Review: The President is a Sick Man

Book by Matthew Algeo

The president is a sick manThe presidency of Grover Cleveland seems fascinating enough without the addition of a mysterious disappearance and political cover-up. Cleveland began 1881 as a popular lawyer in Buffalo, known for his robust appetite, sizable waistband and thoroughgoing honesty. Later that year he was elected mayor of Buffalo. The next year he became state governor. And by 1884, he was elected 24th president of the U.S. Has there ever been a more productive three years in the history of politics?

Besides his rapid rise to the top, Cleveland remains the only president to get married while living in the White House, as well as the only one to serve two non-consecutive terms. He was also an aggressive enemy of big government, repeatedly vetoing all manner of public spending. And yet Algeo’s enjoyable book is not so much concerned with Cleveland’s political biography as with what the president was up to on July 1, 1893.

During his second term in office, Cleveland disappeared for five days while travelling on a yacht somewhere off Long Island. Such a gap in the president’s schedule immediately caught the attention of the press. In response, Cleveland’s staff and family claimed he was on a fishing trip. In fact, a dream team of surgeons had been assembled at sea to remove a large cancerous growth from Cleveland’s upper jaw. With America in the midst of a serious economic crisis, the White House had decided the public must not know the truth about the president’s health.

Two months later, political columnist E.J. Edwards discovered the deception and splashed it across the Philadelphia Press. The outcome of the operation, the response to Edwards’s reporting by the president and his staff, the repercussions from within the journalism industry, and the public’s reaction to the ensuing controversy, all combine for a fascinating look at the early days of political spin and plausible deniability. This is a history book with considerable relevance to today’s news.

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