Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bad Governments: A Lesson in History

There are those that believe President Obama the worst offender of the Constitution to ever hold office; a socialist at best and a tyrant at worst.  A popular comment I've seen on many online message boards labels Obama the “worst President ever!” without truly considering the 43 other people eligible for consideration.  An additional detail omitted from most labeling of “socialism” is that in 1917 (at the height of the Bolshevik revolution) the socialist vote averaged 20% in many elections.  I believe Americans have long held a selective memory when it comes to aggrandizing the infamy of contemporary political leaders.

Woodrow Wilson, the champion of early 20th century progressives, was behind one of the most aggressive wartime removal of civil liberties in our nation's history.  The Espionage Act of 1917 barred "false statements" impeding military success and prohibited interfering with the draft.  Even worse (if such a thing is possible) was the Postmaster General's elimination of any mailings critical of the administration.  In 1918, the Sedition Act was passed criminalizing any speech or print that encouraged interference with the war effort or would cast scorn on the "form of Government".  Labor leader Eugene V. Debs was convicted under the Espionage Act in 1918 and gave one of the more monumental speeches in American history protesting his conviction.

During World War I citizens could be imprisoned for making statements critical of the flag or for being disloyal to the state.  Men in some cases were routinely stopped in American cities and compelled to produce draft registration cards while federal agents seized files and documents of labor leaders throughout the country.  An Anti-German movement swept the United States changing hamburgers into "liberty sandwiches" and sauerkraut into "liberty cabbage".  A 1907 law authored in Indiana allowed the use of sterilization on insane inmates in mental institutions to prevent the passing of genes.  Persons arrested for crimes against the state where held for months without charges or warrants brought up against them.   A young J. Edgar Hoover (future head of the FBI) compiled records on thousands of Americans thought to hold radical views while in his position as director of the Radical Division of the Justice Department.  It was most certainly a turbulent time featuring a profound contracting of civil liberties and human liberties in general.

To those who hold President Obama (and his "hope") as their champion, I direct you to the story of another promising mid-western man who seemed poised for presidential success.  Herbert Hoover, a wealthy former mining engineer, accepted the Republican party's presidential nomination in 1928.  Famous British economist John Maynard Keynes labeled Hoover as "the only man" to leave the 1919 Versailles Treaty "with an enhanced reputation" while novelist Sherwood Anderson opined that Hoover "had never known failure".  Hoover's presidency, as we know, would later be defined by massive unemployment and misery throughout the country.

The lesson here is to understand that presidents are mortal and should be judged against their peers and not by the prevailing notions during the time in which they serve.  I am of the opinion that history will eventually look kindly upon most presidents as individuals begin to understand and recognize the enormous responsibility inherent in the office itself.  Anyone who truly understands the requirements and rigors of the American presidency would most certainly produce a "shermanesque" statement if asked to serve.