA, before the present moment, modern politicians of every stripe, and in particular Democrats, are loathe to resurrect or even mention the ideas of their predecessors. Legendary figures like Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are honored by a kind of Hellenistic deification divorced from their actual policies. The 22nd and also 24th President, the first Democrat to hold that office after the Civil War, and perhaps the American President most admirable for his own personal qualities, Grover Cleveland has astonishingly been ignored and forgotten by a party that has repudiated almost everything for which he stood.

Cleveland's ascent to the White House in 1885 began with his being elected as sheriff of Erie County, New York, in 1871, mayor of Buffalo in 1882, and governor of New York in that same year. Then, as now, Democrats were a far from unified party. Cleveland, a strict interpreter of the US Constitution and an advocate for the free market, became the nucleus of the "Bourbon" branch of the Democrats. This wing of the party was anti-imperialist, anti-tariff and pro-business; advocates of the gold standard and civil service reform and opponents of municipal corruption and government subsidies. These positions put them at odds with urban organizations like the "Tweed Ring" in New York City and with some populists, notably William Jennings Bryan. Throughout his political career Cleveland fought to limit the expansion of the federal government, keep its budget within bounds, and restrict the tax obligation of the citizenry. During much of his administration, the federal government ran a budget surplus, which he felt indicated that taxes, at that time mostly tariffs, should be lowered as much as possible.

President from 1885-1888, he lost the following election to Benjamin Harrison despite winning the national popular vote but came back to win again in 1892, the only chief executive to serve non-consecutive terms. He was the first and only president to be married in the White House.

Cleveland was also one of the best extemporaneous speakers to ever hold the nation's highest office. Here is a transcript of an interview he gave to the Daily Continent, New York, April 12, 1891:

"I believe a large majority of reporters are decent and honorable men, who would prefer to do clean and respectable work. Of course there are some among them who are mentally and morally cracked, and who never ought to be trusted to report for the public anything they claim to have seen or heard. Eliminate these, and I do not think any of the remainder would deliberately indulge in downright barefaced falsehood; but there is something connected with their work that they appear to think is necessary to its complete finish, which, for want of a better word, may be called embellishing. This proceeds so far, sometimes, that, almost unknown to himself, the reporter falls into mischievous and exasperating falsehood--sometimes lacking the intent to annoy and injure and sometimes not. There ought to be much less of this. The reporter who sends in these extravagant embellishments can never know when they may constitute the most outrageous injury to the feelings of the innocent and defenseless.
But, as a general rule, the responsibility for all that is objectionable in the reportorial occupation should be laid at the doors of the managers and owners of newspapers. If they wanted fair and truthful reports, they would be furnished them with more alacrity than they are now supplied with the trash so often demanded as a test of the reporter's skill and ability.
Good, clean journalism and a proper sense of newspaper responsibility , prevailing at headquarters, would so raise the standard of the duties of those remaining that they would not only be gladly welcomed by all who have information interesting to the public to impart, but would be received, without the suspicion of intrusion, at any place where legitimate news would be collected."

In 1885, President Cleveland wrote this letter to someone who inquired as to the possibility of a position in his administration:

"My Dear Young Friend:

I cannot attempt to answer all the letters addressed to me by those, both old and young, who ask for places. But, if you are the boy I think you are, your letter is based upon a claim to help your mother and others who are partly dependent upon your exertions. I judge from what you write that you now have a situation in a reputable business house. I cannot urge you too strongly to give up all idea of employment in a public office, and to determine to win advancement and promotion where you are.
There are no persons so forlorn and so much to be pitied as those who have learned, in early life, to look to public positions for a livelihood. It unfits a man or boy for any other business, and is apt to make a kind of respectable vagrant of him. If you do well in other occupations, and thus become valuable to the people, they will find you out when they want a good man for public service.
You may be sure that I am, as you say, the friend of every boy willing to help himself; but my experience teaches me that I cannot do you a better service than to advise you not to join the great army of office-seekers.
I never sought an office of any kind in my life; and, if you live and follow my advice, I am certain that you will thank me for it some day.

Yours truly,

Grover Cleveland"