Ron Paul pretty well sealed his fate with a majority of Republican voters with his performance Friday night on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” But most Republicans may be focusing on the wrong comments when they make that assessment of the congressman’s presidential aspirations.
During the brief interview with the show’s host, Dr. Paul was asked for his assessment of the other presidential contenders in the GOP. He first suggested former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich should be running for their old jobs, then later gave a somewhat glowing assessment of Ambassador Jon Huntsman.
But many Christians and conservatives were far more incensed with Dr. Paul’s comments for Rep. Michele Bachmann and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. He first suggested the former “hates Muslims,” then added the latter is too concerned about “gay people and Muslims.”
At that point, even the most non-committed voters were demanding an apology, and rightfully so. Of course, the Congressman’s staunchest supporters would disagree, but by now they’re already firing up their allegations of “yet another hit piece” on the candidate.
But, that’s not where Ron Paul exposed himself as being completely unqualified for the highest elected office in the land. It was in his answer to Leno’s final question of the interview — “Who’s your favorite president; who have we had that you say, ‘that’s what I want to do’?” — that he stumbled badly.
At least Dr. Paul acknowledged President Cleveland was a Democrat, and in his defense, Cleveland was a conservative Democrat — far more so than some of the current crop of Republicans running in 2011. But it’s also true that most conservative Democrats were found living south of the Mason-Dixon Line just 20 years earlier.
President Cleveland’s brand of conservatism was indifferent to the 15th Amendment, and vehemently opposed to the women’s suffrage movement. In fact, he wrote this little ditty late in his life for The Ladies Home Journal on the subject of the latter:
“Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote,” he said. “The relative positions to be assumed by men and women in the working out of our civilization were assigned long ago by a higher intelligence.”
President Cleveland also was firmly opposed to protectionist tariffs on goods produced outside the United States and then brought to market here. This issue, in particular, was the reason why he lost his re-election bid in 1888.
Again, in Dr. Paul’s defense, I offer up the fact Cleveland was a defender of the gold standard, frequently vetoed legislation he felt was unconstitutional, and was conservative enough to gain the support of “Mugwumps” (that’s 1880’s for “RINO”) in the New York GOP, such as Teddy Roosevelt. But that’s just barely scratching the surface on Cleveland’s political history.
To suggest Cleveland is somehow a political ideal to strive for is lunacy.
Shortly after being sworn in for his second term of office, Cleveland faced the Panic of 1893. Partially successful in getting the U.S. back on the gold standard, he then took on the McKinley Tariff, which he believed was also responsible for the nation’s economic woes.
Congress disagreed, and came up with the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, which not only watered down all of Cleveland’s efforts to trim the tariffs, but also led to a progressive federal income tax. He ultimately did not veto Wilson-Gorman, and let it pass without his signature.
Cleveland twice appointed justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who were rejected by the Senate. In both cases, Cleveland was forced to appoint justices who were more palatable to the controlling interests of the upper house.
The nation was gripped by labor unrest throughout his second term of office, as well. Coxey’s Army and the Pullman Strike of 1894 were two of the best-known examples. The latter paralyzed the nation’s economy at a time when Americans could ill afford it.
Cleveland was anything but an isolationist when it came to foreign policy, as well. He took up one of the broadest interpretations of the Monroe Doctrine to stand firm in opposition to any new European colonies in the Western Hemisphere.
He took it so far as to inject the United States into a border dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela regarding the latter’s boundary with the former’s colony of Guiana. His opposition led to an international tribunal determining the issue.
And, finally, Cleveland also proved himself to be willing to hide vital information regarding the President’s health from the public when he felt it was in the nation’s best interests to do so. When a cancerous growth developed in his mouth late in his second term, his administration concocted a story about his taking a vacation cruise so he could have the growth removed without sparking national concern over his wellbeing.
After the surgery was over, and before he could be fitted with oral prosthetics, his distorted facial appearance and slurred speech were attributed to dental health issues. The truth was not disclosed to the American public until nearly a decade after his death in 1908.
So, when a “staunch Constitutionalist” announces to the world he would like to be like Grover Cleveland, it should certainly give his supporters a moment’s pause, at the very least. But, to champion yourself as a failed president at a time when the nation needs a strong leader who will face difficult situations throughout his or her presidency, it should make every voter do a double-take.