Crime vs. Coverup; Praising Mattis; Trump-Nixon Nexus? Cleveland's Way

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Good morning, it’s Monday, June 19, 2017. On this date in 1886, a newspaper in our nation’s capital published a brief item showcasing the wit and personality of Timothy J. Campbell, an Irish-born member of New York’s Democratic delegation in the 49th Congress.

The bon mot attributed to Campbell was reportedly a rejoinder to Grover Cleveland. Their exchange took place either in Washington, where Campbell was then a freshman House member (and Cleveland was president), or, more likely, in Albany a couple of years earlier when Cleveland was governor and Tim Campbell was in the state legislature.

It seems that Campbell had requested a political favor of the governor (or president) only to be told by his fellow Democrat that what he was asking for was unconstitutional. According to the item that appeared in The Washington Critic 131 years ago today, Campbell quipped in reply, “What’s a little thing like the Constitution between friends?”

It’s more humorous if it was meant as a joke, which was apparently the case: Although elected from New York City, Campbell was not part the Tammany Hall machine, and he was at least comfortable enough with the reform-minded Cleveland to banter light-heartedly with him about ethics.

I’ll have an additional word on President Cleveland in a moment. First, I’ll point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a complement of original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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Trump-Russia: Is Coverup Worse Than the Crime? In a column, I offer some perspective on the government’s apparent obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president.

Why Firing Mueller Might Not Backfire on Trump. Bill Scher writes that comparisons to Richard Nixon’s ill-advised dismissal of special prosecutor Archibald Cox don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Secretary Mattis, Please Don’t Leave Your Job. A.B. Stoddard applauds the defense secretary’s willingness to subtly dissent from his commander-in-chief.

Why Mideast Peace Ambitions Must Be Dialed Back. Peter Berkowitz spotlights a new book that argues the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unsolvable, so the wisest strategy is to manage it as a chronic problem, not a fatal one.

Border Adjustment Tax Is the Paris Agreement All Over Again. In RealClearPolicy, Matthew Kandrach takes issue with the House GOP's tax proposal.

Bernie Sanders, American Universalist. In RealClearReligion, Grant Shreve dissects the beliefs that apparently underlie the Vermont senator’s remarks during a recent confirmation hearing.

The First Animal Astronauts. Ross Pomeroy tells the stories of the animals who traveled to outer space before any humans dared to leave our planet.

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In many ways, Stephen Grover Cleveland was as unlikely a political reformer as New York City -born billionaire Donald Trump is a populist hero for rural Americans. Cleveland bribed his way out of military service during the Civil War, preferred the saloons and pool halls of Buffalo to any cultural pursuit -- even reading books -- and fathered an out-of-wedlock child.

Yet the Buffalo burghers who put him up to run for mayor saw something in this big man. He helped honest men clean up city hall, challenged the Tammany machine in Albany after being elected governor, and rode to the White House on the promise of being the first Democrat elected president since the Civil War -- and someone who didn’t view public service as a way of getting rich.

On this date in 1886, in fact -- the very same day that Tim Campbell’s puckish, and possibly apocryphal, wisecrack was spotlighted by The Washington Critic -- Grover Cleveland vetoed a spate of bills, nine in all, that no modern president would dare reject.

Seven of the nine dealt with minor adjustments in the pensions paid to veterans of the Civil War, the bloody war he dodged. The other two would have financed the construction of federal buildings, one in Sioux City, Iowa, the other in Zanesville, Ohio. In today’s parlance, this was minor pork barrel spending in two “swing” states. Grover Cleveland couldn’t have cared less.

“No federal courts are held at Zanesville, and there are no government officers located there who should be provided for at the public expense except the postmaster,” the president stated in his written veto message.

“So far as I am informed, the patrons of the Post Office are fairly well accommodated in a building which is rented by the government at the rate of $800 per annum,” Cleveland added. “[A]nd though the postmaster naturally certifies that he and his 14 employees require much more spacious surroundings, I have no doubt he and they can be induced to continue to serve the government in its present quarters.”

As far as Sioux City was concerned, President Cleveland employed a logic that would be invoked, at least verbally, by numerous 20th century politicians: the federal government, he suggested, should be guided by the same principles as private enterprise.

“It seems to me that in the consideration of the merits of this bill, the necessities of the government should control the question,” he decreed, “and that it should be decided as a business proposition, depending upon the needs of a government building at the point proposed in order to do the government work.”

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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