Obama’s Ideological Uncle.
The other day, reading through the comments on
Daniel Greenfield’s November 7th FrontPage article, “The
Leftist and Islamic War on the Family
,” one reader quoted Woodrow Wilson:
purpose of the education system should be to make children as
“unlike” their parents as possible,” Woodrow Wilson, U.S. President.
Intrigued, and unfamiliar with that statement by
Wilson (I had read his speeches years ago), I asked the reader for the source of
the quotation. The reader replied with ad
and did not supply a source. Mr. Greenfield, however, instead
directed me to a number of sites showing that Wilson wrote variations of that
sentiment, but not precisely the verbatim one as reported by the other reader.
One of Mr.  Greenfield’s suggestions was
the Teaching American History site which features Wilson’s 1913 essay, “What
is Progress?
” In that essay, the sentiment goes:
was for that reason that I used to say, when I had to do with the
administration of an educational institution, that I should like to make the
young gentlemen of the rising generation as unlike their fathers as possible.”
“What is Progress?” is regarded as one of Wilson’s
most definitive works. However, I found it a rambling discourse, replete with
homilies, metaphors, and non sequiturs, on why he was not so much a
“progressive” as a bona fide
socialist in search of a credible rationalization for being one that would not
scare off his auditors. Like Obama, Wilson was no friend of the Constitution.
Nor has been the federal government. All states are
dependent in varying degrees on federal largesse, from Delaware (the least) to
Mississippi (the most). See the WalletHub charts here.
Not so ironically, Republican Red States are among the most
– see the Cheat Sheet here
for details – while Democratic Blue States are among the least. Regardless  of which party has the biggest appetite for
the cocaine, this is not what the Founders had in mind when they devised the
Constitution to separate federal and state powers. Republicans have always gone
along with ensuring that the states become addicted to federal money to
facilitate highway construction and other “public works.”
Hooking the states on the fiscal drug has been a
Progressive dream from the very beginning. Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic
Progressive with a capital P, who won
the White House because the Republicans bickered over minor ideological
matters, gave the U.S. the permanent federal income tax after
flirtations with it in 1862 (the Civil War version lasted until 1872), 1894 and
1895. In 1896 The Supreme Court declared the tax unconstitutional because it was
a direct tax not apportioned by population among the states in conformance with
the Constitution.  Which, I suppose,
meant that the tax wasn’t egalitarian enough. Individual and property rights
must have gotten lost in the maze of judicial pretzel bendings.    
Wilson urged that the President concentrate on his role as the embodiment of
the nation’s popular will. In modern times, it was more important for the
President to be leader of the whole nation than it was for him to be the chief
officer of the Executive branch. (a permanent one) and the Federal Reserve
banking system, and also nationalized the railroads during WWI and instituted
other federal controls on the economy. He probably regretted not being able to
extort state dependency on the federal government.
That chore out of the way, I would say that if
Obama has been likened by the news media to Franklin D.
as the latter’s ideological “grandfather,” then Woodrow Wilson ought
to have been regarded as Obama’s ideological uncle. Yes, FDR
laid the groundwork of the welfare state on which Obama built his church of
“hope and change,” but Roosevelt in turn fashioned his own welfare state on
Wilson’s own unprecedented Executive and legislative actions and on Congress’s
“follow my leader” behavior. Theodore Roosevelt, even before Wilson, and before
“Rough Rider” Roosevelt became President, originated and refined the authoritarian
personality cult
. An article on TR by The National Portrait
engaging personality enhanced his popularity. Aided by scores of photographers,
cartoonists, and portrait artists, his features became symbols of national recognition;
mail addressed only with drawings of teeth and spectacles arrived at the White
House without delay….
since Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Jackson before him, had a President exercised
his Executive powers as an equal branch of government….If the Constitution did
not specifically deny the President the exercise of power, Roosevelt felt at
liberty to do so. “Is there any law that will prevent me from declaring
Pelican Island a Federal Bird Reservation? . . .Very well, then I so declare it!”
By Executive order in March 1903, he established the first of fifty-one
national bird sanctuaries. These and the national parks and monuments he
created are a part of his great legacy.
The thing to keep in mind is that TR was a “bully
pulpit” Republican before he was a “bully pulpit” Progressive. The transition
from one side to another must have been painless. He was a natural autocrat and
thrived on attention. Wilson, however, was not so “engaging” and was the least
likely to develop a personality cult as a dish of cold fish.
In this column, I will simply highlight some of the
salient positions taken by Wilson, and comment chiefly on “What
is Progress
?” (WIP) and on Ronald J. Pestritto’s excellent essay, “Woodrow
Wilson: Godfather of Liberalism
” (LIB).
the 2008 presidential primary campaign, Hillary Clinton was asked whether she
was a “liberal”; she distanced herself from that term (which still seems toxic
to much of the electorate) and described herself instead as a “progressive.”
When pressed, she made clear that she meant by this term to connect herself to
the original Progressives from the turn of the 20th century. Similarly, what is
arguably the most prominent think tank on the Left today is called the Center
for American Progress, which has an entire project dedicated to preserving and
protecting the legacy of America’s original Progressive Movement. (LIB)
In fact, there are no fundamental differences
between the Progressive
Party platform
of over a century ago and the means and ends of today’s Progressives.
Progressivism then meant taking incremental steps towards full-blown socialism.
Today’s Progressives avert their eyes from the equally toxic term “socialism”
and hope nobody notices. Wilson confessed:
am…forced to be a progressive, if for no other reason, because we have not kept
up with our changes of conditions, either in the economic field or in the
political field. We have not kept up as well as other nations have….
is in a situation in America which it was never in before; it is in a situation
to which we have not adjusted our laws. Our laws are still meant for business
done by individuals; they have not been satisfactorily adjusted to business
done by great combinations, and we have got to adjust them. I do not say we may
or may not; I say we must; there is no choice. (WIP)
Declaration of Independence did not mention the questions of our day. It is of no
to us
unless we can translate its general terms into examples of the
present day…” The U.S. Constitution: A Reader, page 641) (WIP)
Reality changes. Changed conditions require the
abandonment of principles that may have been applicable to the conditions of
another time, but not to our own. Or so Wilson said. The fact that advances in
business organizations (corporations, trusts) do not in fact require the
rewriting or diminution of individual rights. Modern businesses are treated by
the government as individuals in terms of taxes and legal protections. Partnerships
and combinations in the West are centuries old. For example, the Cavaliers
settled Virginia and the Puritans settled Massachusetts under the aegis of
corporations formed in England.  As water
boiled at 211.9°F (99.97°C) in 1776 and still boils at that point in 2014,
individuals owned their own lives and had certain rights and protections
against the initiation of force from criminals and the government in 1776 just
as they do now. Metaphysically, nothing’s “changed.” But government, especially
the federal government, is the Creature
with a Million Eyes
. It “sees” things differently.
elected President, Wilson helped to usher in the first wave of Progressive
reforms that would later take full flower under the Administration of Franklin
Roosevelt. While some assert that the expansion of the federal administrative
state that originated in the Wilson Administration was due to the war
mobilization effort, several key expansions came well before war mobilization
was even on the horizon. Wilson, for instance, signed the national income tax
into law in 1913 at the very outset of his Administration. In the same year, he
pushed the Federal Reserve Act through Congress; early plans for this Act had
envisioned a private board, but under Wilson’s leadership, the Federal Reserve
was created as a government enterprise.
while Wilson had criticized Theodore Roosevelt in the 1912 campaign for the
latter’s adventurous approach to foreign policy, Wilson himself certainly did
not shrink from American military intervention. He intervened in Vera Cruz in
1914 and ordered the American occupation of Haiti in 1915. (LIB)
If the liberals (progressives, socialists,
leftists) had any sense of language or even of history, they’d today avoid the negative
“branding” entailed in “progressives” and refer to themselves instead as
“reformists.” It’s such an innocuous, toothless term. There’s no toxic
connotation attached to the word. There are the “reformed” Baptists, “reformed”
Jews, “reformed” Methodists, “reformed” Mormons, and so on. But no “reformed”
Muslims (which is a contradiction in terms). What would the political
“reformists” want to “reform”? Oh, the economy. The judicial system. Education.
Legal social relationships (marriage, divorce, etc.). Business relationships. The
military. Civil police powers. All in the name of “social justice.”
On second thought, however, calling themselves
“reformists” might also backfire, suggesting by implication the term
“transformists.” Barack Obama wished to “transform” the nation from a semi-free
one into a monolithic socialist political entity.
Early plans for an Act creating a Federal Reserve
Board as a “quango,”
a quasi-autonomous entity with little of the power to micro-manage the economy that
the Board now has, would have also been unconstitutional. The Founders didn’t
intend the federal government to “manage” the economy in any capacity
whatsoever. Just find ways to  collect
revenue for its own upkeep.
Wilson cadged from Jefferson’s remark that  The tree
of liberty
must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots
and tyrants”:
believe, for one, that you cannot tear up ancient rootages and safely plant the
tree of liberty in soil which is not native to it. I believe that the ancient
traditions of a people are its ballast; you cannot make a tabula rasa
upon which to write a political program. You cannot take a new sheet of paper
and determine what your life shall be tomorrow. You must knit the new into the
old. You cannot put a new patch on an old garment without ruining it; it must be
not a patch, but something woven into the old fabric, of practically the same
pattern, of the same texture and intention. If I did not believe that to be
progressive was to preserve the essentials of our institutions, I for one could
not be a progressive. (WIP)
However, it wasn’t liberty Wilson wished to
preserve and protect. He didn’t say that directly, of course. After excessive
rhetorical verbiage he advocated “weaving” progressive programs into the “old
fabric” of legitimate constitutional law and into the American psyche in
stealthy, incremental stages. “Liberty” would eventually metamorphose into
“duty” and “good citizenship” and “social responsibility.”
Wilson resented the separation of powers between
the Executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and wished to
have that aspect of the Constitution revised or even discarded.
argued that the separation-of-powers system was both inefficient and
irresponsible. Separation of powers was inefficient because it prevented
government from solving the problems of modern life in a coordinated way;
instead, the various organs of government were busy attacking and struggling
against one another. It was irresponsible because the system made it difficult
for the government to implement new public policy, even when the new policy
reflected a clear new direction in public opinion….
Based on his objection to the separation of
powers and his general objection to the Founders’ understanding of government,
Wilson put forth a series of institutional proposals designed in one way or
another to overcome the fixed notion of politics that is at the heart of
limited government….
institutional substitute for the Founders’ separation of powers is best
understood as the separation of politics and administration…. Wilson’s
separation of politics and administration also brings us to a fundamental
paradox in his thought. His vision of government seems to be one in which the
unified will of the public has a much more direct role to play in politics than
the Founders had envisioned. Yet politics, while increasingly democratized in
Wilson’s thought, also becomes much less authoritative. The emphasis in
government shifts to administration. (LIB) [Italics
One of the express purposes of the separation of
powers was to create “gridlock” and “inefficiency” between Congress and the Executive
branch, and also between the Senate and the House of Representatives. The
Senate was designed to check the populist or progressive legislation emanating
in the House. This separation today has largely been obviated. Wilson wanted no
“irresponsible” obstructions to his Progressive legislation, once it was
enacted. Then it would be a mere task of its administration.
Pestritto raises an interesting point concerning
Wilson’s vaunted wish to allow “the people” a stronger voice in politics:
separation of politics and administration also brings us to a fundamental
paradox in his thought. His vision of government seems to be one in which the
unified will of the public has a much more direct role to play in politics than
the Founders had envisioned. [The Founders loathed democracy or mob rule.] Yet
politics, while increasingly democratized in Wilson’s thought, also becomes
much less authoritative. The emphasis in government shifts to administration.
(Square brackets mine.)
implications of this shift are profound: Consent of the governed comes in the
realm of traditional politics. The disparagement of politics in favor of
administration moves the focal point in government away from popular consent
and into the hands of unelected “experts.” Such a shift marks the origin of
American government today, where more policy is made by bureaucracies than by
elected representatives.
key to Wilson’s separation of politics and administration was to keep the
former out of the latter’s way. Administration is properly the province of
scientific experts in the bureaucracy. The competence of these experts in the
specific technological means required to achieve those ends on which we are all
agreed gives them the authority to administer or regulate progress unhindered
by those within the realm of politics. Persons or institutions within politics
can claim no such expertise. (LIB)
The average voter or politician could not be an
“expert” in administration. Therefore, whatever he might have to say about
statist policies or Constitutional law or statist legislation was de facto irrelevant. Only the Platonic
“experts” in the bureaucracies would know what they were doing. Please don’t
laugh. Wilson and all the government experts there ever were after him took
that as a truism not to be questioned. You, the average American citizen, would
perform the productive work. The “expert” administrators would dispose of or
distribute it according to their lights. They, the “elite,” the guardians of
Plato’s caves, would manage everything for the “public or common good.”
And here is Wilson’s prophetic vision of the Executive
branch of government:
presidency became for Wilson a principal means by which the limits placed on
government by the separation of powers could be transcended. His new
institutional vision for the presidency required the President to look beyond
his constitutionally defined powers and duties.
Wilson urged that the President concentrate on his role as the embodiment of
the nation’s popular will. In modern times, it was more important for the
President to be leader of the whole nation than it was for him to be the chief
officer of the Executive branch. (LIB)
Wilson more or less advocated the role of the
President become one of an unopposed autocrat.
contrasted the President’s duties as “legal executive” to his “political
powers,” advocating an emphasis on the latter as a means of using popular
opinion to transcend the rigid separation-of-powers structure of the old
“Newtonian” constitutional framework.  As
opposed to remaining confined to the constitutionally defined powers and duties
of his own branch, the President’s role as popular leader means that he must,
as the embodiment of the national will, move Congress and the other parts of
government to act in a coordinated way.
emphasized the person of the President, not his office. It is the man himself
and his personality that come to embody the national will. “Governments are
what the politicians make them,” Wilson wrote, “and it is easier to write of
the President than of the presidency.  This is why a President’s expertise in public
affairs is not as important as his having a forceful personality and other
qualities of popular leadership.
America needs, Wilson wrote, is “a man who will be and who will seem to the
country in some sort an embodiment of the character and purpose it wishes its
government to have—a man who understands his own day and the needs of the
country.” As an embodiment of the public will, the President can transcend the
government and coordinate its activities. This is why it is wrong to limit the
President with the traditional checks of the Constitution. The President is
“the unifying force in our complex system” and must not be relegated to
managing only one branch of it.  (LIB)
Hitler claimed to be the embodiment of the people’s
wishes. So did Mussolini, and Mao, and the Perons of Argentina. They all
transcended the limited governments of their countries and got their
parliaments or congresses to “coordinate” their activities, or bypassed them
completely or dissolved them. They all established personality cults. They all
served as “unifying forces” and weren’t satisfied with managing a paltry single
branch. Their “wills” had to triumph.
And we all know what it led to. Just think of it. Here
was Woodrow Wilson, an otherwise colorless,  bespectacled man who wore three-piece suits, a
harmless ex-college professor and university president, championing a “superman”
of unlimited power, and, whether or not  he
knew it, unleashed the carnage of another world war and the suffocation of
freedom and civilization.
If Obama is FDR’s ideological “grandson,” Wilson was
his ideological uncle who enunciated Obama’s abuses of power about three
generations before Obama was even born. And Obama’s regulation garb is golf