In Defense of a Progressive Hero

November 22, 2015

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There are some issues out there where, for better or worse, I admit that I break with what you might call liberal/progressive orthodoxy. One of them is the death penalty; I don’t believe that I have the right to tell someone who has had a friend or family member killed as the result of a violent crime that the person who was convicted of that crime cannot be put to death for it. The issue I have with it now, though, is how it is carried out – I have a problem with the application of the death penalty (here), but not the death penalty in principle.

Another issue is the guilt of Mumia Abu-Jamal; I’ve heard some learned arguments about the fact that the jury pool that convicted him was disproportionately white, but as far as the facts and evidence, I have not seen anything to date that convinces me that he didn’t kill Officer Daniel Faulkner.

And now, I’m writing about another issue where you can say that I part company with what you would call conventional wisdom.

As noted here

A group of Princeton University student protestors arrived at Nassau Hall Wednesday afternoon with sleeping bags, toothbrushes and backpacks in hand.

They said they were determined to stay and sleep in university President Christopher L. Eisgruber’s office until he agrees to make campus-wide changes for black students.

Among the changes they demanded the administration recognize the “racist legacy,” of Woodrow Wilson and change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs – as well as anything else bearing the former Princeton and U.S. president’s name, the letter stated.

I think this is taking political correctness to an utterly absurd level for reasons that I will do my best to try to explain (and I know that Dr. Cornel West, a man I otherwise respect, is now involved – just an observation and not a commentary on West one way or the other).

I am not a Wilson scholar, and I didn’t even go to Princeton; years ago, I wrote a term paper on Wilson while in college (I think I got a B for it). However, I did recently read a book by someone who I consider to be a scholar on Wilson, and that is A. Scott Berg (here).

(Now, before I begin, I want to note two things: 1) I will be careful about my selections from Berg’s book since I didn’t contact the publisher for permission to publish any excerpts from it, and 2) there are no financial considerations whatsoever involved in me doing this – I just want to put out there what I think is the best information available.)

Also, it is true that Wilson was a “son of the south,” having been born in Staunton, VA in 1856, and he enjoyed what could be called borderline racist activities such as mimicking the telling of Uncle Remus stories he heard as a boy and imitating black speech affectations from the era (I mean, Amos n’ Andy, one of the most popular radio shows from about a century ago, were basically two white guys). And yes, Wilson liked “darky” jokes and minstrel shows and participated in many such utterly “non-PC” activates during his upbringing and time in academia and government service.

But I have news for you – so did a hell of a lot of other people during the last century! And I don’t know if this will shatter any illusions or not, but I’ve said what you would call racial things too. Stupid on my part? Definitely. Sorry? Again, definitely. But I like to think that I’ve learned and know better now (it’s called “evolving,” which most people do on this and plenty of other issues).

Getting back to Wilson, though, I want to note three passages from Berg’s book that I think merit special consideration on the question of Wilson’s racism. Here is the first:

When it comes to race issues, Berg recounts how Wilson basically was betrayed by William McAdoo, who was Wilson’s Treasury Secretary and would also become Wilson’s son-in-law by virtue of his marriage to Wilson’s daughter Eleanor, and Albert S. Burleson, in charge of the U.S. Post Office. Both were primarily responsible for the segregation of their departments.

As Berg recounts (p. 309)

“Wilson…did not equate segregation with subjugation. Rather, he considered it a way for Negroes to elevate themselves, getting a foothold in American institutions so that they could start assimilating. He thought the new forces of black workers in the federal government first had to occupy the same buildings as whites before they could share the same rooms. Gradually, he believed, proximity would breed familiarity, and, in time, harmony. Powerful bigots saw segregation as a way to keep the black man down; but Wilson viewed it “with the idea that the friction, or rather the discontent and uneasiness, which had prevailed in many of the departments would thereby be removed. It is as far as possible from being a movement against the Negroes. I sincerely believe it to be in their interest.” While his cabinet members had put the policy in motion, Wilson stood behind it and owned it. “My own feeling,” he told (American journalist Oswald Villard), “is by putting certain bureaus and sections of the service in charge of Negroes, we are rendering them more safe in the possession of office and less likely to be discriminated against.” Or so (Wilson) had convinced himself.

Was it wrong for Wilson to defend this arrangement? Yes. But I don’t think Wilson did so with racial intent.

(p. 310)

“I believe that by the slow pressure of argument and persuasion the situation may be changed and a great many things done eventually which now seem impossible,” Wilson said. “But they cannot be done, either now or at any future time, if a bitter agitation is inaugurated and carried to its natural ends.” He appealed to Villard and the NAACP to “aid in holding things at a just and cool equipoise until I can discover whether it is possible to work anything out or not.” Wilson believed that there was so much intolerance in the nation just then that it would take “one hundred years to eradicate this prejudice”; if they could all avoid stirring emotions with incendiary talk and rely on evolution, they might be able to avoid revolution.

The second passage in Berg’s book has to do with the utterly barbaric 1918 Estill Springs lynching and (believe it or not) genital mutilation (lynchings were commonplace back then), about which Wilson said the following…

(p. 485)

“There have been many lynchings,” he added, “and every one of them has been a blow at the heart of ordered law and humane justice.” He declared such actions as nothing less than un-American. “We are at this very moment fighting lawless passion (referring to Germany and WWI),” Wilson stated, and lynchers only emulated Germany’s disgraceful example by disregarding the sacred obligations of the law. He said, unequivocally, “Every American who takes part in the action of a mob or gives it any sort of countenance is no true son of this great Democracy, but its betrayer, and does more to discredit her by that single disloyalty to her standards of law and of right than the words of her statesmen or the sacrifices of her heroic boys in the trenches can do to make suffering peoples believe her to be their savior.” He implored every Governor, law officer, and citizen to cooperate, “not passively merely, but actively and watchfully – to make an end to this disgraceful evil.”

The third passage of Berg’s book has to do with the private White House screening of “Birth of a Nation,” filmmaker D.W. Griffith’s hosanna to the Ku Klux Klan (and yes, I admit that that screening actually took place). Wilson had this to say afterwards…

(p. 349)

“It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true,” Wilson reportedly said when the lights came up (after the screening was over). In fact, Wilson almost certainly never said it. The encomium does not even appear in the unpublished memoirs of the self-serving Thomas Dixon (whose book “The Clansman” was the basis for the movie – Dixon apparently was able to “play” Wilson somewhat to get publicity for the movie). The only firsthand records of Wilson’s feelings about the film appear in a letter three years later, in which he wrote, “I have always felt that this was a very unfortunate production and I wish most certainly that its production might be avoided, particularly in communities where there are so many colored people.” There is no record of his sentiments beyond that, though he surely would have been troubled by the political implications of publicly supporting a movie mired in controversy. Another member of the audience that night reported that the President seemed lost in thought during the film and exited the East Room upon its completion without saying a word to anybody.”

I think something else should be considered in the matter of trying to expunge Woodrow Wilson, noted by Professor Geoffrey R. Stone (here)…

Wilson also made progressive innovations in the curriculum, raised admissions standards to move Princeton away from its historic image as an institution dedicated only to students from the upper crust, and took strides to invigorate the university’s intellectual life by replacing the traditional norm of the “gentleman’s C” with a course of serious and rigorous study. As Wilson told alumni, his goal was “to transform thoughtless boys . . . into thinking men.”

Wilson also attempted (unsuccessfully because of the resistance of alumni) to curtail the influence of social elites by abolishing the upper-class eating clubs, appointed the first Jew and the first Catholic to the faculty, and helped liberate the university’s board of trustees from the grip of tradition-bound and morally-conservative Presbyterians. Given that record of achievement, it’s easy to understand why Princeton has chosen to recognize Woodrow Wilson as one of its greatest and most influential presidents.

Basically, Princeton wouldn’t even BE Princeton if it weren’t for Woodrow Wilson!

Stone also notes the following…

…if Woodrow Wilson is to be obliterated from Princeton because his views about race were backward and offensive by contemporary standards, then what are we to do with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson, all of whom actually owned slaves? What are we to do with Abraham Lincoln, who declared in (1858?) that “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,” and that “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people”?

What are we to do with Franklin Roosevelt, who ordered the internment of 120,000 persons of Japanese descent? With Dwight Eisenhower, who issued an Executive Order declaring homosexuals a serious security risk? With Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act? With Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage?

And what are we to do with Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who once opined in a case involving compulsory sterilization that “three generations of imbeciles is enough”? With Leland Stanford, after whom Stanford University is named who, as governor of California, lobbied for the restriction of Chinese immigration, explaining to the state legislature in 1862 that “the presence of numbers of that degraded and distinct people would exercise a deleterious effect upon the superior race”?

And what are we do with all of the presidents, politicians, academic leaders, industrial leaders, jurists, and social reformers who at one time or another in American history denied women’s right to equality, opposed women’s suffrage, and insisted that a woman’s proper place was “in the home”? And on and on and on.

I think this entire movement to rid Woodrow Wilson from Princeton University is a publicity crusade by people who don’t have the slightest notion whatsoever of Wilson’s true legacy. I believe the entirety of Wilson’s vast accomplishments cannot and should not be diminished by admitted lapses in racial judgment and temperament to the point where individuals who have benefitted from Wilson’s enduring legacy now claim the right to disparage the individual who, more than anyone else, created the template for Democratic Party leadership that has endured for over a hundred years and stood as a bulwark against the corporatism and nativism that has threatened our democracy almost from its very inception.


Friday Mashup (11/16/12)

November 16, 2012

  • Memo to the Bucks County Courier Times – stop publishing make-believe headlines (from yesterday) about the market supposedly reacting to the demise of those stinking George W. Bush tax cuts once and for all; as noted here, the real reasons had to do with Hurricane Sandy and weaker-than-expected earnings from Wal-of-China Mart.
  • Also, the Murdoch Street Journal was in a fit of high dudgeon recently here over the Obama Administration (of course) and what the Journal alleges is its failure to detain/imprison/subject to extralegal “rendition”/persuade to vote Republican/kill outright a certain Ali Musa Daqdug…

    The unpleasant post-election surprises keep coming. An Iranian attack on a U.S. drone in the Persian Gulf and l’affaire Petraeus came to light last week, and Monday we learned that the Iraqis plan to release a Hezbollah terrorist with American blood on his hands.

    A senior Iraqi official has told the Administration (Daqdug) may soon walk free to attack again, according to the New York Times.

    I’m sorry that’s all I have on the Journal piece, since it went behind the pay wall and I can’t access the whole thing unless I subscribe.

    (hee hee…excuse me for a minute…“subscribe to the Journal” – too funny.)

    As noted here, though…

    The U.S. believes (Daqduq) is a top threat to Americans in the Mideast, and had asked Baghdad to extradite him even before two Iraqi courts found him not guilty of masterminding the 2007 raid on an American military base in the holy Shiite city of Karbala.

    But the July 30 decision by the Iraqi central criminal court, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, ordered that Daqduq be freed immediately. It also makes it clear that Iraq believes the legal case against Hezbollah commander is over.

    “It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case,” the three-judge panel ruled. “Therefore, the court decided to reject the request to hand over the Lebanese defendant Ali Mussa Daqduq to the U.S. judiciary authorities and to release him immediately.”

    It should also be noted that, according to the Status of Forces Agreement signed under Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History in 2008, the U.S. was required to turn over all Iraqi prisoners by the end of 2011 (and for good measure, Huckleberry Graham said that there would be “hell to pay” if Daqdug were tried in a civilian court – that’s ridiculous as far as I’m concerned, since doing that would be the fastest way to get a conviction against these characters…do Republicans honestly think that terrorists can’t communicate across the globe with the same technology we enjoy? And if one of these life forms like Daqdug ever broke loose on our soil, do they honestly think they would be able to go undercover for very long and concoct plots before they were caught?).

    I guess the Journal and their pals on Capitol Hill are giving us a peek into the Repug playbook for the next two years at least; blame the recent election on those supposedly lazy “minority” voters because they “want stuff” and try to gin up any bit of unpleasantness related to this administration as the new “scandal.”

  • Further, this missed the cutoff for Veterans Day, though I definitely agree with the sentiment that we should do all we can to help our veterans, in particular, to find employment.

    Which makes it all the more imperative for me to tell those numbskulls in charge of the U.S. House to get off the dime and pass Obama’s American Jobs Act, as noted here (Lamborn, along with the rest of his U.S. House same-party playmates, should take note in particular).

  • Next, it looks like the pastoral leader of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is telling the Catholic faithful here to engage in acts of civil disobedience, or something, over the “contraception mandate” of “Obamacare.”

    Of course, he doesn’t say anything about people whose homes were illegally foreclosed, or workers forced to train their replacements before their jobs are sent offshore (here), or people who were illegally disenfranchised or faced that threat due to voter ID laws (here), or teachers working for no pay in PA because Harrisburg somehow can’t find money for them even though our beloved commonwealth has no trouble at all doling out stinking tax cuts for the rich that don’t generate anything except wealth for people who are already wealthy (here), or anyone advocating on behalf of man-made global warming that is slowly suffocating this planet (or fracking protests, as noted here). As far as Charles Chaput is concerned, none of that merits “civil disobedience.”

    But the “contraception mandate” does.

    I wonder if Chaput knows that these people are advocating civil disobedience also. Does that make Chaput a “tenther” after all, I wonder?

    And I wonder what Chaput has to say about this (or that former Eagle Scout, Bucks County family man Mikey the Beloved, he of the six kids including three daughters)?

  • Continuing, I give you the following from here

    (Reuters) – Corporate America is raising the volume of its plea that the U.S. government avert a year-end “fiscal cliff” that could send the nation back into recession, but chief executives aren’t pushing the panic button just yet.

    No, they’re just bleating like stuck pigs as loudly as they can in an effort to tilt the economic scales as far in their favor as possible, that’s all.

    Continuing…

    Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) CEO Brian Moynihan said on Tuesday that worries about the cliff have companies holding off on spending.

    “That uncertainty continues to hold back the recovery,” Moynihan said, speaking at an investor conference in New York.

    I always believed worrying about “uncertainty” was a crock, particularly when a better case can be made that the lack of demand was much more of a culprit, but I think this post from Professor Krugman points that out pretty well; if you look at the graph and read Krugman’s analysis, then I think you can claim that the two most recent “spikes” of uncertainty on the graph were due to the Eurozone crisis (largely out of our hands) as well as the debt ceiling debacle that Boehner, Cantor and his pals are poised to repeat (definitely under our control).

    And that’s particularly ridiculous coming from Moynihan of “Skank of America”; as noted here, in a story about the utterly craven and self-serving “Fix The Debt” coalition…

    After a decade of risky and reckless mortgage lending, Bank of America survived the 2008 financial crash with the help of a $45 billion bailout. Today, Bank of America sits on $128 billion in cash — $18 billion of it is overseas —and much of that is sitting in the company’s 115 tax haven subsidiaries.

    Last year, after investors saw their stock price decline 58 percent and 30,000 Bank of America employees lost their jobs to layoffs, (Moynihan) saw his compensation quadruple to more than $8 million. His predecessor, Ken Lewis, raked in more than $50 million in the two years before the housing bubble that Bank of America had help inflate burst in 2008.

    Instead of running around going “OMIGOD THE FISCAL CLIFF THE FISCAL CLIFF OMIGOD OMIGOD!!!,” just let those Bush tax cuts die once and for all and then have Obama get together in the spring with the Senate and House “leadership” to eliminate the cap on earnings subject to Social Security withholding, preserve the home mortgage interest deduction, close some loopholes for the one percent, eliminate any tax breaks for offshoring of jobs, raise the top-end marginal rate a percentage or two and then wait for “Recovery Summer 2013.”

    (Yes, I know – if I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring…)

  • Moving on, this Brion McClanahan guy over at The Daily Tucker recently compiled his list of the five worst presidents here, and that would include both Roosevelts, Abraham Lincoln (seriously), Woodrow Wilson, and Lyndon Johnson (tied with Number 44).

    Number 1 is Lincoln because Number 16’s presidential predecessor Franklin Pierce opposed him (with Pierce, at the very least, being tainted a bit by scandal over his association with Jefferson Davis, Pierce’s former Secretary of War who later became president of the Confederacy; nothing was ever proved, though), and McClanahan also cites Roger Taney as someone who opposed Lincoln, with Taney being the author of the Dred Scott decision (here), so there’s no moral high ground there either.

    FDR is Number 2 on the list according to McClanahan because the New Deal was “obviously” unconstitutional; in response, I give you this (concerning conservatives and their so-called “Constitution in Exile” movement – and I’m pretty sure that “25 percent of Americans being dependent on government,” assuming that’s even true, had something to do with…oh, let me guess…that little dustup called WORLD WAR FREAKING TWO!!!)

    Woodrow Wilson is Number 3 on McClanahan’s list for “dragging the U.S. into World War I,” which is particularly funny since, at the time of his presidency, Wilson was criticized for not allowing U.S. entry into the war soon enough after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 (we entered the war in 1917).

    And with that in mind, I give you this particularly repulsive excerpt from McClananhan (guilt by association big time)…

    It is no coincidence that two of the bloodiest military conflicts in American history took place under progressive presidents (Wilson and FDR). That alone should place them near the bottom of historical rankings.

    So what’s the order after that? TR is Number 4, presumably because he ushered in the progressive era (though of course McClanahan gives him no credit for this), and Number 5 is Lyndon Johnson, for supposedly taking us off the gold standard, when in fact FDR started us down that road in 1933 and Richard Nixon took us off the standard once and for all in 1971 (McClanahan also tries to perpetuate the wingnut mythology that that Great Society and anti-poverty programs of the Johnson administration were a failure – I think that notion got slapped down pretty well by Joseph Califano here).

    As we can all see, the wingnutosphere is particularly good at inflating its own self-sustaining bubble of misinformation, and this dreck from McClanahan is just another example.

    However, we all saw what happened when movement conservative thought met reality on November 6th. And given the fact that the right wing never seems to learn, I’m sure we’ll see it again.

  • Finally, here is the latest on the efforts of individuals in 30 states to file secession petitions (too funny).

    So these folks really want to go, huh? Well, they might want to consider some stuff from here; namely, that they’ll have to negotiate their own commerce with other states; they likely won’t have access to basic cable or other satellite systems since all of that is regulated by the FTC; they will no longer be eligible for federal funds if a disaster strikes like a hurricane; they will no longer benefit from assistance from the National Guard (think “national” here); all inmates incarcerated at state and federal levels must be released because without federal funding, many of these law enforcement protection services will be slashed dramatically (that goes for fire protection services and emergency medical services, too); medications, chemicals, food items, and other usable material or ingestible items will no longer be federally tested or regulated for safety (no more FDA); most of your state’s banking systems will no longer be FDIC insured, so you might as well kiss those greenbacks goodbye forever; any seceding state or commonwealth will have to support its own infrastructure without federal funds, including bridges, trains, highways, airports; no more help with making sure your air is safe to breathe or your water is safe to drink, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

    And in the case of Texas in particular…well, somehow I have a feeling that Mexico would take the opportunity to settle an old score or two, which poses no issue at all as far as I’m concerned.

    So, in other words…


    Works for me.


  • What Joe Pitts Did On His Congressional Recess

    January 8, 2009

    j_pittsI’m probably the only person outside of the PA 16th U.S. Congressional District who actually cares about what (sadly) returning Repug Rep Joe Pitts did during his time away from voting “No” while taking up space under the dome, but I must confess that curiosity inspired me to find out.

    Well, this link to a right-wing site (of course) tells us that Pitts wrote an opinion column for Lancaster County Online (also for a Phoenixville, PA paper) about the supposed liberal quest to revive the Fairness Doctrine, even though (as it has been pointed out many, many times already, including here) no such quest is being or will be considered; indeed, the only “liberal” I ever heard who wanted to see the Fairness Doctrine return was a former Repug senator noted in this post.

    Also, Pancake Joe was in full-on umbrage mode over the prospect of the Dems overturning Dubya’s ban on embryonic stem cell research by legislation or executive order from President-Elect Obama, as the New York Times notes here…

    “Pro-life members in both caucuses will fight strongly to preserve sanctity of life ethics,” said (Pitts). “If they force it by legislation, those will be the votes the pro-life community will score to educate the voters as to where members stand on these issues.”

    Yeah, sure, you let me know how you make out with that, OK Joe?

    Meanwhile, in the reality-based community (from the same story)…

    Stem cells from human embryos, “are the gold standard,” said Dr. George Q. Daley, a stem cell researcher at Children’s Hospital in Boston and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Before they can be replaced by cells derived from skin cells, researchers have to know, at a detailed molecular level, how similar the two types of stem cells are, and how different.

    “There are still so many unknowns,” Dr. Daley said. “I am going to continue to have my lab use both at the same time.”

    And by the way, I was amused when I used that Google thingie to get to Pitts’ congressional home page, and I noticed that he had a link supposedly to a topic page dealing with what he called “Women’s Issues.” Well, I clicked the link, and it took me to an opinion column Pitts wrote in August 2005 called, “Women’s Rights In Iraq And America,” (no idea if this was published anywhere else) in which Pitts claimed that, “In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women’s suffrage.”

    I was unable to substantiate that claim anywhere, and Pitts doesn’t cite his source, of course, but what I can tell you from this Wikipedia article is that the battle for women’s suffrage began, more or less, in 1867 after African Americans won that right, and the right of women to vote faced opposition from both parties – the article tells us that, “The defeat of women’s suffrage in New York strengthened the Republicans’ position against women’s suffrage.” The fight ended in the summer of 1920 with the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed women the right to vote; in his column, Pitts conveniently glosses over the fact that it was passed largely due to the efforts of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson.

    To those who worked on behalf of Bruce Slater last year but came up short, take heart that, one day, Pitts will be gone by one legal means or another. To those who actually support Pitts, may you continue to comfort yourself in your invincible ignorance with the false belief that you will never be betrayed by a partisan political hack masquerading as a high priest of moral rectitude.


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