Bob Schwartz

If Princeton Expunges Segregationist Woodrow Wilson, Why Not Expunge All Presidential Slave Owners?

Princeton University is considering the demands of activists who want the legacy of Woodrow Wilson expunged from the university.

Woodrow Wilson was President of Princeton, Governor of New Jersey, and President of the United States. He was also a Democratic progressive in many areas. Not as progressive as his presidential opponent in the 1912 presidential election, former President and Progressive Party candidate Teddy Roosevelt. Wilson, for example, was friendly with Wall Street and opposed some financial reforms. (Sound like any current Democratic Party candidate we know?).

Wilson was also a man of his time and place. He was a Southerner and a segregationist, at a time when segregation was legally sanctioned. That isn’t an excuse for maintaining and promoting injustice, just a fact. That he might be less enlightened than current leaders by modern standards goes without saying. But given all the rest, it does not seem the stuff of an indictment.

If there is validity to the demands, then there is no principled reason not to expunge the legacy of all slave-owning Presidents from all settings. After all, slavery is undoubtedly a greater transgression than segregation.

Here’s the list:

Owned slaves while President

George Washington
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Monroe
Andrew Jackson
John Tyler
James K. Polk
Zachary Taylor

Owned slaves but not while President

Martin Van Buren
William Henry Harrison
Andrew Johnson
Ulysses S Grant

Let’s admit that as national leaders, some of these slave-owning Presidents are more historically benign and popular than others. (We are looking at you, Andrew Jackson.) Even so, if you eliminate the ones whose legacy is now considered shady, you’re still left with some pretty worthy and venerated individuals—including, of course, the father of our country.

No one is saying that Woodrow Wilson is a George Washington, a James Madison, or a James Monroe. But if you’re going to start making principled distinctions, trade-offs and excuses, it’s impossible to know where to begin.

And that is the slippery slope we really don’t want to walk near. Which leaves us with the choice of leaving certain appropriately contextualized history behind, and making things better going forward. Or taking down the legacy of all of them, Washington, et al., because we want history to be thoroughly cleansed of its dark stains.

As if, Princeton and its activists. As if.

There Goes the Brain Surgeon Stereotype Again

Ben Carson has provided ample evidence that the legendary skill and knowledge of some brain surgeons might be limited to brain surgery.

But even those who don’t think he is up to the job of President still were giving him credit for sensitivity and compassion, demonstrated by his great work as a doctor and by his sincere profession of Christian faith.

Along with his knowledge, that compassion—or at least his role as a compassionate communicator—is now in question.

Here’s what Reuters reports Carson said about Syrian refugees:

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Thursday likened refugees fleeing violence in Syria to “rabid dogs,” and said that allowing them into the United States would put Americans at risk.

“If there is a rabid dog running around your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog,” Carson, a front-runner in some opinion polls, said Thursday at a campaign event in Mobile, Alabama.

“By the same token, we have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are, quite frankly,” the retired neurosurgeon said, criticizing President Barack Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees within a year.

You might give him the benefit of the doubt. He seems to be talking about the bad refugees who are foaming at the mouth, not all of them. You might say that he is just tone-deaf and chose a completely terrible metaphor to make his point. You might think he is just trying to out-Trump Trump.

But what it really shows is that even if he is just an ill-informed and reckless communicator, which pretty much disqualifies him to lead the U.S. and the free world, that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that if you ask, as I’m sure he does, what would Jesus do and what would he say about it, there is no chance it would sound anything like that.