Sunday, November 29, 2015

Conspiracy-a-Rama A return to the paranoid style in African-American politics

By Kevin D. Williamson
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

From time to time, something will leap out to me as an illustration of the fact that blacks and whites often inhabit separate realities. I’ve often told the story of the editorial in a black neighborhood newspaper in Philadelphia warning African-Americans to flee urban areas in the lead-up to the 2004 presidential elections because George W. Bush was planning to this was presented as unquestionable fact use nuclear weapons against the inner cities to suppress the black vote. This wasn’t somebody ranting on Twitter this was in print, in a regularly published newspaper that was, in the early days of the 21st century, still a going concern.

I’ve come to call this sort of thing (with apologies to Richard Hofstadter) the paranoid style in African-American politics. Mild versions of conspiracy theories play a large role in mainstream American politics in the form of folk beliefs about how government works, the role of lobbyists and campaign contributions, and the like. For right-wing populists, it’s the "Establishment" and the "donor class," for left-wingers it’s the Koch brothers, Big Oil, Big Money, Big Bigness, etc. We’ve all heard the story of how we could be running our automobiles on seawater if not for the fact that the petro-billionaires are suppressing the technology. The closer you get to the fringes, the more prominent the role of conspiracy theories. But it seems to me that conspiracy theory plays an outsize role in mainstream African-American political discourse.

For example, I was listening to a program yesterday on Sirius XM Urban View (one of the half-dozen lefty-dominated stations that Sirius offers to offset its one conservative station, the Patriot) when the hosts presented as uncontested fact that Chicago’s street gangs, which are the source of much of the blood currently running in Chicago’s streets, are a creation of the FBI. Before the FBI, the host said, there were progressive community-improvement organizations in Chicago, not violent street gangs, but the FBI infiltrated these organizations and "turned them against each other." Of course. "That’s what they do," the host insisted. Who? They you know: Them: the FBI, "sellout Negroes," as the host put it. Never mind that that’s not only untrue but wildly, madly untrue there are, for example, active Chicago criminal gangs that trace their origins back to the 1950s and earlier it tells the sort of story that a certain kind of listener wants to hear.

There always is just enough of a smidgen of truth: For example, Chicago’s Vice Lords did engage in various kinds of civic projects, partly for the purpose of money-laundering and disguising criminal activities, and they even applied for and won a Rockefeller Foundation grant; the FBI did maintain a dirty-tricks division that targeted, among others, the Black Panthers and civil-rights activists, and engaged in illegal spying and harassment campaigns personally authorized by Robert F. Kennedy, the great liberal hero.

(Like a great deal of what’s wrong with American government, this really got under way during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, who ordered the FBI to monitor those who opposed his foreign policy and supported the anti-war campaign of Charles Lindbergh. This puts me in mind of a side note: If you’re wondering what could possibly go wrong with empowering the federal government to strip citizens of their constitutional rights with no due process, or even an avenue of appeal, as congressional Democrats currently propose, meditate upon our government’s shameful history of illegally suppressing domestic political critics.)

But the FBI did not create Chicago street gangs; the people of Chicago did. This is very much like the folk belief, prominent in black discourse, that the CIA invented crack cocaine and introduced it into American cities. This remarkable claim is spun out of a number of unremarkable facts: In the 1980s, the U.S. government wanted to see anti-Communist rebels in Central America succeed, some of those rebel groups had links to the cocaine trade (as indeed did the Communists they were fighting), and the CIA wasn’t especially interested in that fact. That’s a long way from "the CIA invented crack to destroy African-American communities," but the salacious version is the one that travels most widely.

I have spent many years following the myth of Willie Lynch, the entirely fictitious slave consultant whose blueprint for subjecting black Americans is taken in many quarters as historical fact.

Old-fashioned peckerwood-trash racists are in short supply (and very much out of fashion) today, especially on college campuses. When they do show up, the response of college administrations is generally swift and severe: The drunken idiot kid at Mizzou who used a racial slur to refer to some of his fellow students was immediately banned from the campus "pending the outcome of the conduct process," and it’s unlikely he’ll ever be permitted to return. (Which is fine by me, incidentally: Colleges ought to expect a certain standard of behavior from their students, and expulsion is a perfectly acceptable means of enforcing those standards.) When a student at another college made a racist threat on the messaging app YikYak, University of Missouri police had him behind bars the next day. Compare that with the treatment of Professor Melissa Click, who assaulted a student journalist (the crime is caught on video) on the campus and attempted to arouse protesters to mob violence against him but remains comfortably ensconced in her professorship rather than in jail, despite the student’s having filed a police complaint. Anything with a hint of bigotry to it is prioritized.

(Some bigotry, anyway: Casual black anti-Semitism is generally permitted to fly under the radar.)

In an environment like that, the racial-grievance entrepreneur is reduced to making things up: A racist death threat similar to the one made at the University of Missouri was made at a college in Michigan by a black student, as it turns out. Phony acts of racist vandalism and manufactured hate crimes on campus are common, probably more common than actual acts of racist vandalism. Missouri students rage about the Ku Klux Klan, whose most prominent act in Missouri in recent memory was adopting a stretch of Interstate 55. The new enemy is attested to by spectral evidence: privilege, invisible but pervasive white supremacy, patriarchy, microaggression.

The conspiracy theory is tempting. But Detroit isn’t Detroit because of the FBI or the Ku Klux Klan or microaggression or privilege: Detroit has been for decades under almost exclusively black government, government that is at the municipal level in fact self-consciously black, practitioners of what one Detroit News columnist in 2009 called "the black nationalism that is now the dominant ideology of the council." Detroit hasn’t elected a Republican mayor since 1957, and after its bankruptcy convulsions it elected Mike Duggan, a Democrat who is the first nonAfrican American to hold that job since Coleman Young came into power in 1974. The implosion of Detroit ought to have occasioned some interesting discussion about the relationship between black-dominated cities, progressive ideology, and the Democratic party, but, instead, we got more conspiracy theory: The Reverend Charles E. Williams II insisted that the situation in Detroit was part of an effort to "suppress and dismantle democracy, break the back of workers, and directly attack our voting rights," while connecting the state government’s response to Jim Crow. Melissa Harris-Perry insisted that Detroit failed because of seriously its excessive commitment to Republican small-government policies. She may as well have argued that George W. Bush nuked Detroit.

Again, this isn’t limited to black political discourse, though such daftness does run deeper into the black mainstream than it does elsewhere. It is difficult to imagine a white equivalent of Louis Farrakhan (George Lincoln Rockwell?) receiving the sort of respectful and deferential coverage given to Farrakhan, who believes that white people were invented by a wicked prehistorical scientist. But sometimes I’ll encounter one of those specimens who want to tell me about how the Jews are secretly running the world, and what always stands out about these types isn’t their hatred, but how sad they are. And it is the sadness that explains the love of conspiracy theory: The truth is too terrible to consider.

Too Late for Carson to Catch up on Homework

By Jonah Goldberg
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A little over a year ago, when Ben Carson was gearing up to run for president, I questioned in this space whether he was ready for what lay ahead. We now have our answer: No.

Carson had a great number of things going for him: his amazing life story, charm, professional accomplishments, eloquence, and courage. I had only one major concern: "While he speaks eloquently and passionately about the importance of doing homework in his own life and for children everywhere, it’s not obvious he’s taken those lessons to heart when it comes to politics."

It’s now obvious that he hasn’t.

In the weeks before the terrorist attacks in Paris, Carson was already having a rough time. In a development that defied satire, Donald Trump was attacking Carson’s character, which is a bit like Carrot Top ridiculing Jerry Seinfeld’s sense of humor.

But it was smart politics. The rationale for Carson’s candidacy is based largely on biography and character. Take those away and what’s left?

Not too much, unfortunately. Oh sure, grading on a human level, there’s still a great deal to admire in Carson. But we’re talking presidential politics, not lifetime achievement awards.

Preparation matters.

In Miami, he was asked about the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot immigration policy for Cuban refugees. "You’re going to have to explain to me exactly what you mean by that," he replied.

In a GOP debate, he said that the Chinese were involved in the Syrian civil war, alongside the Russians and the Iranians. His campaign had to awkwardly walk back the claim.

The New York Times even found two of his advisers to state on the record that Carson was struggling to get up to speed on foreign policy.

These and other flubs aren’t necessarily disqualifying on their own. But after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Mali, not to mention the de facto declaration of martial law in Brussels, Carson’s soft-spoken ad-libbing about foreign policy doesn’t play nearly as well.

"I know a lot more than I knew," Carson said when asked on PBS about his foreign-policy deficit. "A year from now, I will know a lot more than I know now."

That kind of answer doesn’t cut it when Americans feel threatened. That’s why he’s been sliding in a number of polls since the Paris attacks.

In fairness, Trump’s answers shouldn’t cut it either. But Carson is admiringly honest about his shortcomings and admits when he gets things wrong, while Trump makes up for his shortcomings and ignorance with bluster, bullying, and bombast. Sadly, that continues to work for him.

Also, Carson’s problems extend beyond foreign policy. He places an inordinate amount of emphasis on platitudes and clichés, particularly about common sense. I like common sense as much as the next guy, and we need more of it in Washington. But common sense isn’t a leather-bound book one takes down from the shelf to find the right solutions to every problem. Presidents who think otherwise are begging to be rolled by the permanent bureaucracy. Nobody would want their brain surgeon to rely on common sense when removing a tumor.

Of course, politics isn’t brain surgery. But it does require a certain foundation that only experience and homework can provide. If you’re waiting until you run for president to get up to speed, it is too late. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker learned that the hard way this year. He simply wasn’t prepared to discuss policies outside his comfort zone.

Carson’s has been an all-too-familiar tale in GOP presidential politics in recent years. Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, former Texas governor Rick Perry (in 2008, not in 2012) all squandered opportunities by not being adequately prepared to leverage their popularity and potential.

The rarest commodity in politics is a genuinely charismatic personality that arouses passion in voters at a propitious political moment. Money can’t buy that; just ask Mitt Romney. Doing your homework, meanwhile, is easy. I don’t mean it doesn’t require effort; it most certainly does. But there’s no trick to it: Read books, talk to experts, think things through when you have the time and resources to do so.

If Carson had consulted common sense, he would have known that.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Those Zany Colonists and the Nation They Built A thought about Thanksgiving

By Kevin D. Williamson
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gratitude has been a prominent theme of National Review’s​ since the beginning. Bill Buckley wrote a book bearing the title "Gratitude," and his attitude was infectious. One indicator of what a remarkable man WFB was is that so many people feel such sincere gratitude for having known him, even if it was only through his work. I won’t embarrass my friends and colleagues by enumerating their gifts and charms here, but I am grateful to know them, and to share in National Review’s work.

Thanksgiving even more than Independence Day puts me in mind of the American idea; July 4 is about the American mode of government and political liberty, but Thanksgiving is about the much older American nation, which precedes the Declaration of Independence. Thanksgiving is about the weird ancient America, the religious fanatics and explorers and utopians and opportunists who came to what were then savage shores to freeze (the Mayflower landed in November) and starve and fight for what?

Whatever the answer is, there is one point of consensus among our progressive friends: We should feel bad about it. In the beginning of Heart of Darkness, Marlow looks out on the Thames and thinks about other rivers that have carried him: "This, too, was one of the dark places of the earth." And so was this place. What we built here wasn’t only good it was better, better than anything the world had seen, and we shouldn’t give a second’s hearing to those who say otherwise. Yes, even with slavery, the mistreatment of the Indians, and "Keeping Up with the Kardashians": better. A world better.

If we look back on the 18th century and sometimes wince, it is because what we built here inspired us (and the rest of the world) to dream of better things, and a better kind of life, than had seemed imaginable. Forgive me if that sounds fulsome, but that’s the fact. How could we possibly feel ashamed of that? I’ll take the Pilgrims, and Columbus too, while I’m at it. I wouldn’t trade 50 pages of Moby-Dick for the entirety of pre-Columbian American cultural achievement.

I have the privilege of traveling around the country and meeting some of its most remarkable people. Everywhere, one sees the evidence: Providence did not stop blessing us in 1776, and we didn’t stop producing great men after D-Day.

Lots of places have good farmland, natural wealth, and navigable bodies of water: If that’s all it took, we could have all stayed in England or Bavaria or wherever. But we have something more: We’re crazy. Our forefathers crossed freezing oceans on little rickety boats because they had some odd ideas about how things should be done. We still do, which is why half of all the good things of our time were cooked up in garages in California.

From Cuban Miami to Hustling Nashville to Silicon Valley, we are, as the song says, still crazy after all these years. And for that we should be truly grateful.

Pilgrims and PowerPoints Don’t Mix The Left is intent on turning family celebrations into political shouting matches.

By Charles C. W. Cooke
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

To read the political blogs during the extended run-up to Thanksgiving is to feel like a newly conscripted soldier who has just been handed a dull inaugural mission. At Salon, Vox, the Huffington Post, and beyond, DIY campaign advice abounds. Online, earnest partisans can discover how to "disarm," "shut down," and "defeat" their "crazy right-wing uncle" (it’s always the uncle, isn’t it? maybe the GOP should start an outreach program?); they can learn how to sell Obamacare or immigration reform or abortion-on-demand to their grandparents; and they can benefit from step-by-step guides to "destroying" any member of their family who still believes that the Bill of Rights is a good idea.

As recipes for dinner-table carnage go, we are now spoiled for choice. Finally, nearly four centuries after the Pilgrims landed, Americans are able to spend the last Thursday in November armed against their own kin. Quite why we have accepted without question that the kitchen should serve as a field of pitched battle is unclear. We do not gather together at Thanksgiving so that we might serve as proxies in the ongoing war between ThinkProgress and Breitbart. We gather together because, despite our real and important differences, we are the heirs to an extraordinary tradition and we have a great deal for which to be thankful.

Putting the merits to one side, there is something rather totalitarian about the injunction to hijack a ceremonial meal and read talking points prepared by partisans of the state. One does not have to be a right-winger to acknowledge this. For now, the concoction of turkey-time propaganda is a primarily left-wing pursuit. But it will not always be thus. If, as is possible, the Republican party is given another chance to usher in some meaningful national reforms, conservatives too will be tempted to inject politics where it does not belong. They should steadfastly abstain from doing so.

Why? Well, because a civil society that craves uniformity is no civil society at all. At the root of our newfound "destroy your cousins!" approach is a rank and unhealthy insecurity: specifically (to adapt a line from Mencken), the fear that someone, somewhere might be taking positions of which you disapprove and, even worse, that they might be right.

Normal human beings take disagreement in their stride. Confident and knowledgeable people can talk in detail without the need for prepared scripts and prescriptive flowcharts. The truly open-minded do not panic when confronted with the prospect of dissent. Do you know who does? Zealots, that’s who. Automatons. Incompetent missionaries, whose sole aim is to export their presumptions around the world without ever learning a thing about their charges.

When discussing hypothetical "crazy right-wing uncles," the authors of our now-seasonal "How To" guides strike a self-consciously condescending pose. "Look at that guy," they say, rolling their eyes ostentatiously. "I can’t even." But perhaps they actually can’t. Perhaps, absent instructions, they would be left with little more than a primal scream.

A common criticism of Thanksgiving is that it encourages Americans to fetishize or romanticize their country, and thus to ignore its shortcomings. I do not find this convincing. For a people to stop for a moment and reflect upon what is good about their lives is not necessarily for them to forget their problems. A poor man who spends lavishly for a day is still poor, just as a rich man who lives modestly for a day is still rich. An hour a week in church does not a fanatic make.

The United States is a resilient sort of place, and its people are wholly capable of surviving an annual holiday without resorting to political cage-fighting. You’re worried about this or that, and you hope to see change? Me too. And I’m probably as passionate about it as you are. But the battleground will still be there tomorrow. We really don’t need to ruin anybody’s evening over it.

Instead, for a few short hours, we might reflect upon our remarkable fortune. And what fortune it is! To live in the United States in 2015 is to live better than almost every human being who has ever existed. At this stage, even our bitterest struggles are the product of plenty and success, not of want or failure.

When, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln expressed his gratitude for the "blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies," he could scarcely have imagined our present abundance. When he praised the ongoing work of the "the plough, the shuttle," "the ship," and "the axe," he had no prevision of just how much more productive they would become. When he looked forward with hope to the restoration of "peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union," he did so from a vantage point so troubled as to make our contemporary hostilities seem ridiculous.

Taking a moment to acknowledge this is imperative. As Ecclesiastes has it, there is a time for everything: a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Thanksgiving is the time for appreciation and humility; let’s not spoil it with orchestrated enmity.

For Those ‘Difficult’ Thanksgiving Conversations, Why Not Try Grace and Reconciliation?

By David French
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I’m not sure when Thanksgiving got politicized, but it seems that it is. Left-wing websites routinely publish guides to confronting a "crazy uncle," and even the White House is providing talking points, urging supporters to talk about the president’s latest gun-control proposals at the dinner table. But for Thanksgiving politics, nobody beats Vox. This year the publication rolled out a multi-page spread of pieces, all beginning with the charming phrase "How to argue with your family about . . . " What follows is a guide to fighting about everything from Benghazi to vaccines.

Feeding this beast only contributes to one of the worst ideas that has captured the American mind that politics makes the man. We feel compelled to correct perceived error even at a once-a-year family gathering because we are nothing more than the sum total of our opinions.

Actions? What are those? Sure, my cranky uncle has worked two jobs to put his kids through college, but he’s a vocal Donald Trump supporter and has to be punished. So what if my prickly aunt is handling chronic and painful illness with dignity and courage she thinks global warming isn’t real, and in the three hours we have together, I’m going to introduce her to this little thing called "science."

I’ve got a better idea. In response to those difficult conversations, try a bit of grace. Strive for reconciliation. Understand that people are more than politics.

Grace is a challenging thing indeed. It demands far more from us than mercy. A merciful person helps a brother or sister in need or refuses to impose punishment when punishment is warranted. Grace is something else. Grace demands that, in imitation of our Savior, we go beyond mercy and affirmatively bless a person above and beyond anything his or her behavior deserves.

Mercy at the Thanksgiving table means not dropping the hammer on a condescending Millennial niece. Grace means striving to find a way to help make her Thanksgiving more meaningful and enjoyable by treating her with kindness and taking a genuine interest in her life, especially her life outside her talking points.

I’m not naïve enough to believe that grace always leads to reconciliation or joyful family holidays. After all, if the world rejected and even executed the perfect expression of grace, how can we expect our own acts of grace to be well-received? But if we’re reaching the point where we’re urging people to use family gatherings as political platforms, we’ve lost our way.

For tens of millions of American families, Thanksgiving is one of the few opportunities to truly build something. Around that meal, we should strive to reconnect. The family is the basic building block of our culture not because its members all agree on politics and can caucus together on a cold November night, but because it’s how we exist, how we endure, and how we prosper. Liberal nieces can lovingly babysit infant cousins, and conservative uncles help clean out gutters, teach sons and daughter to balance checkbooks, and hold their parents as they slowly slip away.

Yes, it all sounds a like a Hallmark card, and it’s a bit rich coming from a person who makes a living writing about the most contentious of cultural issues. And don’t worry you’re not surrendering or even giving one inch in the vital political struggles of our time by responding to a torrent of talking points with a question about a baby’s sleep schedule. If someone’s coming loaded for bear to talk politics, are they really going to be persuaded to change course after a 40-minute shout-fest?

The third chapter of Ecclesiastes is among my favorite scriptures in the Bible. It speaks to the complexity of life and the need for wisdom to discern the times. "There is a time for everything," it says, "and a season for every activity under the heavens." Among them, a "time to tear and a time to mend." We’ve torn enough. This Thanksgiving, let’s try mending.

No, George Bush Is Not to Blame for the Paris Attacks

By David French
Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is there a statute of limitations for blaming George W. Bush for the world’s ills? This weekend, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Huffington Post ran yet another piece repeating leftist conventional wisdom that Bush created ISIS with his disastrous Iraq invasion, that Obama’s missteps were minor by comparison, and oh, by the way, those who supported the Iraq invasion should just shut up.

As with many great lies, they begin with kernels of truth. Yes, there were key American missteps early in the war that gave al-Qaeda in Iraq (the precursor to ISIS) room to grow. We should not have disbanded the Iraqi Army and civil service. We should not have conducted a "light footprint" early invasion and occupation. We should not have allowed our detention facilities to be used for radical recruitment and training. In other words just as with every American war ever fought we made multiple, serious mistakes, and those mistakes had deadly consequences.

But this is only part of the story, a small part of the story. In Iraq, America ultimately righted the military ship, dealing al-Qaeda a comprehensive military defeat, leaving it with only 700 scattered members, a rag-tag and ineffective rump of a once-deadly insurgency. I watched the transformation with my own eyes. My deployment was at ground zero of al-Qaeda’s first attempt at a caliphate, where it declared itself the Islamic State of Iraq and established its "capital" in Baqubah, not far from our own forward operating base.

After more than a year of hard fighting (and bitter losses), the nascent Islamic State was thoroughly defeated. A neighboring brigade retook Baqubah, our armored cavalry squadron cleared the countryside, and the rate of attacks on American convoys went from 25 percent to less than 1 percent. Islamic State insurgents began surrendering without a fight. They were beaten, demoralized, and dispirited. As one captured fighter told me in perfect English he surrendered because he was "tired," tired of running and fighting without hope.

But that leads us to the big picture, the true reason it’s absurd to blame George Bush for ISIS. There was jihad before the Iraq war, there was jihad outside of Iraq during the Iraq war, and there is still jihad years after the Iraq war. The global jihadist movement in both its Sunni and Shia incarnations has been growing for generations. Iran is a jihadist nation. Israel is has been beset by jihadist violence for generations. There was jihad in Afghanistan before 9/11, jihad in the Balkans during the Clinton administration, jihad again in Afghanistan after 9/11, and jihad again in Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, and many other locales since the Obama administration entered the White House.

Jihadists were dealt a serious tactical and strategic defeat in Iraq a victory that the Obama administration squandered through its pathological and ideological commitment to American weakness but the larger international jihadist movement was still intact. Jihadist Islam is not the work of a "few extremists" but rather the careful cultivation of an entire religious awakening, a spiritual transformation that has touched the lives of millions of Muslims across the globe. One does not defeat that movement in Iraq alone, and Bush certainly didn’t create that movement with his invasion.

There are two jihadist constants of the last two generations of radical Islamic violence. First, jihadists flock to conflict. If there is fighting between jihadists and any opponent American, Russian, Israeli, or Muslim deemed insufficiently faithful to the jihadist creed, then expect jihadists to reinforce their brothers and fight to the bitter end.

Second, if there is no conflict, jihadists will plot to strike their enemies and expand their influence. For years before 9/11 we left al-Qaeda relatively unmolested. The result was an escalating terror campaign that destroyed American embassies, nearly sank an American warship, and delivered the most devastating attack on American soil since the British put Washington, D.C., to the torch in the War of 1812.

The Iraq War represented but one theater of operations in a much larger, multi-generational conflict. It represented, for a brief time, a victory against a deadly foe. Now it highlights the high cost of American weakness. But it is not the root of all evil in the Middle East, and those leftists who continue to blame George W. Bush for the jihad that struck Paris are willfully blind to the depth of the danger we face.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our Imperfect Eponyms Toward a simple standard of historical evaluation

By Kevin D. Williamson
Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Princeton University is convulsed at this moment in 2015 over the fact that its school of public affairs, established in 1930, was renamed for Woodrow Wilson in 1948. The objection is to the fact that President Wilson was a horrifying racist with backward attitudes about black Americans, a fact that has been known for more than a century. The life and thought of Woodrow Wilson are not the question here; what is at issue is the devolving sensibility of the American undergraduate, which has regressed from the mere illiterate puritanism of the original era of political correctness on its way back to naked totalitarianism, having acquired a Taliban-like taste for disannulment of historical artifacts.

The irony here is terrific: President Wilson was a self-identified progressive, the father, in fact, of American progressivism. In practice he was a more or less straightforward fascist who used xenophobia and the threat of mob violence to silence critics when he wasn’t simply jailing them and who attempted to put the entire economy under political discipline and dreamed of censoring the nation’s newspapers.

Modern progressives have come around on every point: Journalists covering the protests at the University of Missouri were physically assaulted, Gawker and the attorney general of New York dream of locking people up for having the wrong views on global warming, Democrats in 2014 voted to repeal the First Amendment in order to bring all political debate under direct federal supervision, Bernie Sanders rages that American economic problems are the result of greedy capitalists’ getting into bed with scheming foreigners, and that the government must be empowered to intervene in all economic matters, etc.

Woodrow Wilson won, and his epigones, who embrace his philosophy entirely he resegregated much of the federal government while they want to resegregate the college campuses seek to destroy their master, i.e. to reenact the oldest story in politics, from The Golden Bough to Star Wars.

As I wrote yesterday, the application of such ahistorical expectations about social thought would preclude us from naming anything after Mohandas K. Gandhi, who said (and wrote, and believed) horrible things about black Africans his main objection to discrimination against Indians in Africa was that it lumped them in with "kaffirs," a racial slur that appears throughout Gandhi’s work and is roughly equivalent to the infamous one from American English. Gandhi had absolutely daft ideas about economics, health, and sex, and he had fairly backward beliefs about women, homosexuals, and the like. It’s not at all clear that Gandhi’s beliefs regarding blacks were the same at the end of his life as they were at the beginning of his career in public life; but neither were Strom Thurmond’s, and it is difficult to imagine the average Princeton man-child sitting still while a building was named after that reprobate.

The difference between Gandhi and Thurmond was that Gandhi, for all of his intellectual and moral defects, was right about one big important thing, something that was, at the time, the single most important question before the civilization of which he was a member. The same cannot be said about Thurmond. He was right about many things the Soviet threat, the disastrous decay of American domestic life, the carcinogenic character of the welfare state but his was hardly the sole voice, or the most important one, on any of those issues. There isn’t really any moment in history where one looks back and says: "Thank God for Strom Thurmond." He was, at best, an opportunist whose opportunism led him to the right side of some questions.

What to make of, say, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.? On the question of civil rights, he was indispensable. He had ignorant, destructive ideas about economics, his relations with women were exploitative and abusive, his indulgence of moral equivalence between the Soviet police state and the flawed American republic was grotesque. The litany of his errors and misdeeds in public and private is not inconsequential. Toward the end of his life, he was flirting with outright socialism. But America did not descend into socialism it ascended from Jim Crow.

The Reverend King has, in very short order, become a practically Olympian figure, on par with the Founding Fathers, if not with the saints. Those with the instinct for vandalism might insist that this should not be so. But that would be wrong: That we honor the Reverend King for having been the great hero of the great battle of his time is proper. Of course the scholars and the curious should take note of the rest of it, but history is not psychology, and the Martin Luther King Jr. of "I Have a Dream" the man we honor is distinct from the man sneaking around those grubby motel rooms.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and fathered a child with one of them. He also invented the modern institutions of political liberty that were known nowhere else in the world, that the descendants of those slaves eventually would inherit. George Washington is not on Mount Rushmore because of his achievements in agriculture. Abe Lincoln was far from a perfect apostle of racial equality, but he did order the release of Southern slaves; William Tecumseh Sherman was not a great humanitarian, but he saw to it that Lincoln’s order eventually was carried out. King, Jefferson, Gandhi, Washington they spent their lives doing things that mattered rather than merely cultivating their virtue, which for the 21st-century progressive is unhappily undistinguishable from merely cultivating self-regard. You can sneer at Dwight Eisenhower after you’ve overseen the deployment of troops both to Normandy and to Little Rock.

Someone at Princeton in 1948 believed that the achievements of Woodrow Wilson, that institution’s former president, merited the naming of a school of public administration after him. The year is not insignificant the closing of World War II no doubt had left the nation feeling a little sentimental about the man who saw it through World War I. My own belief is that Princeton was wrong, that President Wilson was a bad seed who is, through the persistence of the baleful ideas and assumptions he introduced into the body politic, still flourishing in undead malevolence. But I was not consulted on the question. I suspect that one’s estimate of President Wilson depends greatly on one’s evaluation of the wisdom of the American entrance into the Great War and, secondarily, on one’s feelings about the wisdom and goodness of the proprietary managerialism that came to Washington with Wilson and never left.

That’s the sort of thing that might have made an interesting debate at Princeton. Instead, the students chose to turn the president’s office into a bawling nursery of expensively diapered howling half-wits. The illiberalism of that is a fitting tribute to Woodrow Wilson, but it is no less lamentable for its poetic justice.