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By Jay Cost

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Obama Gives New Meaning to "Big Government"

Barack Obama has been compared to a lot of Presidents. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, even George W. Bush. But no intrepid analyst has ever - so far as I know - dared to compare the 44th President to the 22nd (and 24th), Mr. Grover Cleveland.

And for good reason.

Rotund, stern, and mustachioed when the style was a full beard - the Democrat Cleveland was not well loved, but he was well liked. He won the popular vote for President three times in a row, and is the only man to serve non-continuous terms in the White House. Cleveland was a "Bourbon Democrat." He hated the business trusts and he felt that the nation's protectionist tariff policies had given rise to them. He stood for small and frugal government, lower taxes, and sound money - making him a tough fit with Barack Obama's Democratic Party.

Cleveland and Obama also had different views on the role of the President. In his brief biography of Cleveland, historian Henry Graff writes:

Once, in his first year in office, when the Chicago White Stockings were in town for a game, (Cleveland) invited the team to the White House. He took the occasion to ask Cap Anson, the player-manager: "How's my old friend 'Pud' Galvin [once the star pitcher for the Buffalo Bisons and now a Hall of Famer]? You know he and I were good friends when I was sheriff and mayor of Buffalo." But when Anson invited the president to the ballpark, Cleveland felt he had to say "no thank you." "What do you think the American people would think of me if I wasted my time going to a ball game?"

How times have changed:

President Barack Obama says the blown umpire's call that cost a young Detroit Tigers' pitcher a perfect game dramatizes the need for Major League Baseball to "take a look" at more instant replay.

Obama was asked in an NBC interview to comment on the incident involving umpire Jim Joyce and Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga. Joyce mistakenly called Cleveland's Jason Donald safe at first base on what would've been the final out. While many Tigers argued, Galarraga merely smiled at his misfortune and went back to the mound.

In the interview broadcast Tuesday, Obama said he wouldn't prejudge a review by MLB of the replay policy. And he said he thought Commissioner Bud Selig "made the right call" in not awarding a perfect game after the fact.

Oh good. I for one am glad to know what Mr. Obama thinks about instant replay in baseball. Such executive opinions are not mandated by Article II of the Constitution, but by gum they should be.

By virtue of his omnipresence, this President has given new meaning to the phrase "big government." He is everywhere. Try as you might, you cannot escape him. Mr. Obama has expanded the concept of the bully pulpit in ways we have never before seen. It is worth asking: in a country founded on the idea of limited government, is it good to have a President who appears to see no limits to what he can involve himself in?

Some of this must be political strategy. Barack Obama is the first President in American history who is primarily after the same precious 18-to-35 year olds that Madison Avenue covets. He won about 2/3rds of this age group in the 2008 election, and he needs them to vote Democrat this November. Talking sports and culture and "kicking ass" is a way to stay in touch with them. I half expect him to start driving around in a Scion xB.

But some of this must be narcissism. This is, after all, the President who got up on stage to sing "Hey Jude" with Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and Jerry Seinfeld. There is no electoral utility to this sort of spectacle. Obama clearly enjoys the attention that comes with being a super cool Commander in Chief.

One wonders what Cleveland would have to say about this. Actually, the above anecdote gives a hint. Cleveland declined the invitation to the ball field because he worried what the public would think. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the economy was just working its way out of a three-year recession when Cleveland started his first term. Perhaps the 22nd President recognized that the American people did not hire him to make appearances at baseball games - let alone opine on what rulings the commissioner should make. He had much bigger fish to fry.

With two wars, a sagging economy, and the worst enviornmental disaster in American history unfolding in the Gulf - Mr. Obama does, too. If he is not too modest to pontificate publicly on such trivial matters, he should at least be too busy.

And anyway, Mr. Obama is a very young man. He will have years of a post-presidency to enjoy his status as a cultural icon slash pundit-at-large. But I doubt ESPN or Beatle Paul will be as interested in hanging out with him if he's a one termer. So maybe Mr. Obama should learn a lesson from old Grover Cleveland.

-Jay Cost