Politics and Public Opinion

Liberals Rally to Defense of Woodrow Wilson

It’s taken liberals a while, but they have finally begun rallying to the defense of Woodrow Wilson. Most of the defensive operations are really more of a counter-attack (I addressed the last wave). It’s not that liberals want to defend Wilson so much as they seem incapable of conceding that conservatives might have a point in their case against the 28th president.

David Greenberg, the in-house historian at Slate magazine, is the latest to enlist in the cause of defending Wilson by calling his critics cranks and ignoramuses.

It’s a shockingly weak effort, for an often sensible guy. It begins with lots of hand waving about the silliness of Wilson’s detractors and a few obligatory yet utterly pointless cracks at George W. Bush. It then segues into even more obligatory mockery of Glenn Beck. Exhibit A of Beck’s ignorance is that he admitted he didn’t know much about Woodrow Wilson until he started reading about Woodrow Wilson! The charlatan!

Exhibit B is that Beck got the pedigree of Birth of a Nation (one of Wilson’s favorite movies) a little wrong. Greenberg then writes that Wilson’s view of “Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan was much more moderate than the film’s.” This is close to a whitewash. It’s true that Wilson admired Lincoln’s methods in the Civil War, but he was hardly upbeat about the freeing the slaves. Given Wilson’s deep sympathies for the South (his father was a Confederate chaplain), his virulent racism (uncontested by Greenberg), his unqualified endorsement of Birth of a Nation, his re-segregation of the federal government, his tacit approval of lynching, and so on, Greenberg’s allusion to Wilson’s “moderation” is nothing better than rhetorical sleight of hand.

Greenberg glibly asserts that hatred of Wilson is “crackpot history” worthy of ridicule, but he gives every indication that he’s basing his view on caricatures and strawmen. Nowhere does he demonstrate the slightest evidence that he’s actually read R.J. Pestritto’s work on Wilson, in which Pestritto lets Wilson’s own words and actions speak for themselves. Instead, he demonstrates the snooty guild mentality of establishment historians who feel offended that anyone would re-open questions they consider closed.

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