Advertisements

The Progressives’ Assault on Progressivism

The latest outbreak of the nationwide academic craziness epidemic is occurring at prestigious Princeton University, and seems to mainly be about expunging the institution’s past association with President Woodrow Wilson, so we have very mixed feelings about the matter. As stuffy old prairie Republican autodidacts we have no patience for the campus hijinks of pampered Ivy Leaguers, and any attempts to expunge the past are an affront to our Burkean sensibilities, but of course we can’t resist some satisfaction in seeing Wilson’s reputation at long last under assault from the left.
Way back in the days of our public education Wilson was still regarded by our approved textbooks’ opinion as the exemplar of progressivism. There was some embarrassed acknowledgement that he led the country into World War I, and that his populist rival William Jennings Bryan had quit his post as Secretary of State in protest of the still-debated decision, and that certain provisions of the Constitution were effectively repealed by the Sedition Act for the duration of the war, but otherwise Wilson always seemed to come in a close second to President Franklin Roosevelt as one of the Democratic Party’s great presidents. Back then Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were duly acknowledged as Republican rivals, even if Lincoln’s unabashed capitalism and constitutionalism were always unmentioned while T.R.’s more free-wheeling progressivism was always stressed, but Wilson was very much a member of that same presidential pantheon. Wilson was acknowledged as the father of a newfound philosophy that would bring war-time coordination of industrial efficiencies to peacetime economies through the latest scientific power over human nature, and bring eternal peace through a League of Nations if only the Treaty of Versailles weren’t too harsh on those poor Germans and Ottomans, and of course you know he was once President of prestigious Princeton University, in contrast to that hayseed prairie populist Bryan who didn’t even go to college and lost three elections for the Democrats and wound up as the anti-evolutionist villain in “Inherit the Wind.”.
Even at that young age, and with the usual youthful yearning for heroes and all the addling effects of a public school education, it all seemed rather suspicious. Being seditious sorts we read beyond the approved textbooks to learn that Wilson’s war-time restrictions on the Constitution were seemingly intended to last well into peace-time, that the post-war economy never really recovered until the the hated Coolidge’s “return to normalcy,” that the whole government-economy idea never has worked out, and that the League of Nations didn’t prevent a World War II, and probably not because the Treaty of Versailles was too mean to the Germans. We were also unsurprised to learn that Wilson was an unapologetic racist who praised the Ku Klux Klan and re-segregrated the federal government after policies that had been imposed by Republicans from Roosevelt all the way back to such supposed Republican retrogrades as Ulysses S Grant. By that point we were even cynical of that Princeton pedigree, which still loomed large in the Wilson myth.
All of which further mixes our feelings regarding the current controversy at Princeton University. The students demanding his name be banished from the university’s history don’t seem concerned with all those dead doughboys of World War I, who were no doubt war-monger Republicans, and they aren’t the least offended by his disregard of the right of free expression, which is currently all the rage on America’s campuses, and certainly not by his cocksureness that such Ivy League educated gentlemen as himself could more efficiently run an economy than a society of free men and women, which is taken as a given, but rather all that racism. So far as we can tell all the World War I stuff that so troubled our textbook-writers is long forgotten, but that infamous White House screening of “A Birth of Nation” and the re-segregation of the federal government and all the rest of the old-school stone-cold racist stuff can no longer be overlooked. Our reading of the history that most of the current Princetonians have probably never read suggests that America’s game-changing entry into World War I was about the only saving grave of Wilson’s presidency, given the Lusitania and all the other sunken American ships and the German campaign of sabotage on American soil and intercepted Zimmerman memo that outlined a plot by Germany to revanche the southwest quadrant of the United States to Mexico and the possibility of longtime allies France and England falling to a world order dictated by Prussian militarism, and that even Wilson’s idealistic and utterly naive post-war diplomatic blunders do not deny him some credit for sending in those doughboys.
Even the most Orwellian efforts cannot change the fact that Wilson was once the President of Princeton University, too, and that it was perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his career. A presidential trivia question that always stumps our liberal friends is what two United States Presidents previously served as presidents of Ivy League universities, and they’re never able to recall that one was Dwight Eisenhower, who briefly served as president of Columbia University after a more noteworthy career in the military and before a more noteworthy two terms as President of the United States, they all know that Woodrow Wilson was once President of Princeton University, although they never remember he also served as Governor of New Jersey. That famous connection once added a certain sheen to Wilson’s reputation, and in turn his formerly textbook-approved standing once added to Princeton’s prestige, so we wonder if the protesters demanding his repudiation understand how their actions might diminish the economic value of the Princeton degrees they’ll probably wind up with. The whole effort reminds us of the ancient and recent Islamist conquerers who immediately set about destroying all the artifacts of the civilizations that preceded them, or the Khmer Rouge that proclaimed a Day One of history after its slaughter, or the villains in every dystopian novel or movie who set out to re-write the past and all its good examples and dire warnings. or even those more benign and seemingly well-intention efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the Gen. Robert E. Lee muscle car in the old “Dukes of Hazard” television show, although in one of these cases was anyone so bold as to throw away the prestige of an Ivy League degree.
Although we revile the anti-constitutional authoritarianism and economic control and credentialed elitism and outright racism of Woodrow Wilson, we can’t help thinking he’d be pleased with his legacy in both international affairs and academia. His greatest hope of the post-war era was that American subordination to some sort of international tribunal would yield international peace, an an ephemera still chased after by his bi-racial and supposedly post-racial successor, and during his tenure as President of Princeton his pedagogical philosophy was that “The purpose of a university should be to make a man as unlike his father as possible.” All of Wilson’s dreams seem to have to been finally achieved, and nobody on either the left or right seems at all happy about it. Our feelings, certainly, are mixed.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Embracing the Suck

Once in a rare while a statesman will utter a phrase that pithily and memorably sums up the spirit of his times. Patrick Henry did so with his revolutionary cry of “Give me liberty or give me death,” Abraham Lincoln when he urged America to reconstruct itself “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” Winston Churchill with his talk of “blood, sweat, tears, and toil,” and John F. Kennedy as he vowed to “pay any price, bear any burden” in defense of liberty. For this peculiar moment in history we now have Rep. Nancy Pelosi urging her colleagues in the Democratic party to “embrace the suck.”
We had thought that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton perfectly encapsulated the zeitgeist when she defended her deadly incompetence and dishonesty in the Benghazi tragedy by snarling “What difference, at this point, does it make?” to a congressional investigative committee, but Pelosi’s bon mot might top even that. It has a certain vulgarity, illiteracy, and slanginess about it that is better suited to our age, and even more succinctly expresses the fatalistic resignation to decline that characterizes contemporary American culture.
The memorable quotation was reportedly uttered at a caucus of congressional Democrats contemplating a proposed budget bill. According to all the press accounts many of those in attendance were dissatisfied with the proposal because it did not include yet another extension of unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work since the Depression of 1819, but we suspect that the Democrats were also disgruntled about the lack of massive tax hikes, massive subsidies for community-organizing scams, massive abortions for everyone, and any number of other massive progressive wish-list items. As the leader of her party in the House of Representatives, Pelosi was sympathetically agreeing that because of the Republicans’ control of the chamber it “sucks” they can no longer run up trillion dollar tabs for such utopian necessities, but urging them to along with the deal because at least it didn’t allow such radical Republican outrages as a balanced budget. What with the manifest failure of Obamaism in general and Obamacare in particular at long last dawning upon a gullible public it “sucks” to be a liberal for the foreseeable future, Pelosi might have added, but the party should embrace the opportunity to blame the Republicans for not allowing them to do more of it.
With all of the media attention being focused on the rather nasty in-fighting between the crazed anarchist Tea Party right-wingers and the lily-livered RINO establishment sell-outs, it warms a Republican heart to know that the Democrats don’t seem to be any happier or more collegial these days. Conservatives of all temperaments are dispirited that their political leadership have acceded to a deal that continues deficit spending on an ever-expanding government that can’t seem to get anything right and is continually getting in the way of people who could otherwise make good things happen, but they can take some consolation in knowing that at least the government’s growth isn’t so ravenous or it’s debts so debilitating that they satisfy Democratic ambitions. With the budget deal now a fait accompli it might even be a good idea for conservatives to set aside the internecine warfare, await the next elections, and in the meantime embrace the suck.

— Bud Norman

Some Help from the Left

You hear a lot of weird things on the late-night “Coast to Coast” radio program, from UFO sightings to demonic possessions to every variety of conspiracy theory, but an advertisement we heard last night from “Progressives For Immigration Reform” might have topped them all.
From both the “Progressive” and the “For Immigration Reform” parts of the name you would expect the spot to be in support of the Senate’s bill calling for some phony-baloney border enforcement and a very real “path to citizenship” allowing millions of illegal immigrants to vote for the Democrats in upcoming elections, but the weird part was that group was against it. The group is not only against the border enforcement portions of the bill, something they seem to take seriously, they also argue against the idea of bringing in more illegal immigrants. All of the arguments were couched in terms of environmentalism and the depressing effects of mass immigration on the wages of low-skilled workers, which accounts for the “progressive” portion of the name, and apparently the sort of immigration reform that they are for is quite different than what the Senate has in mind.
There’s nothing surprising about progressives finding reasons to oppose mass immigration, which has traditionally been opposed by labor leaders ranging from Samuel Gompers to A. Phillip Randolph to Cesar Chavez, and which is an affront to the anti-population-growth elements of the environmental movement, but we were nonetheless surprised to hear any of them come right out and say so. The Democratic party has collectively concluded that the Senate bill serves its interests, and all of the factions within usually fall in line. This is most conspicuously true in Congress, where it takes some extreme home state or home district political pressure to get a Democrat to buck the party line, but even the rank-and-file members of our acquaintance are almost always willing to accept the party’s position even when a favored is clearly against their self-interest.
Plenty of Republicans have endorsed the Senate’s bill, always giving ostensibly conservative reasons for doing, but conservatism is an individualist philosophy and party discipline is therefore less reliable. The rank-and-file of the GOP seem to be overwhelmingly opposed to the Senate bill, though, and we expect that few Republicans in the House will be willing to swim against that surging tide. Throw in a few Democrats more beholden to the black, green, and labor lobbies than the Hispanic vote and it might be enough to defeat the bill in the House.
The conservative arguments against the bill seem more persuasive to us than what the progressives are peddling, but we’re happy to have their help nonetheless. Their support is especially helpful because no one is going to accuse them of racism, and the notion that one needn’t be a Meskin-hatin’ redneck is a significant contribution to the debate.

— Bud Norman