Sunday, May 19, 2024

Americans have an opportunity to remember the past!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     President Stephen Grover Cleveland served as the 22nd and 24th president of the United States (POTUS).  He is the only president in American history to serve non-consecutive presidential terms.  A former mayor of Buffalo and governor of New York, Cleveland was the first Democrat to win the presidency after the Civil War.  A preacher’s kid, Cleveland was described as being honest, self-reliant and being firmly committed to his principles.  He won his first term in 1884 against Republican nominee, James Blaine, the former House Speaker.  Blaine had been involved in several shady deals in his political career and Cleveland promised to ‘drain the swamp.’  Aided by the Mugwumps, Republican activists who rejected Blaine’s history of corruption, Cleveland won all four swing states, including New York by less than 1,200 votes and won the presidency by a razor thin electoral college margin. 

     Cleveland’s first term included his getting married to a 21-year-old.  He was 47.  He also created the Interstate Commerce Commission.  He removed import tariffs.  One of the most volatile issues during his term was if U.S. currency should be backed by both gold and silver.   Views on the silver issue were geographic- Northeasters in both Parties- favored holding firm on the gold standard, while Western and Southern representatives called for the free coinage of silver.  Cleveland favored holding to the gold standard.

     In 1888, the GOP nominated Senator Benjamin Harrison from Indiana.  He campaigned heavily on the tariff issue, which had negatively affected the industrial states in the North.  Cleveland won the popular vote, but Harrison easily won the Electoral College vote.  In his four years, Harrison imposed tariffs and approved the free coinage of silver, both controversial issues. 

    In 1892, Cleveland won the Democratic nomination on the first ballot and Harrison was nominated by the Republicans.  Unlike their former matchup, the election of ’92 has been described as the cleanest, quietest, and most creditable campaign since the end of the Civil War.  Harrison’s wife was dying and he didn’t campaign at all.  She died two weeks before the November election and Cleveland stopped campaigning to show his respect.  No doubt that wouldn’t happen today.

     Aided by a strong third-Party candidate who hurt Harrison among GOP voters, Cleveland easily defeated Harrison and returned to the White House for his second term.  Three observations:

     First, 2024 is very similar to 1892.  Two presidents are running against one another.  Both have clear track records.  Both have occupied the Oval Office.  Both have measurable results in economics, foreign policy, immigration policy and governing style.  This gives voters a unique opportunity for a side-by-side comparison of results.  The political spinning normally associated with campaigns is hard to do when a candidate has a clear track record.

     Second, Mugwumps could be the difference in 2024.  In 1884, the Mugwumps put principle over Party.  They crossed Party lines because they couldn’t bear to support their nominee.   Those in their own Party called them sanctimonious and ‘holier than thou’ because they wouldn’t compromise.  The Mugwumps wanted the swamp drained more than they wanted a Party victory.  140 years ago, the Mugwumps were Republicans.  Could they be Democrats this year?

     Third, history doesn’t repeat itself.  That is a common misconception.  History is linear, not cyclical.  Mark Twain said, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  That means details, circumstances, settings and names may be similar, but history isn’t recycled.  Philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Americans have an opportunity to remember the past when casting their vote in November.

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