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With Praise Like This…

A piece over at The New Republic asks why it is that more people don’t love Woodrow Wilson. It’s opening seems to answer that question pretty easily:

[W]hy aren’t contemporary liberals bestowing the same praise on Woodrow Wilson as they lavish on Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson? Granted, if he were running today, Woodrow Wilson wouldn’t win a single Democratic primary and would no doubt be heckled out of the race. Raised in the South, he smiled on Jim Crow and did not object when two of his cabinet appointees re-segregated their departments. A crusading Presbyterian, he vowed to “teach the Latin American republics to elect good men” and dispatched troops to Mexico and Haiti when they didn’t follow his advice. During World War I, he enforced new laws that effectively outlawed most dissent from government policy.

Though really, the reasons they list for lauding him seem a little suspect as well:

Yet Wilson, together with his allies on Capitol Hill, also laid the foundation for the 20th century liberal state. He signed bills that created the Federal Reserve and progressive income tax rates, secured humane working conditions for merchant seamen and railroad workers, restricted child labor and curbed the power of large corporations. After the U.S. entered the war in Europe, his administration began operating the railroads, lifting the hopes of leftists who had long advocated public ownership of what was then a rich and vital industry.

In 1916, Wilson accepted renomination with a speech that defined political conflict in terms that remain surprisingly fresh. Our programs, he told his fellow Democrats were “resisted at every step by the interests which the Republican Party … catered to and fostered at the expense of the country, and these same interests are now earnestly praying for a reaction which will save their privileges, for the restoration of their sworn friends to power before it is too late to recover what they have lost.”

How can anyone dislike someone who both nationalized the railroads and was hated by Republicans?

Actually, the rest of the piece is kind of a hoot too, since it then moves on to arguing that liberals should love Wilson more because FDR and LBJ really were pretty flawed too. Overall, I have to wonder if this is the sort of piece that conservatives are destined to enjoy much more than liberals. Which does nothing to answer the question of why TNR ran it.

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DarwinCatholic

Now an Ohio Catholic!

29 Comments

  1. Wilson is an unpleasant reminder for the Democrats of the racist history of their party and how the racism was not restricted to Southern Democrats, but was rather an essential aspect of the party of the Jackass, even, or perhaps especially, for liberals who wished to extend the scope of the Federal government. Why TNR ran it is a puzzlement.

    Linked below is a New York Times story in which Wilson rejected black criticism of his anti-civil rights policy. “If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me, they ought to correct it.”

    http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C01E0DC1738E633A25750C1A9679D946596D6CF

  2. In keeping African Americans addicted to the teat of the public treasury, and in giving them a “token” in the Oval Office to make it seem like they are empowered when he and his minions support abortion that disproportionately murders more African American babies, how is the Party of the Jackass (love that descriptor!) NOT still racist? And how is he not racially suicidal? The ever racist Democrat Woodrow Wilson would be proud of the result – a black President murdering his own race!

  3. The New Republic used to be an interesting magazine in the 1980’s, to the left of National Review, but with similar intellectual and political heft. It’s been on a slide to irrelevence since then. It was recently bought up by one of the founders of Facebook and repackaged itself as essentially MSNBC Magazine.

  4. If Wilson would have stayed out of World War I, France, England, Germany and Russia would have collapsed from exhaustion, there would have been no Bolshevism and Russian Revolution and no inflation in Germany caused by war reparation payments to France and thus no Hitler and World War II.

  5. Actually Russia collapsed prior to American entry into the war. With that collapse Germany was able to move massive amounts of troops from the East to the West. With no American intervention the Bolsheviks likely would still have seized power in a chaotic Russia and Germany might well have won the war, as they came close to doing in the Spring and Summer of 1918 even with American intervention.

  6. What ifs are fun, but of course always difficult to substantiate. Still, it’s hard to imagine the US not intervening in WW1 as producing great results. France and Germany both had strong communist, socialist, anarchist and proto-fascist movements that could well have taken over in the event of a collapse, and Russia as we can see had pretty nasty movements waiting in the wings as well. (The US actually tried to get rid of the Bolsheviks, under Wilson’s direction, by sending supplies and even troops to support the White Russians in the Russian civil war.) If anything, I’d tend to think that it would have been better if the US had got involved sooner, and without Wilson’s “fourteen points” which gave a lot of nationalistic movements (including those in Germany) the idea that they’d get unrealistic benefits out of the peace conference. An earlier US entry and an Allied drive into Germany rather than an armistice might have led to a better peace, but a lot of it is that Europe was simply pretty messed up anyway and the Great War and the peace after it left room for things to go well or badly. They went badly.

    That aside, though, Wilson is certainly one of my least favorite presidents for a host of reasons, and this piece praising him with faint damns certainly has an odd ring.

  7. As a parent of two Princeton graduates, I was moved to buy two old Princeton yearbooks from Wilson’s time as president of the University and was stunned by the blackface and other caricatures of blacks. That led me to research more about him and to see why he was not a favorite of those who are knowledgeable. He also permitted his wife and his chief of staff to run the country while he was incapaciated. I couldn’t help thinking of Pope Benedict XVI and his courage and humility in stepping down cementing his place on the Papal Mount Rushmpre

  8. Despite his academic background and cerebral image, Wilson, like Obama now, was a masterful orator.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TgbBCTHnJ9U

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb30L-NmKjo

    What does Mr. Kazin have in mind? I suppose there might be extant texts and recordings of masterful oratory by Prof. Wilson, but it is quite difficult to imagine the speaker in these recordings was ever capable of it.

    I will wager this was more inspiring in the original:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeTkT5-w5RA

    Another contemporary of Wilson:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhlzdjPGxrs

    The next generation down:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SwenOlpbvTA

    And the generation after that:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IRrQZg3FDE

    The last was cherry-picked.

  9. What he accomplished, backed by huge Democratic majorities in Congress, to advance civil rights, Medicare, immigration reform, anti-poverty, and education spending exceeded what Roosevelt had attempted—although taking over from the martyred Kennedy certainly helped. For Bill Clinton and many other Democrats, this, not the Vietnam debacle, is the LBJ they want us to remember.

    Here we have Thomas Sowell’s thesis – that to the anointed it is postures that matter and not results – nicely illustrated. Five sets of legislation, five different messes resulting therefrom, and he acknowledges none of it.

  10. Raised in the South, he smiled on Jim Crow and did not object when two of his cabinet appointees re-segregated their departments.

    He thought D.W. Griffith was a purveyor of serious history and, IIRC, segregated all federal offices.

  11. Just love this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTO31dkDQv8

    Let’s see:

    1. Promoting the disestablishment of the German monarchies. Check.
    2. Acceding to the reparations bill. Check.
    3. Contrived disarmament scheme, eventually unworkable. Check.
    4. War guilt clause; no material benefit for the Allies, but more fuel for revanchism. Check.
    5. Dippy collective security scheme, descendant of which is now a bureaucratic pustule on the East river. Check.

    Prof. Kazin acknowledges…nothing.

  12. France and Germany both had strong communist, socialist, anarchist and proto-fascist movements that could well have taken over in the event of a collapse,

    No. The Fatherland Party in Germany was inconsequential and the Spartacus League not much more so. It took a decade of disasters before the political culture in Germany turned against parliamentary government. The Communist Party built a base in France during the 1920s, but there was always a ceiling to it. There was never a fascist movement of consequence in France.

  13. The Fatherland Party in Germany was inconsequential and the Spartacus League not much more so. It took a decade of disasters before the political culture in Germany turned against parliamentary government. The Communist Party built a base in France during the 1920s, but there was always a ceiling to it. There was never a fascist movement of consequence in France.

    True, but come to that the Bolshevik’s were a pretty minor group in Russia (and one among many) until the collapse of first the empire and then the Kerensky government allowed the Bolsheviks to take over.

    Germany arguably had the strongest socialist party in Europe before the war, and the French came in second. Even then the socialist ideology was a lot less destructive than the communist one, but given that Lenin et al came out of that background it seems like there’s a certain lurking danger there. Anarchism was stronger in France than in Germany, but had some claim to continent wide appeal. Then on the French side you’ve got various right-wing figures (such as Maurice Barres) who have the nationalism and even anti-semitism that we’d associate with fascism and also collectivist tendencies rather than the classical liberalism we associate with the right in the anglo-sphere. I don’t know as much about the German political scene yet (one hears about the German left when reading about France, since socialism was fairly international) but the prominence and relative popularity of Ludendorf during the war certainly seems troubling, since he and Hindenburg ruled as near dictators for the second half of the war and Ludendorf went on to push the stab-in-the-back nationalist myth.

    Of course, all of this helps to underline that Wilson’s insistence on destroying all of the old monarchies among the Central Powers simply made things worse.

  14. True, but come to that the Bolshevik’s were a pretty minor group in Russia (and one among many) until the collapse of first the empire and then the Kerensky government allowed the Bolsheviks to take over.

    The Bolsheviks placed second to the SRs (radical agrarians) in the constituent assembly elections held in late November 1917.

    Just to re-iterate, it took serial disasters during the period running from 1914 to 1930 for the totalitarian parties to build a base in Germany: wartime hardships and loss of life, the loss of the war, humiliating peace terms, the collapse of the currency and the destruction of savings, the onset of the Depression (which was more severe in Germany than in France and far more severe than in Britain). Even in Hungary, both Communist and fascist regimes had only a brief shelf life (in 1919 and 1944 respectively).

  15. Re: “humiliating” peace terms and economic/cultural devastation, the Versailles Treaty imposed war reparartions of 226 billion marks (I’ve seen that “translated” at $34 billion), payable in foreign exchange or gold.

    Hyper-inflation and depression led to German cultural, moral, and societal breakdowns, and allowed for the ascendancy of Hitlerism.

    Our WWI Allies owed the USA $10.4 billion. Only Finland paid in full.

  16. The Wiemar Republic did inflict severe inflation on itself in part to try to get out of paying the reparations, but honestly, the Allies quickly backed off trying to make Germany pay anyway. Only about 1/8 of the payments were ever made and the Allies cleared the rest of the obligation in 1932 (after a one year pause in payments in 1931.) Plus, even a lot of the 1/8 that was paid was paid via loans which Germany took out with American banks, and then later repudiated, so it was actually American banks that took the hit for about half of that.

    The idea that German mis-behavior between the wars was somehow justified by their bad treatment at the peace conference was an idea that was jointly put out by pacifists and pro-Nazis in the 20s and 30s, and it also tended to ignore the extent to which France in particular had a pretty legitimate desire to reparations in that Germany had systematically looted the occupied sectors of France for four and a half years — carting of machinery, instituting forced labor, and extracting large indemnities from individual conquered French cities in order to finance the German war effort.

  17. Keynes referred to the Versailles treaty as a Carthaginian peace which indicates that he knew as much about ancient history as he did about sound economics. Compared to most peace treaties for an utterly beaten power, Germany got off pretty lightly. The reparations were never more than a propaganda issue for Germany as it was quickly understood that Germany was never going to pay more than a fraction of the reparations and that the Allies lacked the will to compel them to do so.

  18. The Bolsheviks placed second to the SRs (radical agrarians) in the constituent assembly elections held in late November 1917.

    Well, yes, but then Nov. 1917 was after the October Revolution, which in turn was after the February Revolution and the dissatisfaction which followed the new government’s failure to either win or end the war. The Bolsheviks (who’d been very minor players back in 1910) became major players once the country went into a tailspin due to economic and military exhaustion.

    My contention is basically just that if we imagine a situation in which France, Germany, Austria and England went into similar tailspins due to fighting on to the point of collapse without US intervention, as Ray Marshall suggested, we could arguably have seen similarly nasty minor players take over in either country. His contention that if we hadn’t stepped in and helped the Allies win the Great War, there wouldn’t have been hyperinflation and the rise of the Nazis in Germany strikes me as a reach. Surely, the same thing might not have happened, but it’s not hard to imagine that a situation in which all the Great Powers exhausted themselves to collapse, a lot of bad things would have happened.

    But hey, I’ll admit: I am pretty much a partisan on the side of the Entente in regards to the Great War. I think kicking Germany back out of France and Belgium was a basically righteous aim. And while it’s certainly much easier to be fond of Austria-Hungary than Prussia, the Austrians did help start the war, though it was the Germans who made it global.

  19. The idea that German mis-behavior between the wars was somehow justified

    Not my deal.

    Compared to most peace treaties for an utterly beaten power, Germany got off pretty lightly.

    They were not utterly beaten; no they did not get off ‘lightly’.

    If it had been one’s aim to produce a more stable equilibrium in Europe one might have attempted to do the following:

    1. Allow the German states to return as honorable participants in European power politics, albeit under reduced circumstances.

    2. Remove some of the structural defects in the antecedent state system. That would be:

    a. The questionable sustainability of a multi-ethnic state organized around dynastic fealty.

    b. The imbalance in resources between France and Germany.

    The various treaties did address the former, but leaving blocs of Germans in Czechoslovakia and Italy and Lithuania, blocs of Magyars in Roumania, and odd arrangements regarding Danzig and Saar. They tried to address the latter by knee-capping Germany rather than (say) redistributing territory between Prussia and Austria (which may or may not have been practical).

  20. I will go against the grain here and praise Wilson for one thing. In Wilson’s Fourteen Points for Peace, Wilson was a strong advocate for the reestablishment of the Polish nation, which occurred, over the objections of some in the West. While Russia and Austria-Hungary withdrew from Polish territory in 1918, Germany had no intention of doing the same. The Greater Poland Uprising of 1918-19 threw the Germans out of Poland. Where Prussia was located was originally Polish land.

    Germany is really the source of the problems in WWI. There is a WWI special that shows up on the Military channel every so often. Germany aided and abetted Lenin in order to get Russia out of the war. Germany wrecked much of France. and France wasn’t the least bit interested in being magnanimous to Germany.

    FDR was worse than Wilson. That goes without saying.

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