“Berg is not uncritical of Wilson’s biggest lapses — his tolerance of segregation, his suppression of civil liberties and his “highly questionable” actions (or paralytic inaction) after the stroke he suffered in 1919, during his grueling campaign to win Senate approval of the League of Nations.”
—Former Clinton Speechwriter and author Jeff Shesol, in his Washington Post book review of historian Scott Berg’s new biography of Woodrow Wilson, “Wilson.”
There is a nasty piece of dishonesty in this quote, all the more sinister because it slides right by, altering your understanding of history and reality without you even knowing it. (Is it any surprise that Shesol wrote speeches for Bill Clinton?) Did you catch it?
It is the phrase, “[President Woodrow Wilson’s] tolerance of segregation.”]
Thus do ideologues intentionally mislead and warp the truth to preserve and protect their false idols. Woodrow Wilson has been so long enshrined in the Left’s pantheon of heroes through selective memory and historian malpractice that even now, when there is no denying his betrayals of core principles of both liberalism and human decency, not to mention competent leadership, there are partisan warriors like Shesol who not only refuse to acknowledge the truth, but who actively attempt to hide it.
Woodrow Wilson didn’t tolerate segregation, which suggests that he knew it was wrong but was passive in opposing it. Most of our Presidents since the Civil War fit that description, but not Wilson. He liked segregation, supported it, encouraged it, championed it. He was an admirer of the Ku Klux Klan: “The Birth of A Nation” was one of his favorite films. Woodrow Wilson was an unapologetic white supremacist who set civil rights in America back by decades. Clear-eyed, fair-minded commentators from both the left and the right have accepted and commented on this, and rightly so.
Why would a book reviewer with a background in history perpetuate the liberal spin that Wilson, because he talked and wrote provocatively about liberal government, is a misunderstood “great man,” when the historical record so clearly indicates otherwise? Why would a Washington Post editor permit him to do this? I vote for intentional public disinformation as the answer to the first question, and historical ignorance as the solution to the second.
Source: Washington Post
7 thoughts on “Unethical Quote Of The Week: Jeff Shesol”
I think it’s purposeful disinformation. I don’t take historical or political commentary as truth. My rule is to only believe what I can verify with original sources. Everything else is subject to spin. It’s easy enough to find Wilson quotes that reveal him as a rabid racist.
The quote doesn’t show up in my RSS feed, by the way. This is a frequent problem with the quote of the week entries, possibly having to do with the html coding you’re using.
But now that I can read the quote (having come over here), I quite agree with you.
Liberal spin? I was a history major — Wilson got reamed in all my classes by both liberal and conservative professors on this topic. This is one author’s poor choice of words, don’t throw this at the left please. Maybe this is a generational thing. Even in high school, my teachers were critical of Wilson.
Beth, it’s a deceptive and deliberate choice of words, and I can show you multiple gistorical rankings of Presidents that have Wilson—unnecessary entry into WWI, botched peace leading to WWII, failure to resign when disabled allowing his wife to be de facto President without the public’s knowledge, and the Jim Crow-love—in the top ten. It’s liberal bias, and nothing but. I would argue that he belongs in the bottom 5.
Well, he’s not on my list and if he is on anybody’s list, it is out of stupidity, not bias. Even stupid Americans (and most Americans fall into this category re history) know somewhere in the back of their brains that he was involved in World War I, and since we helped win that war, then he MUST be a good president.
That speaks well of you, but read the review. It begins: “But at the same time, the past decade or two has seen a rolling reconsideration of the man and his presidency, and both seem to be faring well. Despite the unwelcome attention of Beck and others, and despite his manifest failings, Wilson has maintained his standing in the upper (if not the uppermost) tier of U.S. presidents, at least according to the arbiters of such things — professional historians.”
Of course ,Wilson is hardly the only supporter of racist policies who historians rank highly. There’s also Andrew Jackson – arguably our most racist president ever – and (I’d say, you may disagree) Thomas Jefferson.
(Teddy Roosevelt was also extremely racist, and it showed in his public statements and writings about race, but not so much in his policy; so the question for him becomes, to what degree are public statements and writings actions that we should hold Presidents accountable for when we judge them?)
My point is not to say “other people do it too!,” but to say that the problem here isn’t as simplistic as “liberal bias.” If liberal bias were indeed setting the rankings, there’s no way that Andrew Jackson – a president loathed by liberals – would also be getting a pass and being ranked so highly.