August 31, 2011
If free-market advocates could resurrect a U.S. president to deal with today's problems, many would choose Grover Cleveland.
He understood economics — a rare commodity among presidents.
Even so-called conservatives who talk free market often deliver the opposite. Richard Nixon gave the nation wage and price controls. George W. Bush expanded the central planning of Medicare to include prescription drugs.
Contrast that with Cleveland. He vetoed hundreds of spending bills, refusing to succumb to political temptation whether it was wrapped in patriotism or sob stories.
After the Civil War, raids on the U.S. Treasury disguised as patriotism were routinely approved. For example, Union military veterans had become a powerful special interest group. Expenditures on their pensions increased about 500% over 20 years, Alyn Brodsky wrote in "Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character."
Who could say no to a patriotic veteran seeking a little additional compensation?
When Congress passed a bill granting pensions to veterans for injuries not caused by military service, he vetoed it.
Another time, a drought ruined crops in Texas. So Congress passed legislation in 1887 to appropriate $10,000 — worth $237,000 today — to buy seed grain for farmers.
Who could say no to a hard-working American farmer seeking a smidgen of government help?
In his veto message, he wrote: "I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering."
He added, "The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune."
Man Of The People
Cleveland had an advantage that other presidents since have lacked — namely an electorate that had a better grip on Thomas Jefferson's concept of limited government.
"The Jeffersonian viewpoint was very prevalent in Cleveland's time, and it would not have been hard for him to educate himself in it," Thomas DiLorenzo, an economics professor at Loyola University Maryland, told IBD in an email.
Cleveland had another edge that many modern politicians lack: courage. He vetoed 414 bills during his eight years — 1885-89 and 1893-97 — in the White House, forcing Congress to curb its appetite for spending.
Cleveland, a Democrat, also rejected the Republicans' stance on foreign policy.
According to Brodsky, the GOP said "it was the nation's inherent right to colonize the continent westward and southward to its geographical limits, and then push ever westward across the waters."