Today’s politicians have an obsession with linking themselves to historical figures. President Obama has likened himself to Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and FDR. (I guess linking himself to those with whom he is more closely aligned, like Frank Marshall Davis and Bill Ayers, wouldn’t do him as much good at the ballot box.)
Hillary Clinton, striving to achieve her own link to greatness, once claimed that she was named for Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest – even though she was born six years before his feat.
The prize for creating a political soul mate must go to Bill Clinton who, in 1997, claimed to be like Grover Cleveland on the grounds that Cleveland had fathered a child out of wedlock. Cleveland, best known for being the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms, did indeed father a child 10 years before winning his first term in 1884.
Let’s look at how Cleveland handled his ‘scandal.’
Grover Cleveland was mayor of Buffalo, NY and Sherriff of Erie County before becoming president. Before that he worked as a lawyer – who refused to represent anyone he knew to be guilty. As Sherriff he ended the practice of public hangings in Western New York, and as mayor he demanded that a street cleaning contract be renegotiated when he discovered that the city council had a kickback agreement in place with the winning bidder.
Do you see the similarities between Cleveland and most modern politicians? Me either. But there’s more.
When the Republicans in 1884 leaked the story of Cleveland’s child to the press, Cleveland held a meeting with his campaign manager. His instructions were succinct: “Whatever you do, tell the truth.”
When he won the presidency in 1884, the first Democrat to do so since James Buchanan in 1856, Cleveland showed full faith in the Constitution, refusing to jam bills through Congress on several occasions because he didn’t believe in usurping the legislative branch’s authority. He would remain a strict constructionist though both of his terms.
Eventually his steadfastness, and the ill-timed Panic of 1893, led Cleveland to fall out of favor with his party. He would not gain the Democrat’s nomination to run again in 1896. But no one could argue that Grover Cleveland was not an honest man. We should have more of his kind – in both parties.