One of my editors asked me this afternoon why everyone keeps referring to Barack Obama as the pending 44th president of the United States when, in fact, he will be the 43rd man to serve as president.
For an inexplicable reason, the commonly accepted presidential numbering system lists Grover Cleveland twice — No.’s 22 and 24 — because he served two non-consecutive terms. Hence, Obama is said to be the 44th president while only 42 other men have held the job. Interestingly, the men who served two consecutive terms are listed only once. (Check out Wikipedia’s list.)
Does anyone know how this decision to count Cleveland twice came about? (I put this question to a couple of crack U.S. presidential history buffs and I’ll let you know what they say.)
Whatever the reason, it aggravates my accuracy-is-paramount editor and even a third-grade teacher who wrote to Newsday.
“It seems to me like they just started doing it a LONG time ago on faulty logic and everybody has just fallen into step,” my editor says. “Stupid geese that we are … ”
I Googled “Obama” and “44th president” and found 2,160 entries under news.
UPDATE: My friend Tim Farley, presidential buff extradordinaire, has this to say about the question: “A ruling by the State Department said that Cleveland should be listed as both the 22nd and 24th president as the administrations were not consecutive. They were two different administrations all together. They had different VP’s and a different cabinet. So, the standard answer is ‘a ruling by the State Department.’ “