10.12.2010 0

NYT Online Forum Explores Conservative Antipathy Toward Woodrow Wilson and Progressives

By Kevin Mooney — An online discussion entitled “Hating Woodrow Wilson” hosted by The New York Times is being used by the left as a way to attack and sully Fox News personality Glenn Beck who has been sharply critical of the former president and the progressive era in general. But it does offer a number of engaging nuggets that are worth reviewing.

Some of the liberal commentators make the point that Beck and company are too fixated on Wilson and do not take into proper account the progressive contributions of Teddy Roosevelt and others. The discussion does open some worthwhile historical considerations that serious thinkers on both sides of the political spectrum should peruse.

Michael Lind with the New America Foundation throws down the gauntlet with this dig at conservatives:

“Each faction on the right has had its own view of the past, with its own canon of heroes and its own list of villains. While many conservatives claim to be “constitutionalists,” some states’ rights theorists argue that not only the Civil War but also the Founders’ Constitution of 1787 led to a tyrannical consolidation  of power in the federal government. For decades highbrow cultural conservatives have accused the 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau of wrecking Western civilization with his cult of the primitive. For most conservatives, however, the fall of America from the paradise of small government to the hell of statism came with the New Deal and the Great Society. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, one would think, would be more natural targets of the right than Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps someone should tell Glenn Beck.”

One of the most insightful, probing contributions in the exchange comes from George H. Nash, a historian and biographer, who explains how  contemporary Tea Party activism directed against President Obama’s policies also connect with renewed antipathy toward Wilsonian progressives. He writes:

“In place of a regime of carefully limited government, the Progressives initiated one of potentially unlimited government guided by bureaucrats and experts increasingly insulated from popular consent. In place of the traditional understanding of our rights as natural and unalienable, the Progressives claimed that our rights were derived from government — the state — and could be created or abridged as the custodians of the state deemed expedient, in the light of modern conditions and the perceived imperatives of progress.

Why is this view of Woodrow Wilson now agitating the American Right? The answer is simple: conservatives see in the Obama administration another great leap in the working out of an unconstrained, Wilsonian vision of government-from-above. And like Americans in 1776, conservatives are responding with the cry: Don’t tread on me!

As the Tea Party movement attests, conservative Americans resent the royalization of American politics that has afflicted much of American liberalism for decades. They do not want to be ruled or “nudged” by a government of their “betters.”

Like America’s Founders, conservatives in 2010 prefer a government of and by, and not just for, the people.”

This is the kind of unfiltered, robust exchange that the NYT should pursue.

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