Friday, May 30, 2008

Building the Perfect Analogy

As we well know by now, Barack Obama is a new kind of politician who defies immediate characterization and easy pigeon-holing. This is why a plethora of op-ed columnists, talking heads, political pundits, amateur policy wonks, and their ilk have been seeking desperately to stumble across the best and the most adequate means of comparison. The comparison they seek would tether him most effectively to past Presidential contenders, with the hopes that even those not actively involved in politics on a day-to-day basis could have an easily understandable point of reference.

This is a very human response, but it's also motivated by personal gain.

Since Obama is such an unknown commodity, the press is also diving into the historical record to find policy decisions made by Presidents and political figures past in the hopes that they'll stumble across some kind of blueprint that reveals his overall mindset in this contest, his campaign strategy, or other revealing personal traits which might give us all some kind of idea as to how he would govern if elected President.

I too have been involved in such pursuits. And in doing so, I have dived back into a study of the past.

History has a way of revealing inherent truths that paint Republicans and Democrats in the same light---the light of the truth, that is. So in contemplating the McClellan tell-all, the underlying theme I pick out is two-part:

a) the hubris of the Bush administration is beyond excessive

b) the President and his advisers entertain a deluded notion that Democracy is some sort of exportable commodity that can be outsourced to other nations, even nations with absolutely no prior history of American-style government.

If one contemplates idealism as policy, the name of Woodrow Wilson must be uttered. Elected because the Republican party effectively split itself into two wings: the Progressives led by Theodore Roosevelt and the GOP loyalists under William Howard Taft, Wilson was a figure elected essentially by default and then re-elected on the promise to keep us out of a war that we inevitably entered under the pretense of "keeping the world safe for Democracy."

A new round of historical research continues to demystify many sacred cows. Scholarship before had venerated Wilson, romanticizing his struggles to establish a League of Nation (the precursor to the United Nations) as some kind of valiant lost cause, while at the same time overlooking his blatantly racist attitudes and policy, as well as his prickly, often smugly patronizing attitude.

This is just one example of how hindsight and changing times will strip away the veneer and allow us to observe the true nature of our political superstars.


When we contemplate Wilson's legacy, my question to you readers out there is exactly what public figure does this kind of hard-headed, uncompromising idealism best remind you?

Look beyond the obvious.

...Wilson favored a settlement [after World War I] that would promote international stability and economic expansion. He recognized that the Allies sought "to get everything out of Germany that they can." Indeed, after their human and economic sacrifices, Britain and France wanted tangible compensation, not pious principles.

Convinced of the righteousness of his cause, Wilson decided to attend the Peace Conference in Paris, although no President had ever gone to Europe when in office. But Wilson weakened his position before he even set sail.

First, he urged voters to support Democratic candidates in the November 1918 elections to indicate approval of his peace plan. But the electorate, responding primarily to domestic problems like inflation, gave the Republicans control of both houses of Congress.

This meant that any treaty would have to be approved by Senate Republicans angry that Wilson had tried to use war and peace for partisan purposes. Second, Wilson refused to consult with Senate Republicans on plans for the peace conference and failed to name important Republicans to the Paris delegation. It was going to be Wilson's treaty, and Republicans would feel no responsibility to approve it.

-The American Journey

A high level of secrecy and a lack of transparency has doomed the plans of many a President. Be it Wilson's utopian League of Nations in 1918 or Bill and Hillary Clinton's health care plan in 1993. Let this serve as a lesson to future leaders, if they are willing to listen to it and set their towering egos aside for a moment.

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