Obama as Cleveland?

It is quite clear by now that President Obama has a very, very expansive view of what the U.S. government can and should do.  Indeed, he thinks that the Constitution authorizes the government to force people to engage in economic activity (see law professor Randy Barnett on why the president is wrong). 

But according to NBC, the administration has denied individual aid to those in Connecticut harmed by recent storms.  I’m not sure upon what  basis this heartless decision was made given everything President Obama thinks the government should do.  It does, though, bring to mind the words of my namesake – who had a better understanding of the proper role of the U.S. Federal Government in dealing with our individual problems:

In 1887, President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill aimed at providing financial assistance to Texas farmers hurt by a severe drought.  President Cleveland argued:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution; and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.

Of course, Cleveland was not unconcerned by the plight of the farmers.  He just thought that the Constitution did not give the Federal Government the authority to dole out money for individual relief.  Instead, he thought that “The friendliness and charity of our fellow countrymen can always be relied on to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune.”  And as Thomas Reed of the Mackinac Center has noted, “Americans proved him right. Those Texas farmers eventually received in private aid more than 10 times what the vetoed bill would have provided.”  For more, see Bob Higgs on the Texas Seed Bill.

Wouldn’t it be nice if President Obama thought likewise?  Unfortunately, as H.L. Mencken wrote about Cleveland: “It is not likely that we shall see his like again, at least in the present age. The Presidency is now closed to the kind of character that he had so abundantly.”

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