cover image Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland

Alyn Brodsky. Truman Talley Books, $35 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26883-1

This admiring (indeed near-hagiographic) revisionist biography seeks to portray Grover Cleveland--the only Democrat elected to the presidency between the Civil War and WWI-as a model of integrity and honor: ""To compare Cleveland with our four most deplorable post-Harding presidents--Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton--is to contrast a paradigm of virtue with the quintessence of duplicity."" Brodsky, a historian and book critic for the Miami Herald and other papers, praises this Presbyterian minister's son for attacking corruption, cleaning up the civil service, enacting tariff and pension reforms and opposing the spoliation of the West by a land-grabbing clique of railroads, cattle barons and lumber companies. Yet Cleveland was basically a political and social conservative. Though he ran for president in 1884 as one who would challenge the power of monopolies and big business, once in office, he essentially served their interests. Cleveland called out federal troops to crush the Chicago Pullman strike in 1894 (12 were killed, 515 arrested). Brodsky lamely argues that Cleveland was sympathetic to the labor movement, but saw his primary duty as upholding the law, ensuring mail delivery and supporting interstate commerce. The author justifiably praises our 22nd/24th president as an anti-imperialist who refused to recognize a Hawaiian government set up largely by U.S. planters, yet he concedes that, in foreign affairs, Cleveland's achievements were insignificant. Cleveland may arguably have been the best president between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, but that's not saying much, and this earnest if colorful biography fails to provide the kind of hard-nosed reassessment that might restore the luster to a president whose missteps severely weakened the Democratic Party for decades. Photos. (Sept.)