Critics of Woodrow Wilson strangely ignore the worst aspects of his presidency

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Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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  1. Avatar Dave Schuler
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    says:

    To answer your question, because some people think that you can separate Wilson’s internationalism and liberal interventionism from the rest of his legacy. You can’t. They’re a seamless piece of cloth.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    Also, Wilson was a filthy racist and segregationist. Not that I’d expect anyone at the National Review to mind that much.Report

    • Avatar Chris Dierkes in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      what Mike said. And/or: Because it’s Jonah Goldberg. At the end of the day Goldberg is a Republican (not I would say a republican or even necessarily a conservative). Civil liberties and the neo-con democracy fetish are all still in style with the GOP.

      As if Wilson’s domestic arrogance had nothing to do with his international arrogance at Versailles. [To be fair to Wilson the British and the French were nothing but a hindrance to getting anything accomplished there].

      While people will claim a direct link from Wilson to neoconservatism (via “democracy promotion”), I think that is a misread of Wilson. What Wilson meant was to protect the already existing democracies against a rising tide of autocracy. He felt such an international scene would inevitably deteriorate the possibility for societies to be free (both internally and externally). In his better moments, he wasn’t talking about making everybody into a democracy or assuming that were some such situation to occur, the world would be peaceful.

      Wilson himself (as you point out Will) over-reached nonetheless domestically and brought “autocratic” elements into the fold. But I think, his practice notwithstanding, his basic internationalist sense (in the sense he meant it, not the neocon fantasy-land) was correct. iow, I’m not Ron Paul.

      I think all of the above would essentially be lost on Jonah Goldberg.Report

      • Avatar Koz in reply to Chris Dierkes
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        says:

        Ahhh, let’s see here. We have

        1. National Review might sorta be racist.
        2. Jonah Goldberg might sorta be racist.
        3. In any case, Jonah Goldberg is wrong and/or stupid.
        4. This may or may not have something to do with the idea WW wasn’t as bad as we think.

        Wtf is your point here exactly? Or you can just throw a bunch of barely coherent s**t against the wall and that’s supposed to be ok?Report

    • Avatar Koz in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      Do actually have some reason to believe that, or you’re just a cheapshot artist?Report

  3. Avatar Koz
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    says:

    “So my question for newly-converted Wilson-phobes is simple: If you’re concerned about government overreach, why restrict your criticism his domestic legacy? Why do torture, indefinite detainment, and the PATRIOT ACT get a free pass?”

    They don’t. First of all, there has never been much enthusiasm for Wilson on the Right. Historically the feelings toward Wilson among conservatives have been some mixture of disapproval and apathy.

    More than that, there is some explanatory value toward George W Bush, ie why the mainstream Right doesn’t hate W as much as most liberals or many libertarians. We look at the traditions of American executive power and the related jurisprudence, especially relating to Wilson, Lincoln and FDR, and we conclude that W was reasonably judicious in using the enormous powers that he had.Report

    • Avatar Dave in reply to Koz
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      says:

      We look at the traditions of American executive power and the related jurisprudence, especially relating to Wilson, Lincoln and FDR, and we conclude that W was reasonably judicious in using the enormous powers that he had.

      That explains why the mainstream Right has been so wrong.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    For the record, the crazy folks out there have been yelling about Woody Wilson for a long time. His collusion with OWH (ptooey!) to give more and more and more power to The State was disgraceful.

    Schenck v. United States? Disgusting.

    Perhaps Wilson’s enthusiasm for curtailing civil liberties was entirely unrelated to his progressive politics.

    How do you reckon? Progressivism championed alcohol prohibition and eugenics, among other things. Of all of the things that go hand in hand with progressivism, “civil liberties” aren’t anywhere near the top. People might abuse them, after all.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      yeah the womens movement, gay rights and civil rights movements were just for cover.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Wilson’s Progressivism was very much the progressivism of his day and to use gay rights (starting… when? The 70’s with the removal of homosexuality from the DSM?) or Civil Rights (*NOWHERE* near Wilson’s agenda, seriously)… leading us to the women’s movement as something that Woody reconciled himself to only after he realized that it would increase his power (please recall what happened to the suffrage protesters in front of the White House in 1917 before Woody realized that he could use their political clout).

        Even so, using “the womens movement, gay rights and civil rights movements” as a defense of eugenics and prohibition reads like giving a defense of that Austrian gentleman by pointing out his vegetarianism, teetotalling, and abhorence of tobacco.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Huh….whatever. progressivism actually different today, and the last few decades, then it was a the beginning of the 20th century. Agreed.

          “Even so, using “the womens movement, gay rights and civil rights movements” as a defense of eugenics and prohibition” and if I had done that you would be correct.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
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            says:

            progressivism actually different today, and the last few decades, then it was a the beginning of the 20th century. Agreed.

            Is there any point at which we are allowed to discuss Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism without pointing out that, hey, homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973 so there?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Greg, we’ve come a long way since the 1900’s. Yes every long lived ideology once had some reprehensible beliefs. Progressives once did support eugenics and prohibition (many still do on that latter issue though the conservatives are equally guilty or worse).

        Conservatives once supported slavery, inhuman working conditions for the working class, child labor, poorhouses and strict segregation of the classes. They don’t any more (for the most part) and progressives have similarly rejected their old nasty past. We don’t need to be defensive about it contra Goldberg’s empty windbaggery there is nothing inherent to progressivism that requires those policies.Report

      • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to greginak
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        says:

        C’mon Greg – You’re better than that. Woodrow was a real Progressive. Small p ‘progressivism’ of the Obama variety is very different.Report

  5. Avatar PD Shaw
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    says:

    I don’t have strong views on Wilson one way or the other, but the problem with the indictment seems to me that the examples all follow U.S. entry into World War I. To me, Wilson needs be judged objectively either in comparison with other war-time Presidents or by comparison with the other WWI belligerent. I’m not sure Wilson’s conduct stands out that much in either comparison.

    Perhaps Wilson was slightly worse on war time civil liberties than FDR or Lincoln, and it may stand some scrutiny as to whether the U.S. moved more quickly towards these restrictions than other belligerents.

    But Wilson’s segregation of the federal government was novel and revealing and had nothing to do with war.Report

    • Avatar Will in reply to PD Shaw
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      says:

      Lincoln, at least, could point to an existential threat to the Republic as justification. Wilson didn’t even have that excuse. I also think comparing the United States to European countries without robust constitutional traditions is stacking the deck in Wilson’s favor.Report

  6. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto
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    says:

    I’d imagine part this separation is probably based on the fact that the civil liberties suppression was done against anarchists of a socialist stripe for the most part, including the anti-war radicals who seemed to think this was all a conspiracy to enrich the capitalist class. (Both Charles Schenck and Eugene Debs were members of the Socialist Party as an example.)Report

  7. Avatar Mike Farmer
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    says:

    I don’t know which right you’re talking about, but the old right, Rothbard, Chodorov, ect, weren’t exactly enamored with any of Wilson’s policies. You might be right about the new right, but “nascent” is not correct when talking about the history of the right.Report

  8. Avatar John David Galt
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    says:

    What irony! You yourself haven’t seen fit to mention the worst thing Wilson did: he ordered the racial segregation of the federal civil service, which lasted until 1964. (Source: “Lies My Teacher Told Me”)Report

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