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We Need More Cleveland In Washington
Taking the Constitution seriously…
[Gary M. Galles] 3/20/06

Jockeying for the 2008 presidential race is already well underway. Given the issues in Washington and the many reasons for the low repute of virtually everyone connected to the beltway (including every possible candidate), it is a bleak prospect. It makes me wish that, instead, we could re-elect Grover Cleveland, whose birthday was March 18.

Cleveland was unique in many ways. He was the only President to serve two non-consecutive terms (also winning the popular vote in the election he lost), to be elected when single and marry in the White House, or to have a candy bar named after his daughter (Baby Ruth).

Gary M. Galles

Mr. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

Far more important, however, was the depth of his character. For him, “honest politician” was not an oxymoron (his reputation was such that he became Governor of New York without making a single campaign speech), and he took upholding and defending the Constitution seriously.

Cleveland realized that “Officeholders are the agents of the people, not their masters.” Therefore, he opposed paternalistic government policies financed by imposing tax burdens on others (“the theory of our institutions guarantees to every citizen the full enjoyment of all the fruits of his industry and enterprise, with only such deduction as may be his share toward the careful and economical maintenance of the Government which protects him… exaction of more than this is indefensible extortion and culpable betrayal of American fairness and justice”).

Cleveland fought to eliminate government waste (“waste of public money is a crime against the citizen”) and restore honesty and impartiality to government, particularly by eliminating government favors (“danger confronts us...[in] popular disposition to expect from the operation of the Government especial and direct individual advantages”).

Cleveland was the first president to veto bogus pension claims and pension pork (“The public Treasury...should only exist as conduit conveying the people's tribute to its legitimate objects of expenditure”). In fact, he was a veto President, who studied every bill Congress passed and vetoed over 300 of them—more than double the number cast by all the Presidents before him (“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation [federal drought aid] in the Constitution...[it] encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.”)

Cleveland tried to eliminate protective tariffs, devoting one entire annual message to Congress to the task (“our present tariff laws, the vicious, inequitable, and illogical source of unnecessary taxation, ought to be at once revised and amended”). He also resisted political pressures to inflate, even when facing a serious recession (“nothing is more vital to...the beneficient purposes of our Government than a sound and stable currency.”)

Unlike politicians today, who often hide from accountability, Cleveland insisted that he, and everyone else in government, be carefully monitored (“Every citizen owes to the country a vigilant watch and close scrutiny of its public servants and affairs...this is the price of our liberty and the inspiration of our faith in the Republic”).

Grover Cleveland’s last words were "I have tried so hard to do right." But respecting the Constitution’s limitations on legitimate federal activities, he didn’t reflexively find “government” to be the answer, regardless of the question. He once reflected that "I am honest and sincere in my desire to do well, but the question is whether I know enough to accomplish what I desire," but had to honestly answer in the negative (“discrediting an abject dependence upon government favor, we strive to stimulate those elements of American character which support the hope of American achievement”). We would do well to recall that answer, and the dangers of a government that ignores it.

Fittingly, Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty, because as President he truly aspired to its dedication: "We will not forget that Liberty has made her home here, nor shall her chosen altar be neglected...A stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man's oppression until Liberty enlightens the world." We could use a man like Grover Cleveland again. -one-

copyright 2006 Gary M. Galles



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