In Xi’s Communist China: “Our Speech Is Not Free”

(p. B1) Many innocent lives were lost to tragic events in China in the past month. So far we haven’t learned a single name of any of them from China’s government or its official media. Nor have we seen news interviews of family members talking about their loved ones.

Those victims would include a coach and 10 members of a middle-school girls volleyball team who were killed in late July when the roof caved in on a gymnasium near the Siberian border. Despite an outpouring of public grief and anger around the country, the government never released their names. Social media posts sharing their names and tributes to their lives were censored.

Then there were the people — probably dozens, possibly hundreds — who died in severe flooding in northern and northeastern China in recent weeks. It was the most serious flooding in the country in decades. Posts about the casualties, and the hardships people endured, were censored.

. . .

(p. B4) “Xi Jinping has made control of history one of his signature policies — because he sees counter-history as an existential threat,” Ian Johnson, an author who has covered China for decades, wrote in his new book, “Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future.”

Mr. Xi has turned the screws extra tight since the Covid pandemic. In April 2020, relatives of Wuhan residents who died were followed by minders when they picked up the ashes of their loved ones.

The government ignored a citizen demand to make Feb. 6 a nationwide day of mourning to mark the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, the whistle-blower who had warned the public of the coronavirus.

“We have always known that our speech is not free, our voice is not free. Yet we do not realize until today that even sorrow and mourning do not belong to us,” Ms. Zhang, the independent journalist, wrote in an article that was widely circulated on WeChat and other social media platforms before it was censored.

A recent video of the bereaved father of a volleyball player killed in the gymnasium collapse in Qiqihar highlighted the cruel reality faced by family members in public tragedies: Their grief, in the eyes of the government, makes them potential threats to social stability.

In the six-minute video, the father remained preternaturally composed as he tried to reason with the police, doctors and government officials at a hospital. He and other family members wanted to be allowed to identify the bodies of their daughters.

The father said he understood why the police were at the hospital. “We didn’t cause any troubles,” he said. He said he understood why no officials bothered to talk to them. “That’s fine,” he said.

Many people said online and in interviews that they cried watching the video because they recognized his “heart-wrenching restraint” and knew why he behaved that way.

“What happens if he didn’t hold back his anger?” asked an author in an article posted on social media. “As a father who has suffered such immense pain, why did he have to reason with such restraint and humility?”

As usual, the censorship machine went into high gear. Social media posts containing names of the victims and celebrating their lives and friendships were deleted. So were photos and videos showing the entrance of their school, where the public sent numerous flower bouquets, yogurt, milk tea and canned peaches, which is a comfort food for children in northeastern China.

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “When Tragedy Strikes in China, The Government Represses Grief.” The New York Times (Monday, August 3, 2023): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story also has the date Aug. 14, 2023, and has the title “When Tragedy Strikes in China, the Government Cracks Down on Grief.”)

Progressives Now Argue that F.D.R.’s Liberal New Deal “Rested on a Jim Crow Foundation”

(p. C1) In October 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had his administration send letters to thousands of clergy across the country, asking if the New Deal was helping their communities.

Even from admirers, the news wasn’t always good. Local administrators did not “carry out your will and purpose,” J.H. Ellis, a Black pastor in Hot Springs, Ark., wrote, “especially as it relates to the Negro group.” J.W. Hairston, an African American minister in Asheville, N.C., lamented that in the South “there are two states and two cities, one white — one black.”

The Northern Black press, meanwhile, was more blunt. The New Deal, more than one newspaper proclaimed, was also a “Raw Deal.”

Eight decades later, that charge still hangs in the air. Conservatives have long assailed the New Deal, which radically expanded the government’s involvement in the economy, as the epitome of big-government overreach. But in recent years, progressives have increasingly argued that this pillar of 20th-century liberalism rested on a Jim Crow foundation, and laid the groundwork for the yawning Black wealth gap that persists today.

Now, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., is entering the fray. “Black Americans, Civil Rights and the Roosevelts, 1932-1962,” on view through December 2024, takes a frank, deeply researched view of what it calls Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s “mixed” record on race, from their personal attitudes to the policies they championed.

. . .

(p. C3) . . . , the title of the opening wall text makes the central question plain: “A New Deal for All Americans?”

While a mainstay of scholarship for decades, that question has recently reached a broader public, thanks to books like Ira Katznelson’s “When Affirmative Action Was White” and Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.”

On a recent afternoon, a docent directed visitors toward what she called “the most amazing thing” — a 1937 Home Owners Loan Corporation map of the nearby city of Poughkeepsie, labeling predominantly Black areas as “hazardous” for lenders.

In 1935, the newly created Federal Housing Administration issued a manual for lenders, endorsing redlining (so named for the pink shading of “hazardous” areas) and warning that Black families should not be approved for mortgages in white areas. “Incompatible racial groups,” it noted, “should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”

Housing policy is widely seen by historians as one of the New Deal’s most consequential failures, one which over time dramatically deepened residential segregation. But while the exhibition deals bluntly with the issue, it also avoids any simplified counternarrative of the New Deal writ large as inherently, and intentionally, racist at its core.

. . .

The exhibition deals directly with what the library calls the “greatest stain” on Roosevelt’s racial record: his refusal to publicly support federal anti-lynching legislation, out of fear it would alienate the Southern Democrats who dominated Congress and imperil the New Deal.

For the full story, see:

Jennifer Schuessler. “F.D.R.’s Library Takes a Hard Look at Race.” The New York Times (Thursday, August 3, 2023): C1 & C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 1, 2023, and has the title “At the Roosevelt Library, an Unflinching Look at Race.”)

Allow Us to View the “Artifacts of Human Suffering” That Enable Us to “Appreciate the Epic Achievements of Medicine”

(p. D1) The Mütter Museum, a 19th-century repository of medical oddments and arcana at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, attracts as many as 160,000 visitors a year. Among the anatomical and pathological specimens exhibited are skulls corroded by syphilis; spines twisted by rickets; skeletons deformed by corsets; microcephalic fetuses; a two-headed baby; a bound foot from China; an ovarian cyst the size of a Jack Russell terrier; Grover Cleveland’s jaw tumor; the liver that joined the original “Siamese twins,” Cheng and Eng Bunker; and the pickled corpse of the Soap Lady, whose fatty tissues decomposed into a congealed asphalt-colored substance called adipocere.

. . .

The celebrity magician Teller, a Philadelphia native, called the Mütter a place of electrifying frankness. “We are permitted to (p. D5) confront real, not simulated, artifacts of human suffering, and are, at a gut level, able to appreciate the epic achievements of medicine,” he said.

But, like museums everywhere, the Mütter is reassessing what it has and why it has it. Recently, the institution enlisted a public-relations consultant with expertise in crisis management to contain criticism from within and without.

The problems began in February [2023] when devoted fans of the Mütter’s website and YouTube channel noticed that all but 12 of the museum’s 450 or so images and videos had been removed.

. . .

Ms. Quinn had tasked 13 unnamed people — medical historians, bioethicists, disability advocates, members of the community — with providing feedback on the digital collection. “Folks from a wide background,” Ms. Quinn said in an interview.

. . .

Blowback to Ms. Quinn’s ethical review was ferocious. An online petition garnered the signatures of nearly 33,000 Mütter enthusiasts who insisted that they loved the museum and its websites as they were. The petition criticized Ms. Quinn and her boss, Dr. Mira Irons, the president and chief executive of the College of Physicians, for decisions predicated on “outright disdain of the museum.” The complaint called for the reinstatement of all web content and urged the college’s board of trustees to fire the two women immediately. (To date, about one-quarter of the videos have been reinstated.)

Moreover, in June [2023], The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece entitled “Cancel Culture Comes for Philly’s Weirdest Museum,” in which Stanley Goldfarb, a former director of the college, wrote that the museum’s new “woke leaders” appeared eager to cleanse the institution of anything uncomfortable. Robert Hicks, director of the Mütter from 2008 to 2019, voiced similar sentiments this spring when he quit as a museum consultant. His embittered resignation letter, which he released to the press, stated that Dr. Irons “has said before staff that she ‘can’t stand to walk through the museum,’” and it advised the trustees to investigate her and Ms. Quinn, both of whom Dr. Hicks believed held “elitist and exclusionary” views of the Mütter.

. . .

Dr. Hicks remains unhappy with the new perspective. “Dr. Mütter would have been confused at the dictum that the museum should be about health, not death,” he lamented in his resignation letter. “The principle emblazoned at the entrance of many anatomy theaters, ‘This is where the dead serve the living,’ is readily understood by museum visitors without special guidance by Dr. Irons.”

For the full story, see:

Franz Lidz. “Should a Hall of Human Curiosities Dial It Down?” The New York Times (Tuesday, August 15, 2023): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed years, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 13, 2023, and has the title “A Museum of ‘Electrifying Frankness’ Weighs Dialing It Down.”)

For more on the innovative surgeon who founded the Mütter Museum, see:

Aptowicz, Cristin O’Keefe. Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine. New York: Gotham Books, 2014.

“FDR’s Policies Laid the Foundations for Generations of Hardship” for Black Americans

(p. A13) Just past the midway point of “Black Americans, Civil Rights, and the Roosevelts”—a powerful and powerfully disturbing exhibition at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum—you can pick up a headset and listen to parts of a secretly recorded White House meeting on Sept. 27, 1940 (a transcript is also provided).

. . .

. . ., FDR nonchalantly settles into condescension and caricature. He emphasizes his appreciation of black servicemen, recalling “my colored messenger in the Navy Department”: “I gave him to Louis Howe, who was terribly fond of him.” And he promises to support opportunities for Negroes. In the Navy, he suggests, they could play in bands: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a colored band on some of these ships, because they’re darn good at it.”

It is a shock to come upon these words. They even raise a question of just how much the administration’s sluggishness in dealing with racial issues was due to the power of Southern Democrats.

. . .

. . . the exhibition argues . . . that FDR’s policies laid the foundations for generations of hardship. The Social Security Act of 1935, for example, is criticized for not including “farm and domestic workers, who were disproportionately Black. This kept nearly two-thirds of Black workers out of the program”—in part, the text suggests, because of Southern Democrats’ racist influence. The exhibition also argues that the “redlining” of neighborhoods by Roosevelt’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which mapped out areas with the highest probability of mortgage defaults, harmed the very neighborhoods where most blacks lived, with an effect lasting generations.

Racism, of course, should not be dismissed as a factor, but these are complicated issues, and much literature challenges any sweeping assertions. Did racism play an important role in excluding farm workers and domestics from Social Security, as the exhibition ends up suggesting? A 2010 Social Security Administration paper argues otherwise, noting that 74% of all excluded workers in those categories were white. Moreover, the act also excluded the self-employed, crews of ships, and employees of nonprofit religious and educational institutions. A 1997 paper in Political Science Quarterly argued that such initial exclusions were likely due to difficulties in how taxes and payrolls were handled, adding too many challenges to the administration of a new social program. Studies of redlining have also led to questions about its racial origins and effects. Redlined areas housed large proportions of a city’s black residents, but about three-quarters of the inhabitants were white. And as a 2021 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests, the maps were reflections of economic conditions, not racial demarcations, and “had little effect” on the distribution of federal mortgage activity.

For the full exhibition review, see:

Edward Rothstein. “Black Americans and the New Deal.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the exhibition review has the date August 23, 2023, and has the title “Black Americans, Civil Rights, and the Roosevelts’ Review: A New Look at the New Deal Era.”)

The 2021 National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper mentioned above was published online in 2022 (in advance of print publication):

Fishback, Price, Jonathan Rose, Ken Snowden, and Thomas Storrs. “New Evidence on Redlining by Federal Housing Programs in the 1930s.” Journal of Urban Economics (online on May 11, 2022).

Engerman, with Fogel, Courageously Asked Politically Incorrect Questions about Slavery

(p. D8) Stanley Engerman, one of the authors of a deeply researched book that, wading into the fraught history of American slavery, argued that it was a rational, viable economic system and that enslaved Black people were more efficient workers than free white people in the North, died on May 11 [2023] in Watertown, Mass.

. . .

In their two-volume “Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery” (1974), Professor Engerman and Prof. Robert W. Fogel used data analysis to challenge what they called common characterizations of slavery, including that it was unprofitable, inefficient and pervasively abusive.

They said they were not defending slavery. “If any aspect of the American past evokes a sense of shame,” they wrote, it’s the system of slavery.” But much of the accepted wisdom about it, they said, was distorted, or just plain wrong.

“Slave agriculture was not inefficient compared with free agriculture,” they wrote. “Economies of large-scale operation, effective management and intensive utilization of labor made Southern slave agriculture 35 percent more efficient than the Northern system of family farming.”

They insisted that the typical slave “was not lazy, inept and unproductive” but rather “was harder working and more efficient than his white counterpart.” They contended that the destruction of the Black family through slave breeding and sexual exploitation was a myth, and that it was in the economic interest of plantation owners to encourage the stability of enslaved families.

They also wrote that some slaves received positive incentives, such as being elevated to overseers of work gangs, to increase their productivity.

The book attracted a lot of attention, including a rave review by the economist Peter Passell in The New York Times. “If a more important book about American history has been published in the last decade, I don’t know about it,” he wrote. He described the work as a corrective, “a jarring attack on the methods and conclusions of traditional scholarship” on slavery.

. . .

. . . the Marxist historian Eugene D. Genovese, whose own book about slavery, “Roll, Jordan Roll: The World the Slave Made,” was also published in 1974, called “Time on the Cross” an “important work” that had “broken open a lot of questions about issues that were swept under the rug before.”

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Stanley Engerman, 87, Scholar Who Disputed Views on Slavery, Dies.” The New York Times (Monday, May 29, 2023): D8.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated May 30, 2023, and has the title “Stanley Engerman, Revisionist Scholar of Slavery, Dies at 87.”)

The book praised in the obituary quoted above is:

Fogel, Robert William, and Stanley L. Engerman. Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1974.

Communists Want Us to Forget the 1.6 Million Chinese They Murdered in Cultural Revolution

(p. A23) It would seem impossible to forget or minimize the Cultural Revolution in China, which lasted from 1966 to 1976, resulted in an estimated 1.6 million to two million deaths and scarred a generation and its descendants. The movement, which under Mao Zedong’s leadership sought to purge Chinese society of all remaining non-Communist elements, upended nearly every hallowed institution and custom. Teachers and schools long held in esteem were denounced. Books were burned and banned, museums ransacked, private art collections destroyed. Intellectuals were tortured.

But in China, a country where information is often suppressed and history is constantly rewritten — witness recent government censorship of Covid research and the obscuring of Hong Kong’s British colonial past in new school textbooks — the memory of the Cultural Revolution risks being forgotten, sanitized and abused, to the detriment of the nation’s future.

The Chinese government has never been particularly eager to preserve the memory of that sordid decade. When I spent six weeks traveling in China in 1994 — a slightly more open time in the country — I encountered few public acknowledgments of the Cultural Revolution. Museum placards and catalogs often simply skipped a decade in their timelines or provided brief references in the passive voice along the lines of “historical events that took place.”

But in her new book, “Red Memory: The Afterlives of China’s Cultural Revolution,” the journalist Tania Branigan notes that under Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, efforts to suppress this history have intensified — with troubling implications for the political health of the country at a time when it looms larger than ever on the world stage. “When you’ve had a collective trauma, you really need a collective response,” she told me recently. “I can see why the Communist Party wants to avoid the rancor and bitterness, but when you don’t have that kind of acknowledgment, you can move on — but you can’t really recover.”

For the full commentary, see:

Pamela Paul. “The Decade That China Cannot Delete.” The New York Times (Friday, May 19, 2023): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 18, 2023, and has the title “The Decade That Cannot Be Deleted.”)

The book on the cultural revolution mentioned above is:

Branigan, Tania. Red Memory: The Afterlives of China’s Cultural Revolution. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2023.

Fred Siegel Went from Liberal to Conservative During the New York Blackout of 1977 When Looters Burned Stores, Restaurants, and Civility

(p. B10) Fred Siegel, a passionate urban historian whose rejection of the liberal establishment’s response to crime, poverty and public civility transformed him from a spokesman for the Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972 to a voter for Donald J. Trump in 2020, died on Sunday at his home in Brooklyn.

. . .

His ideological evolution was evidenced in the titles of his books: “The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A., and the Fate of America’s Big Cities” (1997); “The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life” (2005), which he wrote with Harry Siegel; and “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class” (2014).

. . .

And, perhaps more in sorrow than in anger, he quoted former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York as saying that his fellow Democrats had “rewarded the articulation of moral purpose more than the achievement of practical good.”

. . .

. . . in 1991, Mr. Siegel argued: “Middle-class citizens, rightly or wrongly, have become convinced that modern liberal urban government is mostly about letting the poor misbehave at the expense of the middle class, and paying public employees very well to deliver services very poorly.”

. . .

Mr. Siegel’s metamorphosis — from a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, a fellow of the Progressive Policy Institute and a voter for the independent John Anderson in 1980 and the Democrat Walter F. Mondale in 1984 (each time voting against the Republican Ronald Reagan) — reached its apogee (depending on one’s political point of view) in 2020.

After a lifetime of sitting out presidential elections or mostly voting for losers, he cast his ballot for Mr. Trump.

He listed his reasons for doing so in 2020 in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, lauding Mr. Trump for “crushing ISIS, pulling us out of the Iran nuclear deal, moving our embassy to Jerusalem and making fools of those people who insist that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” He also favored Mr. Trump, he said, for displaying an “ability to withstand a prolonged coup attempt by the Democrats and the media” and for championing “bourgeois values.”

In an online tribute this week, Brian C. Anderson, the editor of City Journal, wrote that Mr. Siegel had identified what he called a “riot ideology” that took hold of public officials in major cities, “making them reluctant to confront public disorder and crime for fear of violent opposition.”

. . .

The essayist Irving Kristol famously defined a neoconservative, a breed Mr. Kristol epitomized and popularized, as “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” But Mr. Siegel’s conversion wasn’t the result of a single personal experience, his son said — even though a thief once grabbed a bag of $100 worth of kosher meat from him on the subway and several of the family’s cars were stolen.

If Mr. Siegel approached a philosophical epiphany, though, it was during the blackout of 1977, when looters raged through parts of Brooklyn, stripping stores of merchandise and setting them ablaze in a night of rioting.

Mr. Siegel, whose favorite restaurant, Jack’s Pastrami King, was among the places destroyed, reflected in 2017: “The city itself had been mugged, I realized. I’m still haunted by that moment from 40 years ago, when my political re-education began.”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Fred Siegel, 78, Urban Historian And a Former Liberal, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, May 13, 2023): B10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated May 15, 2023, and has the title “Fred Siegel, Urban Historian and a Former Liberal, Is Dead at 78.”)

The most recent of Siegel’s books mentioned above is:

Siegel, Fred. The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. New York: Encounter Books, 2014.

Janega Claims That Europeans in Middle Ages Washed Themselves Daily

If the claims in the book quoted below turn out to be well-documented, then I may need to modify a few sentences in my Openness book, if a new edition ever appears.

(p. A15) A longstanding myth holds that people in medieval Christian Europe didn’t bathe. In fact, the Middle Ages subscribed heartily to the adage “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Thinkers of the period considered physical beauty to represent spiritual purity, and they looked at hygiene in the same way: If one’s body was impure, it would by definition be unattractive and out of harmony. If it had any imperfections, one would best address them through cleansing. For women, in particular, cleanliness was one of the very highest virtues.

The daily wash usually involved collecting water in a ewer, heating it, then pouring it into a large basin to be used for scrubbing. Baths in a wooden tub would happen less often, given it was a world without plumbing. Water is heavy, and collecting it, heating it, and then getting it from the kettle into the bathtub was difficult. Baths also required space, which was at a premium in most households.

Luckily, there were a few ways to bathe outside the home. In warmer months, you could simply find a pond or a lake, and you were good to go. But in January this could be a problem, and that was where bathhouses came in. Bathhouses took the laborious and difficult work of drawing and heating water and monetized it. Most towns boasted at least one professional bathhouse, while cities played host to a number of competing establishments.

For the full essay, see:

Eleanor Janega. “The Middle Ages Were Cleaner Than We Think.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023): A15.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date January 12, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is based on the author’s book:

Janega, Eleanor. The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society. New York: W.W. Norton, 2023.

Persian King Cyrus Tolerated Diversity of Religion and Culture

(p. C12) After another year that has cried out for inspiring leadership, I grasped glimmers of optimism from Matt Waters’s “King of the World,” a biography of Persian king Cyrus the Great.

. . .

Today Cyrus is revered as a model of pragmatic, benevolent rulership.

. . .

. . . Cyrus imposed or forbade no religion, language, ethnicity, dress code or culture on his native Persians or the many other peoples he ruled. Would that this were the case for his descendants today.

For the full review, see:

Timothy Potts. “12 Months of Reading; Timothy Potts.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 10, 2021): C12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 8, 2022, and has the title “Who Read What in 2022: Thinkers and Tastemakers.”)

The book praised by Timothy Potts is:

Waters, Matt. King of the World: The Life of Cyrus the Great. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.

The Sassoon Family’s Rags-to-Riches-to-Rags Story

(p. 8) The rise and fall of the Sassoon family, who, at their height, traded in opium, tea, silk and jewels, is charted in delectable detail in “The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire,” by the historian Joseph Sassoon, a distant relative who seems just as pleased as anyone unrelated might be to uncover the grit and gains of a tribe of fascinating figures.

. . .

Rags-to-riches stories may all be the same, but it’s the way in which a fortune is lost that’s truly compelling. Sassoon’s detailed account of the decentralization of family power and the proliferation of descendants interested in spending but not making money is well paced and supremely satisfying. An observer of the clan notes that “nothing suppresses an appetite for commerce more than a diet of gentlemanly pursuits,” and readers are treated through the second half of the book to a slow-motion sputtering out of David Sassoon’s great machine. You find yourself feeling for them: While masters of the universe inspire little sympathy, knowing from the first page that this empire has crumbled allows you to mourn the sunset of a particular kind of existence, even as a part of you revels in it.

For the full review, see:

Adam Rathe. “Dynasty.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, November 6, 2022): 8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Oct. 25, 2022, and has the title “The Rise and Fall of a Great Dynasty.”)

The book under review is:

Sassoon, Joseph. The Sassoons: The Great Global Merchants and the Making of an Empire. New York: Pantheon, 2022.

President Grover Cleveland Stuck with His Free Market Principles

(p. C7) Troy Senik, a former White House speechwriter, has written “A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland” to rescue his subject from obscurity.

. . .

Mr. Senik says that Cleveland should be remembered as “one of our greatest presidents.”

. . .

He entered the White House favoring tariff cuts, the gold standard, limited government and the expansion of the civil service to reduce the power of patronage bosses. When he retired 12 years later, his principles were the same. He vetoed more bills in his first term than all 21 of his predecessors combined.

. . .

(p. C9) When Texas suffered a drought, he vetoed a bill to provide seeds to farmers, warily explaining: “Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care . . . and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.”

. . .

After triumphing in his first White House bid he declared, “Henceforth I must have no friends,” a rather monkish notion of virtue and a fitting template for how he governed. At the end of that term, he was advised not to push for tariff reform before his re-election but ignored the advice, observing: “What is the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?”

“A Man of Iron” is a tribute to an incorruptible man, a rare politician who rose above partisanship.

For the full review, see:

Roger Lowenstein. “Oddly, Both Principled And President.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022): C7 & C9.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs added; ellipsis within paragraph, in original. Bracketed word also added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date September 16, 2022, and has the title “‘A Man of Iron’ Review: Grover Cleveland, Honest to a Fault.”)

The book under review is:

Senik, Troy. A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland. New York: Threshold Editions, 2022.