There is something deliciously ironic about academic and media elites rethinking Woodrow Wilson, probably the president they have lionized most until the current occupant of the White House took office.
It is an irony that Mr. Wilson himself would most likely not appreciate, and not just because he didn’t appreciate many ironies. My predecessor at Accuracy in Academia, Dan Flynn, summed up the turnaround nicely in an article he wrote for the American Spectator recently.
“The New York Times calls America’s 28th president ‘an unapologetic racist whose administration rolled back the gains that African-Americans achieved just after the Civil War, purged black workers from influential jobs and transformed the government into an instrument of white supremacy,’” Flynn wrote. “The editorialists are not wrong, just late.”
“‘The first and vital object to be accomplished today is the election of Woodrow Wilson,’ the newspaper of record editorialized on Election Day in 1912. Four years later, the Times again endorsed the man insulted by the Times this week as an ‘unrepentant racist’ and an ‘unapologetic racist.’ Times change.”
It should be noted that not everyone in the press corps was taken in by Wilson. The sage of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken, for example, turned out to be singularly unmoved by the father of the League of Nations, the Federal Reserve Board, and the federal income tax.
“The important thing is not that a popular orator should have uttered such vaporous and preposterous phrases, but that they should have been gravely received, for weary years, by a whole race of men, some of them intelligent,” Mencken wrote in The Smart Set, the magazine he edited, in January 1921, just as President Wilson was leaving office, and a year before the founder of Accuracy in Academia, Reed Irvine, was born. “Here is a matter that deserves the sober inquiry of competent psychologists.”
“The boobs took fire first, but after a while even college presidents—who certainly ought to be cynical men, if ladies of joy are cynical women—were sending up sparks, and for a long while anyone who laughed was in danger of the calaboose.”
What a pity Mencken never got to interview Wilson, or better yet, debate him.