NOTING not one but two recent columns in this space in which I said Gov. Bill Clinton had a lot in common with President Grover Cleveland, Marion Cohen of Roland Park called my attention to an interview with her father in the Boston Globe on the day before the New Hampshire primary.
"By Peter S. Canellos
"Tamworth, N.H. -- Like many voters, Francis Grover Cleveland, 88, read the stories about presidential hopeful Bill Clinton and Gennifer Flowers and thought he saw the nation veering toward the personal and tawdry and away from important issues.
" 'I've been leaning quite strongly toward Clinton since then,' Cleveland said.
"Cleveland, however, has more than just a passing interest in the subject: his father, President Grover Cleveland, was almost defeated when his opponent in the 1884 presidential race used Cleveland's fathering of an illegitimate child as a character issue against him."
A number of Bill Clinton (and Gary Hart and Ted Kennedy) supporters have used the Grover Cleveland Defense, but the two cases are in no way related. Cleveland was a bachelor who, though unsure the illegitimate son his sometime companion bore was his, nevertheless supported him. This was 10 years before he ran for president.
Republican negative advertising of the day included the ditty, "Ma, ma, where's my pa?" Historians disagree on whether they or Democrats concluded that with, "Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!"
Like Clinton, Grover Cleveland was also a draft dodger. He paid a Polish immigrant $150 to serve in his place in the Union army during the Civil War. It didn't hurt him. According to Mark Sherman of the Atlanta Constitution, "Some historians attribute his November victory to Southern support for his non-service." So it helped? That I question.
It is true that Cleveland carried every state of the old Confederacy in 1884, and it is true that his Republican opponent was James Garfield, who as a Union officer killed a few rebels at Shiloh and Chickamauga, but Cleveland did not benefit electorally from having been a Union slacker. Every Southern state went for the Democratic candidate in 1880, too, and he (Winfield Hancock) not only had been a Union general but also served as a military governor of Texas and Louisiana during Reconstruction.
Francis Grover Cleveland's tilt to Bill Clinton because of the character issue is an echo of some voters' reaction in 1884. One of the best, most succinct comments on the character issue in politics ever uttered in American politics was uttered then. I'll tell you that and much, much more next Saturday.
Saturday: "The bastard" and Chappaquiddick.