Until recently, I took it for granted that Woodrow Wilson was one of our most influential and respected presidents. And then I found that he has nearly as many detractors as he has supporters.
So it's time to teach you motherfuckers a lesson.
I am going to go through every criticism of Woodrow Wilson that I can think of and explain to you why it is wrong. OK? Let's do this shit.1. He was a racist. He had KKK ties. He reinstituted segregation. He was quoted extensively in "Birth of a Nation."
Far be it for me to ever endorse racism, imply that racism was ever socially acceptable, or to defend a racist president. Instead, let's break down Wilson's positions on race.
For instance, regarding the KKK: "...no more obnoxious or harmful organization has ever shown itself in our affairs."
Sounds like a big fan of lynching, there. He, in fact, disliked Birth of a Nation and had it banned during wartime. Even funnier, his quotes largely related to the reasons the KKK was founded - that because southern racist whites were not represented during reconstruction, they instead elected to try to accomplish what they wanted via intimidation. So, yeah. Big racist, that Wilson. Always trying to offer different perspectives on slavery.
What of the segregation thing?
Well, what of it? Plessy v Ferguson was decided in 1896, a mere 16 years before he took office. Brown v Board of Education was decided in 1954, 34 years after he left. Wilson himself said there were benefits to segregation - "If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me, they ought to correct it." Blacks attacked him for instituting segregation at all, and southern racists attacked him for not going far enough. It is very easy to look back with some perspective and say everything ought to have been integrated, but a president reflects the people who elected him.
In any case, Wilson's alleged racism is such a non-issue, that he segregated government jobs, compared to his impact on American history that it seems pointless to even dwell on it.2. Espionage Act of 1917? Worse than the Patriot Act.
Before we start, I'd like to say Fuck the Patriot Act.
First and foremost: Congress passes acts, not the President. He signed it, but it needed the support of Congress first. Thought I'd throw that out there.
You know what else happened? Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus, FDR set up Japanese internment camps, and Truman took loyalty oaths from government officials, firing many and letting more resign. What is it about national crises that make presidents need to exert a greater degree of control at home?
In each of these cases, the Union was threatened like never prior. First, by civil war, then by the largest war to date including a certain Zimmerman Telegram, then by a war even greater than that, then the threat of Soviet nuclear annihilation. Presidents take more power during wartime. Was it unconstitutional? Not according to 1919's Schenck v. United States (validated by three branches! You owe me a quarter), but it probably was unconstitutional. Great presidents expand the power of the office to the point where it can be considered unconstitutional, though the converse doesn't necessarily hold true (see: Nixon). The powers of the act were undoubtedly abused (Eugene Debs). However, I don't think that something like this is enough to condemn Wilson entirely. No deduction.
PS: Fuck the Patriot Act, because the War on Terror? Not a national crisis.3. Because Wilson elected to enter World War I, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, leading to Germany's post-war crippling and humiliation. Because of this, Hitler could come to power and kill all the Jews.
This is the dumbest fucking one.
To start, I'll play in your space logic world and pretend like Hitler would have never risen and whatever. Let's say that the conditions did not exist for Hitler to come to power and Germany remains a fantasy paradise.
Do you know who else was in Europe around that time? Stalin. Think he'd be on our side?
Anyone who has played Red Alert knows that with no Hitler, Stalin proceeds to sweep through Europe. BAM! Things are more fucked up than before. Do you know how many fucking people Stalin killed? So very many.
OK, let's say you disagree with my version of history and believe that post-WWI Europe, after a long and bloody stalemate, would have turned into a bunny-infested paradise.
Wilson's Fourteen Points hardly have anything to do with humiliating the losers. He was clearly the only true statesman present for the negotiation of the treaty, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for spearheading the League of Nations. But beyond that - if one is to argue that Wilson should have somehow known the result of the war would be the rise of fascism, it is either to suggest that a) Wilson ought to have had supernatural powers or that b) no one should ever do anything, because of unforseen consequences. James Watt, you asshole. You invented the steam engine which led to rapid industrialization of the Western World which haphazardly produced loads and loads of pollution which caused global warming which will destroy the planet, you ASS.
Perhaps one of the stupidest things you can do is blame World War II on Woodrow Wilson. If the rest of the world wasn't ready to hear him, perhaps that's his fault.4. Sure, he proposed the 14 points, but they were mostly ignored and we didn't even join the League of Nations.
He had a fucking stroke. He was out campaigning for the League so hard that he had a stroke and became bitterly uncompromising. Republicans were strongly opposed to the League in the Senate, and Wilson had a stroke and was unwilling to compromise. So we never joined. It's unfortunate, and if we would have joined, Wilson would be undoubtedly even more highly regarded. These don't really count as points against Wilson, but aren't exactly points for him.
Anything else? I'm glad to continue to defend WW with whatever you wish to throw out there.
Now, let's look at why one should consider Wilson among our upper echelon of presidents.
The League of Nations was effectively the model for the UN three decades later, and shit like the War Industries Board were models for the New Deal. He was the architect for the plans that would end up so widely revered by the Second World War. Wilsonian Idealism has been the primary influence for foreign policy throughout the Western World throughout the 20th century. Self-determination, collective security, democratic government, international law. We take these things for granted by now, but Wilson was the perhaps the most brilliant and influential foreign policymaker of the century, if not more. Before the USA got the poor reputation it enjoys today, we were the shining example of a benevolent empire, the superpower that can end the dopey territory wars, that can settle issues with diplomacy rather than militarism. Wilson set that example. He expanded the role of the president to include the diplomat to the world, and embraced a New World Order. We now have that order, and it is described as Wilsonian Idealism.
Think about what the Constitution means. Ignore our current administration, the politics, all of that, and think of what it means. It's a pretty fucking good American ideal to try to live up to. The document might not be perfect, but we all know exactly what it's trying to live up to - a perfect fusion of freedom and order, of safety and expression. Where we are welcome to live our life to the fullest under our own control, with a government to ensure it stays that way. Where everybody gets a shot. Imagine the rest of the world given that kind of liberty. I don't mean the imposing democracy that's so trendy, I mean what a true, kindly American empire could be. Making the world more perfect by example.
That's what Wilson means to me.
Don't fuck with Wilson. I might be more of a Tru-Man, but Wilson waits in the wings.
Labels: presidents, woodrow wilson