Commentary Magazine


Topic: Woodrow Wilson

Obama’s SOTU Borrowed from Other Famous Speeches

President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday was widely panned as “boring” by critics. But could the reason be because Americans have heard it all before?

U.S. News & World Report columnist Alvin Felzenberg argued that Obama’s speech was “tantamount to plagiarism” and that it “contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince.”

And while it looks like that an overuse of clichés — as opposed to outright plagiarism — is responsible for the reused lines, Tuesday’s State of the Union does seem to have borrowed heavily from other famous speeches.

Here are some of the misappropriated lines, according to Felzenberg:

• Obama’s references to American as a “light to the world” were taken from Woodrow Wilson.

• The theme of the “American family” resembled Mario Cuomo’s proclamations of the New York “family” in 1993.

• At a 1991 speech in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher said that “no other nation has been built upon an idea.” Obama said something similar in his speech Tuesday.

• The reference to a “Sputnik Moment” channeled Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• By honoring “ordinary heroes,” Obama was taking a page from Ronald Reagan.

• Obama remarked that, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” which bears a striking resemblance to JFK’s assertion that “I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

It’s not unusual for politicians to quote or borrow from great historical leaders in speeches. But it’s noteworthy that Obama, who was supposed to be such a phenomenal communicator, is so reliant on the words of others. For all the rhetorical prowess attributed to him during the 2008 election, his speeches have consistently fallen short of public expectations since he’s taken office.

President Obama’s State of the Union on Tuesday was widely panned as “boring” by critics. But could the reason be because Americans have heard it all before?

U.S. News & World Report columnist Alvin Felzenberg argued that Obama’s speech was “tantamount to plagiarism” and that it “contained enough recycled ideas and lines lifted from speeches of others to make historians wince.”

And while it looks like that an overuse of clichés — as opposed to outright plagiarism — is responsible for the reused lines, Tuesday’s State of the Union does seem to have borrowed heavily from other famous speeches.

Here are some of the misappropriated lines, according to Felzenberg:

• Obama’s references to American as a “light to the world” were taken from Woodrow Wilson.

• The theme of the “American family” resembled Mario Cuomo’s proclamations of the New York “family” in 1993.

• At a 1991 speech in the U.S., Margaret Thatcher said that “no other nation has been built upon an idea.” Obama said something similar in his speech Tuesday.

• The reference to a “Sputnik Moment” channeled Dwight D. Eisenhower.

• By honoring “ordinary heroes,” Obama was taking a page from Ronald Reagan.

• Obama remarked that, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth,” which bears a striking resemblance to JFK’s assertion that “I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation.”

It’s not unusual for politicians to quote or borrow from great historical leaders in speeches. But it’s noteworthy that Obama, who was supposed to be such a phenomenal communicator, is so reliant on the words of others. For all the rhetorical prowess attributed to him during the 2008 election, his speeches have consistently fallen short of public expectations since he’s taken office.

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Forget Mixed Seating. How About the President Just Mailing It In?

In the wake of President Obama’s call for more civility in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, some in his party are seeking a symbolic effort to play down partisanship during one of the Capitol’s annual displays of partisanship: the State of the Union speech. Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado has called for mixed seating during the event. The Democratic leaders like it, and Republicans, who are leery of being portrayed as insufficiently sensitive or overly partisan, are not opposing the plan.

Is there anything wrong with the idea? Not really. The tradition of having Democrats sit on one side of the Chamber and Republicans on the other is based on the way Congress operates when it is in a normal session. Congressional seating patterns, not to mention the existence of organized political parties, are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

However, it is not clear that mixed seating will achieve the avowed purpose of those advocating this measure, which is to avoid the sophomoric displays of partisanship that have become a regular feature of State of the Union speeches. While representatives and senators from both parties stand and applaud, as they should, during the president’s entrance, once the speech starts, the two sides morph into a congressional version of a college football game, where the supporters of the two teams divide the stadium and engage in organized cheers. It doesn’t matter which party holds the White House or Congress. Every year, the president can count on raucous cheers and standing ovations from his fellow party members in the chamber while members of the other party ostentatiously stay seated and silent.

Will mixed seating prevent a recurrence of this nonsense? The answer here is probably not. When the president speaks a line that is designed to appeal to the sensibilities of his own party — for example, one urging Congress not to repeal his health-care program — most Democrats are likely to stand and cheer while Republicans will remain seated (and need to restrain themselves from muttering their disapproval, which would lead to accusations of bad manners, such as those aimed at Justice Samuel Alito, who silently voiced his disapproval at a presidential barb aimed at the Supreme Court last year). The odds are, Democrats will get up and applaud and Republicans will not at certain points in the speech. And they will do so even if they have not clumped together by party. Read More

In the wake of President Obama’s call for more civility in the wake of the tragedy in Arizona, some in his party are seeking a symbolic effort to play down partisanship during one of the Capitol’s annual displays of partisanship: the State of the Union speech. Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado has called for mixed seating during the event. The Democratic leaders like it, and Republicans, who are leery of being portrayed as insufficiently sensitive or overly partisan, are not opposing the plan.

Is there anything wrong with the idea? Not really. The tradition of having Democrats sit on one side of the Chamber and Republicans on the other is based on the way Congress operates when it is in a normal session. Congressional seating patterns, not to mention the existence of organized political parties, are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.

However, it is not clear that mixed seating will achieve the avowed purpose of those advocating this measure, which is to avoid the sophomoric displays of partisanship that have become a regular feature of State of the Union speeches. While representatives and senators from both parties stand and applaud, as they should, during the president’s entrance, once the speech starts, the two sides morph into a congressional version of a college football game, where the supporters of the two teams divide the stadium and engage in organized cheers. It doesn’t matter which party holds the White House or Congress. Every year, the president can count on raucous cheers and standing ovations from his fellow party members in the chamber while members of the other party ostentatiously stay seated and silent.

Will mixed seating prevent a recurrence of this nonsense? The answer here is probably not. When the president speaks a line that is designed to appeal to the sensibilities of his own party — for example, one urging Congress not to repeal his health-care program — most Democrats are likely to stand and cheer while Republicans will remain seated (and need to restrain themselves from muttering their disapproval, which would lead to accusations of bad manners, such as those aimed at Justice Samuel Alito, who silently voiced his disapproval at a presidential barb aimed at the Supreme Court last year). The odds are, Democrats will get up and applaud and Republicans will not at certain points in the speech. And they will do so even if they have not clumped together by party.

An even better suggestion than mixed seating would be to do away with this televised extravaganza altogether. While the Constitution does mandate that the president report to the Congress annually on the state of the union, it does not say he needs to go there and speak to them in person on national TV. Until the 20th century, the practice (initiated by Thomas Jefferson, who thought the speech that his two predecessors had delivered was too reminiscent of the British monarch’s annual speech from the throne) was for the president to write his report and then have it delivered via messenger to the Congress, where the Clerk of the House publicly read it. Woodrow Wilson revived the practice of delivering it in person; and as first radio and then television entered into the question, it became a highly choreographed ritual that served as a valuable PR tool for every president.

The point is, if ending the obnoxious partisanship and pointless rituals of the occasion is the goal, the president can write and then deliver his speech from the Oval Office, something that would satisfy his constitutional obligation without forcing the nation to endure a pointless spectacle. While I am sure that no president will take up this suggestion, doing so will not only end the partisanship that nobody likes but might also encourage presidents to stick to serious policy points and avoid the smarmy feel-good touches (such as singling out praiseworthy citizens who have been invited to sit in the gallery) that have made the speech an even lengthier and more boring ordeal that it needs to be.

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Saving Private Pelosi: Nancy’s Spielberg Makeovers

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

The Washington Post reported today that film director Steven Spielberg may soon be serving as a consultant to former Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she attempts to “rebrand” House Democrats after a historic defeat in which they lost 61 seats to the Republicans. Though Spielberg’s spokesperson attempted to throw cold water on this item, as the Post noted, it was a “classic non-denial denial.”

Spielberg is well known to be a loyal Democrat who has in the past helped raise money and promote the candidacies of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But the idea that the famed moviemaker can pull something out of his hat — other, that is, than some more Hollywood cash — to change America’s mind about one of the least-liked political figures of the day may be asking a bit too much. Though Spielberg is not unfamiliar with epic disasters, such as his famous flop 1941, attempting to “rebrand” a shrill, unlikeable ideologue like Pelosi is a daunting task.

What advice could Spielberg offer to Pelosi? Changing the public’s mind about a woman whose unpopularity was a greater factor in this year’s GOP victory than the virtues of her opponents will require Spielberg to tap deep into his archive of film hits. In the hope of providing some insight into the machinations of this liberal brain trust, here are some possible previews of Spielberg-inspired TV commercials and short films that will air in the future in battleground states:

Saving Private Blue Dog: A picked squad of Democratic House members led by Pelosi venture deep into a Red State in order to extricate a beleaguered member from a GOP-dominated district, climaxing with the wounded Speaker urging the lost Democrat to “earn this” as she expires.

E.T.: The Sequel: The famous cuddly alien is about to be waterboarded by Republicans but is rescued by Pelosi, who makes off with him on her bicycle as the two discuss immigration reform.

Close Encounters with Democrats: A random group of Americans find themselves inexplicably drawn to gather at the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to attend an indoctrination session with Pelosi about supporting ObamaCare.

Raiders of the Lost Democrat: Pelosi leads a multi-continental search for the lost copy of the Bill of Rights. After being captured by Dick Cheney and his band of evil Republicans, Pelosi witnesses the opening of the ark, which contains what is believed to be the artifact. Cheney and the GOPniks melt, but when Pelosi reads the artifact, it turns out to be merely a memo from Rahm Emanuel about earmarks.

Jaws V: The Democrats’ Revenge: Pelosi attempts to save the population of a beach community endangered by a ruthlessly pro-business Republican town council in cahoots with a shark believed to be responsible for an oil spill. Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Richard Dreyfuss (as himself) take to the sea to catch the shark. Pelosi and Dreyfuss swim to shore after the battle, determined to make peace in the Middle East.

Jurassic Park: The Lost World of Politicians: An attempt to clone famous Democrats of the past at a theme park goes tragically wrong as the reincarnated Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson attempt to reimpose Jim Crow on an unwilling America. Pelosi is forced to join forces with Republicans as they bring back Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt to counter the Dem icons. The conclusion is a sermon on bipartisanship.

Happy holidays to readers of all persuasions and parties!

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Is President Obama the New Woodrow Wilson?

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

Jen referred this morning to David Brooks’s column, in which he advises the President to change his ways after the midterm election, especially if it turns out to be as disastrous for Democrats as nearly everyone expects. And this means changing his politics, just as Bill Clinton did after the 1994 midterm:

Obama needs to redefine his identity. Bill Clinton gave himself a New Democrat label. Obama has never categorized himself so clearly. This ambiguity was useful in 2008 when people could project whatever they wanted onto him. But it has been harmful since. Obama came to be defined by his emergency responses to the fiscal crisis — by the things he had to do, not by the things he wanted to do. Then he got defined as an orthodox, big government liberal who lacks deep roots in American culture.

Unlike Clinton, who doesn’t have an ideological bone in his body, I’m not sure Obama has the capacity to do that. I’ve just finished reading Louis Auchincloss’s mini-biography of Woodrow Wilson (part of the “Penguin Lives” series), and I was struck by the similarities between the country’s first liberal president and the man who might be its last (I know, I know, ever the optimist).

Wilson was, at heart, an academic, the author of several books, (including Congressional Government, still in print after 125 years). He thought and acted like a professor even after he entered politics. Wilson always took it for granted, for instance, that he was the smartest guy in the room and acted accordingly. Does that sound familiar? Wilson was a remarkably powerful orator. (It was he who revived the custom of delivering the State of the Union message in person, a custom that had been dropped by Thomas Jefferson, a poor and most reluctant public speaker.)

Both men had very short public careers before the White House. Wilson’s only pre-presidential office was two years as Governor of New Jersey. And Wilson thought he had a pipeline to God, which allowed him to divine what was best for the world and gave him a moral obligation to give it to the world whether the world wanted it or not. This last tendency, evident even when he was president of Princeton University, became more pronounced with age as a series of debilitating strokes (the first at age 40) increasingly rigidified his personality.

Both Wilson and Obama were the subjects of remarkable public adulation, and both won the Nobel Peace Prize for their aspirations rather than their accomplishments. In Wilson’s case, at least, it only increased his sense of being God’s instrument on earth. Although the Republicans had won majorities just before Armistice Day in November 1918, in both houses of Congress — and the Senate’s consent by a two-thirds majority would be necessary to ratify any treaty — Wilson shut them out of any say in the treaty he went to Paris to negotiate with the other victorious powers. Obama, of course, shut the Republicans out of any say in both the stimulus bill and ObamaCare.

The result was disastrous for Wilson’s dream of world peace. So obsessed was he with creating a League of Nations that he was willing to surrender on almost everything else enunciated in his Fourteen Points to get it. Clemenceau and Lloyd George, shrewd and ruthless negotiators, played him like a fiddle. The result was the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps the most catastrophic work of diplomacy in world history, which produced a smoldering resentment in Germany at its harshness, a resentment exploited by Adolf Hitler.

When Wilson returned home, he flatly refused to compromise with the Republicans in the Senate and embarked on a speaking tour to build public pressure to force the treaty and the League through. The result was another stroke that left him incapacitated. The treaty was defeated 55-39, and when the Republicans tried to add a “reservation” that was essentially trivial but would have resulted in ratification, Wilson would have none of it. If he could not have the treaty, word for word, that he had negotiated, then he preferred nothing. He asked Democratic senators to vote against the amended treaty, and they did so. As a result, the United States did not join the League, which was hopelessly ineffective without the world’s greatest power, and what Wilson had hoped would be eternal peace became a 20-year truce.

President Obama, so far as I know, is in the best of health, but will he be any more able to deal with a changed political reality and work with Republicans? I hope so, but even this incorrigible optimist is not too confident of that.

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Don’t Tell Me Why I Hate Woodrow Wilson

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me. Read More

Professor David Greenberg writes in Slate today that the conservative dislike of Woodrow Wilson is “confused,” “bad as an interpretation of the facts,” and “demonstrably inaccurate.” He implies elsewhere that it is a “crackpot history” that requires not only debunking but also ridicule. But beyond the blustery rhetoric, Greenberg only proves that he misunderstands conservatives’ beef with the 28th president.

Full disclosure: in 2009, I graduated from Hillsdale College – which Greenberg blames for influencing Glenn Beck and, therefore, fueling the Tea Party’s hatred of Woodrow Wilson. More particularly, I was a student of Ronald J. Pestritto, whom Greenberg cites as particularly influential in demonizing Wilson. Having sat in Dr. Pestritto’s classroom and painstakingly highlighted my way through his book on Wilson, I understand his critique quite well. (I am also gruesomely familiar with Dr. Pestritto’s rigorous grading standards, and I can say with some certainty that the quality of Greenberg’s argument here would have earned him academic casualties.) I will not presume to speak for Dr. Pestritto — he has made his own case comprehensively — but after learning from him, I can at least explain why I dislike Woodrow Wilson as a president. It’s for very different reasons than those Greenberg presumes to attribute to me.

Back to the Slate piece. The first several paragraphs can be skimmed, as the author bizarrely points out commonalities between Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush and faults Glenn Beck for once not knowing something before he learned it. In the fifth paragraph, Greenberg makes a minor concession to the “nub of truth amid the distortion of the right’s Wilson-bashing.” He acknowledges that Woodrow Wilson expanded the power of the presidency, a Tea Party complaint.

But in actuality, that is only a secondary reason why conservatives dislike Wilsonian liberalism. In a nutshell, Wilson introduced the idea of a “living” Constitution, opening up infinite opportunities for revisionists to throw off the delicate balances within government so thoughtfully established in the original text. Wilson’s scholarly background taught him to embrace big government as the solution to the problems of the citizenry. He saw himself as a philosopher-king, much like the one we have today. And inherent in that perception was a condescending elitism. He became the patriarch of American paternalism, justifying his behavior with appeals to “history” as he perceived it.

The Tea Party movement argues that because of their academic snobbery, those who follow in the footsteps of Woodrow Wilson have lost touch with liberty-loving Americans. As evidence of this, I defer to Greenberg, who writes:

For Wilson, [presidential activism] involved regulating finance and the money supply, limiting the corporations’ demands on their laborers, aiding farmers, preventing monopolistic practices, and making the new federal income tax a graduated one. Just three months ago, I wrote in Slate that over the last century, almost no one has questioned these achievements; clearly, I hadn’t been watching enough Fox.

It is little surprise, then, that Greenberg defends Wilson in the ex-president’s own language. “Of course, even those who happily admit to wanting to repeal a century’s worth of regulation have to reckon with a fundamental flaw in today’s Wilson hatred: It’s completely ahistorical,” he writes. He goes on to paint Woodrow Wilson as the man of his times, a leader fearlessly responding to the pulse of his era, a president whose choices are only fathomable when history is properly considered. The problem with this argument is that the existence of “history” as a moving, authoritative force is questionable at best, and Woodrow Wilson made history as much as he responded to it. And it is a bit presumptuous of Greenberg, in any case, to claim a superior understanding of history’s motives and pathways.

But in the interest of dialogue, let’s grant Greenberg the generous assumption that Wilson really was the man of his time and that all his actions were justifiable as such. Toward the end of his article, he asserts:

Properly situated in this context, Wilson and other progressives emerge not as proto-fascists or wild renegades but as tempered, moderate reformers. They implemented major changes, but those changes were in tune with the mainstream of public sentiment.

In today’s electoral climate, this is precisely the last argument the author should be making – especially if the role of the president is to follow public opinion. But instead, today’s liberals take another cue from Wilson, who believed that a political leader must remain one step ahead of public opinion, pulling it along and shaping it without ever straying too far.

But Americans sense when they’re being dragged along by the ear. This, too, makes them resentful of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential example.

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How About Defunding Them?

In the “has everyone gone mad?” department, we’ve been following the story of the decision by the Woodrow Wilson International Center — a taxpayer-supported institution (Why exactly? Heritage and many other think tanks aren’t on the federal dole.) — to give an award to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Well, when you need to give a ridiculous explanation for an anti-Israel, anti-West, anti common-sense move and to avoid any sharp questioning, you go to Laura Rozen (who also transcribes J Street’s missives and is happy to funnel unsourced, anti-Semitic jibes against Dennis Ross), who dutifully reports the excuse:

Earlier this week, House Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) released a letter to Woodrow Wilson’s President former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) — his former chairman and colleague on the House Foreign Affairs Committee- – expressing displeasure that the think tank would honor the Turkish diplomat after Ankara has escalated tensions with Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid and voted against UN Iran sanctions.

But a Woodrow Wilson Center spokeswoman told POLITICO Thursday that as far as she knew, neither the Center nor Hamilton had received Ackerman’s letter.

“Awardees are not chosen for their political views,” Sharon McCarter, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s vice president for outreach and communications, told POLITICO in an e-mail.

“Mr. Davutoglu has had a diverse career as a scholar, a professor, a political scientist, an author, a civil servant, an international diplomat, and currently as Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — a position he assumed in May 2009,” McCarter continued. “He also fits the Wilsonian mold of being both a scholar and a policymaker. He was invited to accept the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in August 2009 in recognition of his lifelong service to the Turkish public in these many professional fields, many of which are similar to Woodrow Wilson’s life.

Apparently, she didn’t think to ask whether McCarter was serious. Would an award have been given to the foreign minister of South Africa during the apartheid? To a Soviet defense minister during the Cold War? Nor does she ask McCarter how it is remotely possible that a well-publicized letter excoriating the Center could have eluded Hamilton.

Here’s an idea: the Center sounds like it isn’t interested in furthering Western values or American interests. Fine. They can knock themselves out shoveling the same internationalist tripe that a dozen Washington think tanks do every day. The taxpayers just shouldn’t have to pay for it.( In fact why is government in the think tank business at all?) Any money spent on those with no moral compass is too much. Let ‘em fend for themselves.

In the “has everyone gone mad?” department, we’ve been following the story of the decision by the Woodrow Wilson International Center — a taxpayer-supported institution (Why exactly? Heritage and many other think tanks aren’t on the federal dole.) — to give an award to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Well, when you need to give a ridiculous explanation for an anti-Israel, anti-West, anti common-sense move and to avoid any sharp questioning, you go to Laura Rozen (who also transcribes J Street’s missives and is happy to funnel unsourced, anti-Semitic jibes against Dennis Ross), who dutifully reports the excuse:

Earlier this week, House Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) released a letter to Woodrow Wilson’s President former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) — his former chairman and colleague on the House Foreign Affairs Committee- – expressing displeasure that the think tank would honor the Turkish diplomat after Ankara has escalated tensions with Israel in the wake of the Gaza flotilla raid and voted against UN Iran sanctions.

But a Woodrow Wilson Center spokeswoman told POLITICO Thursday that as far as she knew, neither the Center nor Hamilton had received Ackerman’s letter.

“Awardees are not chosen for their political views,” Sharon McCarter, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s vice president for outreach and communications, told POLITICO in an e-mail.

“Mr. Davutoglu has had a diverse career as a scholar, a professor, a political scientist, an author, a civil servant, an international diplomat, and currently as Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs — a position he assumed in May 2009,” McCarter continued. “He also fits the Wilsonian mold of being both a scholar and a policymaker. He was invited to accept the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service in August 2009 in recognition of his lifelong service to the Turkish public in these many professional fields, many of which are similar to Woodrow Wilson’s life.

Apparently, she didn’t think to ask whether McCarter was serious. Would an award have been given to the foreign minister of South Africa during the apartheid? To a Soviet defense minister during the Cold War? Nor does she ask McCarter how it is remotely possible that a well-publicized letter excoriating the Center could have eluded Hamilton.

Here’s an idea: the Center sounds like it isn’t interested in furthering Western values or American interests. Fine. They can knock themselves out shoveling the same internationalist tripe that a dozen Washington think tanks do every day. The taxpayers just shouldn’t have to pay for it.( In fact why is government in the think tank business at all?) Any money spent on those with no moral compass is too much. Let ‘em fend for themselves.

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Obama’s Humiliation of Israel May Only Be Getting Started

After days of a news blackout about the details of the meeting on Tuesday between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Britain’s Telegraph has broken a story with details about what can only be described as an attempt to humiliate the Israeli.

According to the Telegraph’s account, the meeting began with the president presenting a list of 13 demands to Netanyahu. These included a complete freeze on Jewish building in eastern Jerusalem. When Netanyahu did not immediately accede to this diktat, Obama left him saying he was going to go eat dinner with his wife and daughters. Netanyahu and his party were left to wait for over an hour for Obama’s return. The paper claims that as Obama left, he told the prime minister to consider “the error of his ways.” Yediot Ahronot reported that Obama merely said, “I’m still around. Let me know if there is anything new.” A second brief meeting followed, which apparently consisted of the president restating his demands. As a punishment for Netanyahu’s failure to immediately bend to Obama’s ultimatum, there was no joint statement issued about the meeting and no press coverage of the visit. Friday’s Ma’ariv describes the scene thusly: “There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage. Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Obama wants an answer to his demands by Saturday so he can then present them to a meeting of the Arab League going on in Libya so that ineffectual body can endorse the so-called proximity talks in which the Palestinian Authority refuses to directly negotiate with Israel.

All of which points to the fact that the crisis between Israel and the United States, which many observers had thought was blowing over in the wake of the trumped-up controversy over the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, is far from concluded. In fact, it appears that Obama is just getting started.

What does the president hope to achieve? Having asked and gotten a building freeze in the West Bank from Netanyahu last year, the Palestinians still won’t sit and talk peace directly with Israel. Why should they when every time Israel makes a concession, the Arabs can now count on Obama demanding more, even to the point of making an issue of something like building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, which had never previously been a sticking point for the Americans. Since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem as recently as late 2008, does Obama think Netanyahu — or any Israeli leader — can offer more? Does he truly believe that for the first time in their history, the Palestinians will take “yes” — since Netanyahu has also already agreed to the principle of a two-state solution — for an answer?

Perhaps, the 13-point ultimatum is just another attempt to topple Netanyahu’s coalition. But there is no reason to believe that Netanyahu’s partners — and the vast majority of the Israeli people — will not support him, especially when the issue at stake is the unity of Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Israelis will clamor for surrender to Washington in light of the fact that the man making these demands is an American president whom they rightly regard as hostile to their nation. But after Israel says “no” to Obama, does Obama dare escalate his diplomatic offensive against Israel further, even as his administration’s efforts to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability appear stalled? Obama has nothing to gain in continuing on this path, but then again, there was no point in starting this ruckus and choosing to humiliate the only democracy in the Middle East in the first place. Is Obama capable of stopping before this train wreck of a policy creates even more mischief in the region, as well as for Democrats seeking Jewish support this year?

Finally, one more thought about Obama’s 13-point ultimatum: It brings to mind the reaction of French President Georges Clemenceau to American President Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points” aimed at ending World War One in 1918. Stunned at Wilson’s presumption, Clemenceau quipped: “Even the good Lord contented Himself with only Ten Commandments, and we should not try to improve upon them.” The same might well be said of Obama’s arrogance.

After days of a news blackout about the details of the meeting on Tuesday between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Britain’s Telegraph has broken a story with details about what can only be described as an attempt to humiliate the Israeli.

According to the Telegraph’s account, the meeting began with the president presenting a list of 13 demands to Netanyahu. These included a complete freeze on Jewish building in eastern Jerusalem. When Netanyahu did not immediately accede to this diktat, Obama left him saying he was going to go eat dinner with his wife and daughters. Netanyahu and his party were left to wait for over an hour for Obama’s return. The paper claims that as Obama left, he told the prime minister to consider “the error of his ways.” Yediot Ahronot reported that Obama merely said, “I’m still around. Let me know if there is anything new.” A second brief meeting followed, which apparently consisted of the president restating his demands. As a punishment for Netanyahu’s failure to immediately bend to Obama’s ultimatum, there was no joint statement issued about the meeting and no press coverage of the visit. Friday’s Ma’ariv describes the scene thusly: “There is no humiliation exercise that the Americans did not try on the prime minister and his entourage. Bibi received in the White House the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea.”

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Obama wants an answer to his demands by Saturday so he can then present them to a meeting of the Arab League going on in Libya so that ineffectual body can endorse the so-called proximity talks in which the Palestinian Authority refuses to directly negotiate with Israel.

All of which points to the fact that the crisis between Israel and the United States, which many observers had thought was blowing over in the wake of the trumped-up controversy over the announcement of a Jerusalem housing project during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, is far from concluded. In fact, it appears that Obama is just getting started.

What does the president hope to achieve? Having asked and gotten a building freeze in the West Bank from Netanyahu last year, the Palestinians still won’t sit and talk peace directly with Israel. Why should they when every time Israel makes a concession, the Arabs can now count on Obama demanding more, even to the point of making an issue of something like building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, which had never previously been a sticking point for the Americans. Since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has already rejected an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem as recently as late 2008, does Obama think Netanyahu — or any Israeli leader — can offer more? Does he truly believe that for the first time in their history, the Palestinians will take “yes” — since Netanyahu has also already agreed to the principle of a two-state solution — for an answer?

Perhaps, the 13-point ultimatum is just another attempt to topple Netanyahu’s coalition. But there is no reason to believe that Netanyahu’s partners — and the vast majority of the Israeli people — will not support him, especially when the issue at stake is the unity of Jerusalem. It is unlikely that Israelis will clamor for surrender to Washington in light of the fact that the man making these demands is an American president whom they rightly regard as hostile to their nation. But after Israel says “no” to Obama, does Obama dare escalate his diplomatic offensive against Israel further, even as his administration’s efforts to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability appear stalled? Obama has nothing to gain in continuing on this path, but then again, there was no point in starting this ruckus and choosing to humiliate the only democracy in the Middle East in the first place. Is Obama capable of stopping before this train wreck of a policy creates even more mischief in the region, as well as for Democrats seeking Jewish support this year?

Finally, one more thought about Obama’s 13-point ultimatum: It brings to mind the reaction of French President Georges Clemenceau to American President Woodrow Wilson’s “14 Points” aimed at ending World War One in 1918. Stunned at Wilson’s presumption, Clemenceau quipped: “Even the good Lord contented Himself with only Ten Commandments, and we should not try to improve upon them.” The same might well be said of Obama’s arrogance.

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The Secret History of Neoconservatism

The furor over the supposedly perfidious influence of “neocons” in the making of Bush foreign policy seems to have died down a bit. But it will nevertheless remain part of the lasting legend about this administration. Bob Kagan, one of our foremost foreign policy sages, has a must-read article on the subject in the latest issue of Lawrence Kaplan’s new foreign policy quarterly, World Affairs.

Kagan makes many valuable points, but in essence his argument is that there is absolutely nothing new or foreign about the “neocon” vision—combining power with idealism to make the defense of democracy a central tenet of American policy. The more fevered critics of the neocons insist on explaining their world view with reference to Leon Trotsky, Leo Strauss, and other philosophers of marginal influence in modern America. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally have never read a single book by either Trotsky or Strauss.) They would be better advised, Kagan notes, to look to figures as varied as Alexander Hamilton, William Seward, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dean Acheson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom advocated an expansive vision of America’s role in the world.

The opposing viewpoint—which denounces American “imperialism” and abjures the defense of liberty abroad—has an equally long history.  It lists among its proponents not only modern-day neocon-bashers such as Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan, but also such illustrious predecessors as the “progressive” historians Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams and realpolitik thinkers like Hans Morgenthau and Walter Lippmann.

Nor is this the first time that the more fevered critics of the war effort have wound up charging that the country was “lied” into war by nefarious conspirators. Today it’s neocons. In the past it was banana companies, “merchants of death,” and international bankers. Such assertions have been heard about the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. (In other words, after every conflict that has turned out to be tougher than anticipated.) Even when it came to World War II, some die-hard isolationists accused FDR of somehow forcing Japan to fight us and of deliberately not warning Pearl Harbor in advance of the attack.

Kagan does not deny that folly and miscalculation played a large role in planning the Iraq War. But, as he notes, there is nothing unique about America being overweening or imprudent in the pursuit of its ideals. The only way to avoid such setbacks is to pursue an isolationist or narrowly realpolitik agenda—which would wind up causing us far greater problems in the long run.

The furor over the supposedly perfidious influence of “neocons” in the making of Bush foreign policy seems to have died down a bit. But it will nevertheless remain part of the lasting legend about this administration. Bob Kagan, one of our foremost foreign policy sages, has a must-read article on the subject in the latest issue of Lawrence Kaplan’s new foreign policy quarterly, World Affairs.

Kagan makes many valuable points, but in essence his argument is that there is absolutely nothing new or foreign about the “neocon” vision—combining power with idealism to make the defense of democracy a central tenet of American policy. The more fevered critics of the neocons insist on explaining their world view with reference to Leon Trotsky, Leo Strauss, and other philosophers of marginal influence in modern America. (I can’t speak for anyone else, but I personally have never read a single book by either Trotsky or Strauss.) They would be better advised, Kagan notes, to look to figures as varied as Alexander Hamilton, William Seward, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Dean Acheson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom advocated an expansive vision of America’s role in the world.

The opposing viewpoint—which denounces American “imperialism” and abjures the defense of liberty abroad—has an equally long history.  It lists among its proponents not only modern-day neocon-bashers such as Michael Moore and Pat Buchanan, but also such illustrious predecessors as the “progressive” historians Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams and realpolitik thinkers like Hans Morgenthau and Walter Lippmann.

Nor is this the first time that the more fevered critics of the war effort have wound up charging that the country was “lied” into war by nefarious conspirators. Today it’s neocons. In the past it was banana companies, “merchants of death,” and international bankers. Such assertions have been heard about the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. (In other words, after every conflict that has turned out to be tougher than anticipated.) Even when it came to World War II, some die-hard isolationists accused FDR of somehow forcing Japan to fight us and of deliberately not warning Pearl Harbor in advance of the attack.

Kagan does not deny that folly and miscalculation played a large role in planning the Iraq War. But, as he notes, there is nothing unique about America being overweening or imprudent in the pursuit of its ideals. The only way to avoid such setbacks is to pursue an isolationist or narrowly realpolitik agenda—which would wind up causing us far greater problems in the long run.

Read Less

Weekend Reading

We’re sorry to see the lively debate on Iraq between Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson end today. You can follow the debate’s fascinating progress below:

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

COMMENTARY has been a major voice in the American debate over foreign policy for more than sixty years. The questions Max and Victor raise about Iraq are contemporary echoes of those that have engaged thinkers in this realm since the end of World War II. Here are a few classic examinations of America’s strategic and political role in the world from our archives to feed your intellectual appetite till Monday. Enjoy.

World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win
Norman Podhoretz

The Struggle for Mastery in Asia
Aaron L. Friedberg

How to Cope with the Soviet Threat
Richard Pipes

Was Woodrow Wilson Right?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Vietnam: New Light on the Question of American Guilt
Guenter Lewy

We’re sorry to see the lively debate on Iraq between Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson end today. You can follow the debate’s fascinating progress below:

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

COMMENTARY has been a major voice in the American debate over foreign policy for more than sixty years. The questions Max and Victor raise about Iraq are contemporary echoes of those that have engaged thinkers in this realm since the end of World War II. Here are a few classic examinations of America’s strategic and political role in the world from our archives to feed your intellectual appetite till Monday. Enjoy.

World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win
Norman Podhoretz

The Struggle for Mastery in Asia
Aaron L. Friedberg

How to Cope with the Soviet Threat
Richard Pipes

Was Woodrow Wilson Right?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Vietnam: New Light on the Question of American Guilt
Guenter Lewy

Read Less




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