Let Them Eat Grass (On The White House Lawn)
Grover Cleveland was the first Democratic president to be elected after the Civil War. While the Democratic Party at this time had a strong populist, pro-union leftist wing, whose most prominent member was William Jennings Bryan, the great Christian fundamentalist progressive, Cleveland was anything but left wing or progressive,
He was anti-union, breaking the Pullman Strike with federal troops. He was politically and personally joined at the hip with Wall Street. And most tellingly, he was vehemently against any government entitlements or aid to the needy, which he viewed as unacceptable “paternalism.”
As the country’s Chief Executive during the Panic of 1893 (which actually lasted more than five years), the worst economic downturn in this country’s history until the Great Depression, he vetoed anything that might have helped impoverished, frequently starving Americans in this period.
A popular joke about Cleveland at the time was that when he saw someone eating grass on the front lawn of the White House, he suggested the man go to the back of the building where the grass was higher.
I’m thinking a lot about such an attitude these days. Now that Republicans are coming down so hard on dependency and entitlements like food stamps. An attitude that holds that if you’re too weak, not well enough connected, or maybe just unlucky in your work choices, you aren’t entitled as a citizen of these United States to get enough to eat, that you and your children (most food stamp recipients are children) deserve to do without. And laying this trip on you is really a blessing, an example of tough love.
Call me a bleeding heart liberal. But aside from being cruel, stupid, counter productive in a purely economic sense (hungry people don’t work well and kids have trouble learning with an empty stomach), a perversion of anything even vaguely resembling decent religious principles, and a throwback to a kind of politics that every other civilized nation on the planet has outgrown, I think this attitude just plain sucks.