Mark Shields: No ‘pander bear’

Mark Shields

Mark Shields

At the tricky art of pandering — a candidate’s seeking the support of a specific group of voters by telling them what the candidate calculates that group wants to hear — nobody in 2016 has been more blatant than Sen. Ted Cruz’s recently named running mate, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. Competing in this year’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and on the eve of the Rose Bowl game between the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and the Cardinal of Stanford University, Fiorina, a previously loyal Stanford grad, tweeted, ”Love my alma mater, but rooting for a Hawkeye win today.”

Just for the record, in this year’s Rose Bowl, Iowa, even with Carly in its corner, was crushed 45-16 by Stanford, and in the Iowa caucuses, Fiorina herself did even worse, finishing a distant seventh in the GOP field.

Contrast this with the story of the only American other than Franklin D. Roosevelt to win the national popular vote in three consecutive presidential elections, Grover Cleveland, whose two White House victories were actually separated by an Electoral College loss to Benjamin Harrison, whom Cleveland would defeat four years later.

At the 1884 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, when Edward Bragg, a former Civil War general and congressman from Wisconsin, seconded the nomination of Cleveland — the reform-minded Democratic governor of New York who had done battle with and alienated Tammany Hall, the corrupt Democratic organization in New York City — he said of Cleveland’s home-state voters, ”They love him most of all for the enemies he has made.”

Character did count when Cleveland became the only Democrat between 1860 and 1912 to win the White House. In his first winning campaign, the Buffalo Evening Telegraph, which had always opposed the reformer Cleveland (who had earlier been the mayor of Buffalo), accused Cleveland, a bachelor, of having, 10 years before, fathered a son out of wedlock — an accusation Cleveland conceded could be true — with Maria Halpin, a widow. When urged by his campaign advisers to pin paternity on a law partner with whom the widow had been simultaneously intimate, Cleveland, who had assumed responsibility financially for the child’s rearing and subsequently arranged for his adoption, rebuffed his spin doctors with an honorable line: ”Whatever you do, tell the truth.”

Cleveland won with the support of reform-minded Republicans, called mugwumps, who opposed the crony capitalism perfected by Cleveland’s GOP opponent, James G. Blaine. At a time when Americans were spending five times as much on alcohol as they were on public schools and the political influence of the women’s temperance movement was growing and when anti-Catholic prejudice was strong, only 20 years after the Civil War, a prominent Protestant minister, with candidate Blaine sitting in the audience, endorsed Republicans and condemned Democrats as the party of ”rum, Romanism and rebellion.” American voters 132 years ago rejected bigotry and elected Cleveland, whose character, frankly, exceeded his vision.

But now, in the second decade of the 21st century, can we meet a similar challenge? Do we admire and support the presidential candidate who is not a ”pander bear” and will tell us not what we want to hear but what we need to know — a presidential candidate who is loved for the powerful enemies that candidate has dared to make?

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