Monday, October 11, 2010

Why Wilson?

The NY Times today asks why so many people think poorly of Woodrow Wilson. Well unlike many of those out there, I gather the TEA Party folks et al, I have a more personal reason for the dislike. You see in the above picture was my grandmother ( third from the right) just before she was jailed byWilson for protesting the War in 1916. He took upon himself the powers not given him under the Constitution to jail those with whom he differed including Eugene V. Debs, my Grandmother's close associate and fellow Socialist Party member. I recall conversations about the dinner table about Wilson and he tactics.

Wilson was also the only President who had a biography of him written by Freud, an interesting read.

You see Wilson was a Hegelian, for Hegel ran rampant through the initial halls of Johns Hopkins, and it was the Germanic view of destiny that sees to have driven Wilson. It was the Hegel of the telelogical end of history, the Hegel who would influence the Germans going into the Second World War.

He believed that the US form of Government should be replaced with a British Parliamentary form, at least until he took the White House, and like Beard and others saw the Constitution as a document of no relevance to the 20th century. In fact he saw the Founders as artifacts of the late Enlightenment.

His handling of the Peace Treaty discussions showed both arrogance and ignorance, a deadly combination. He had no understanding on how to negotiate, had no understanding of the European history which was replaying before him, and he was in many ways the typical American.

His stroke, long time in coming, left the country in his wife's hands.

And yes, he got out of Princeton just before he was to be kicked out, out of New Jersey in a similar fashion, and in the White House due mostly to the bumbling of TR.

So frankly what is there to like. Brandeis provided most of the good content, albeit in the shadows, and from the time Brandeis stepped away then Wilson bumbled on his own.

So was he a Progressive, was the New Freedoms a better way than TR's New Nationalism? Or was he an opportunist, albeit as Freud says with an explosively overgrown ego. He is an interesting study. In many ways he did not listen to others, he prized his own opinions above all others, and he viewed himself above error. His impact was significant in that it sent the Republicans into office.

The Time states:

Franklin Roosevelt has easily held the top spot on the conservatives' list of worst presidents, but Woodrow Wilson, who was in office from 1913 to 1921, has given him strong competition in the last couple of years.

FDR was a pragmatist. He tried almost anything and then if it failed he went to something else. Was FDR arrogant, somewhat, but he knew haw to work with people, how to choose the best and his handling of the War was in many was brilliant. He managed people in a way that exceeds almost any other human. Disagree with some of his actions, well almost all do. Often FDR had no idea what would result, but the old adage of "act, don't think" often works.

The true question is, Is Wilson a true Progressive? That is an interesting question. Or was he merely an opportunist. Did he assume the mantle of Progressivism to deter TR in 1912. Was Brandeis the true influence. But one should remember that Brandeis saw the banks and not the companies as the source of the problems. Brandeis was a true genius and he understood where the power and the problems resided. For Brandeis practiced law, he was not a career politician, rather he was a proficient attorney. Thus the Progressivism of Wilson was more the Progressivism of Brandeis, and then the issue is really, what was Wilson. Perhaps a true egomaniac, as Freud suspected.