Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in USA Today.
On the heels of a recent Sunday magazine profile of Glenn Beck, The New York Times published a roundtable discussion among six scholars on the issue of President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson has become a popular Beck target, and has suddenly emerged as a hot topic in our current politics.
"I hate Woodrow Wilson!" shouted Beck at February's Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
For the record, I was at that gathering, and I'm a conservative, I like Beck, and I don't hate Wilson. My take on Wilson, however, is very different from what I'm hearing from Beck or from scholars on the left or right, whether pro-Wilson or anti-Wilson. It relates to a crucial aspect of Wilson that needs to be better known and which, dare I say, might even prompt Beck to amend his view—slightly perhaps.
First, let me say that I agree with several important criticisms of Wilson. His views on race and segregation were deeply offensive. His wielding of state power was often repressive, even abusive, particularly during wartime. And the long progression of a seemingly non-stop, ever-increasing centralization of policy and programs in Washington arguably began under Wilson.
Yet, one critical component of Wilson is missed by both sides, which conservatives should like and liberals might not: Wilson was stridently, vocally anti-communist. He staunchly opposed Bolshevism in particular.
My personal experience with this is instructive. I develop this point on Wilson in my latest book, where I throw conservatives a curveball with a kickoff chapter titled, "Woodrow Wilson: 'Utter Simpleton.'" Given that my book is about how communists deliberately and cynically duped liberals/progressives, conservatives initially expect Wilson will be my first dupe.
To the contrary, Wilson was called an "utter simpleton" by Vladimir Lenin, who, along with communists from Moscow to New York, demonized Wilson. They ridiculed his League of Nations, his ideas and his administration, openly calling for the "overthrow" of the U.S. government. It was for such reasons, not to mention an intense faith that saw communism as militantly atheistic, that Wilson vehemently opposed communism.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."