Monthly Archives: September 2013

Woodrow Wilson: Most Anti-Black President of the 20th Century

“Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.”–Woodrow Wilson

“When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.”–Charles Evans Hughes, Woodrow Wilson’s 1916 presidential election opponent

A. Scott Berg, whose biography of Woodrow Wilson came out this month, made a startling admonition to President Obama. He said, “Be more like Wilson.” The statement made my jaw drop, because out of all the presidents who have held office from the Civil War to the present, Andrew Johnson is probably the only one who would be more appalled than Wilson if he saw that the United States has a black president. With the exception of Andrew Johnson, one would have to look before the Civil War to find a president more bigoted toward African American than Woodrow Wilson was.

In order to understand the roots of Woodrow Wilson’s racism, it is vital to examine his family background and early life. Neither of Woodrow Wilson’s parents came from the South. His father was a native of Steubenville, Ohio, the hometown of Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War. His mother had been born in England but spent most of her childhood in Ohio. In the 1850s, however, they moved South, and Woodrow was born in Staunton, Virginia in 1856. A year later, the family moved to Augusta, Georgia, where they remained until Wilson was thirteen, at which point they moved to Columbia, South Carolina. At age sixteen, Wilson went to Davidson College in North Carolina before returning home from an illness the following year. While Wilson would achieve most of his pre-presidential prestige in New Jersey, he did not live in the North until 1875, when he transferred to Princeton University. His earliest childhood memory was of hearing the news that Abraham Lincoln would be elected president and that there would be a war. Wilson’s father, Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, fully embraced the culture of the antebellum South. In 1861, he delivered a proslavery sermon in Augusta entitled, “Mutual Relation of Masters and Slaves as Taught in the Bible.” According to Reverend Wilson, God, “has included slavery as an organizing element in that family order which lies at the very foundation of Church and State.” Antislavery Northerners were “infidels.” When the Presbyterian Church, Reverend Wilson’s denomination, split over the issue of slavery, Wilson sided with the proslavery faction. He served as a Confederate military chaplain. To quote the Bible, “the son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father.” Woodrow cannot be blamed for the fact that his father defended keeping human beings of a different race in chains.

Yet the evidence shows that the son followed in his father’s footsteps. In 1880s, Woodrow Wilson questioned whether or not black suffrage had been a good idea. He referred to blacks as “an ignorant and inferior race.” Wilson wrote sympathetically of the “Black Codes” that had been passed by Southern states in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. These codes, according to Wilson, were motivated by, “the sudden and absolute emancipation of the Negroes,” who he viewed as, “a host of dusky children untimely put out of school.” Wilson also claimed that, “the domestic slaves, at any rate, and almost all who were much under the master’s eye, were happy and well cared for.” He even argued that Reconstruction, not slavery, was the cause of current racial conflict. In 1902, Wilson became President of Princeton University. While president, he made sure to avoid admitting black students to Princeton’s undergraduate program. When a black man from South Carolina wrote of his desire to attend Princeton, Wilson wrote back and “politely” informed him that blacks were not welcome at his school, though also suggesting that he apply to Princeton’s Theological Seminary, an institution separate from the main university.

Is Wilson being held to 21st century standards if he is condemned for his policies as president of Princeton University? It is instructive to compare him to Teddy Roosevelt, another president of his generation who, like Wilson, was racist against blacks. Around the time that Wilson began his inglorious reign at Princeton, a bill desegregating the New York public school system was passed by the legislature. Teddy Roosevelt was governor at the time and signed the bill. According to Roosevelt, his own children had black classmates, and it had not impacted them negatively. It is also worthwhile to compare Princeton University’s level of racism to that of some other schools. For instance, black students had graduated from Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Brown, and Rutgers before Woodrow Wilson became president of Princeton. Dartmouth, for example, had a black student graduate almost thirty years before Wilson was even born.

Woodrow Wilson was the first president born in a Confederate state since Andrew Johnson and the first to actually be elected since Zachary Taylor. (Andrew Johnson entered office by virtue of Lincoln’s assassination and did not run for a second term.) His Cabinet contained Southern segregationists, like Josephus Daniels and William Gibbs McAdoo, and Northerners like William Jennings Bryan who firmly believed in white supremacy and felt that previous presidents like Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and Teddy Roosevelt had brought the country too close to racial equality. Wilson and his merry band of bigots, however, found that though Washington, D.C. was thoroughly segregated, the offices of the federal government were not. With the president’s approval, the U.S. Railway Mail Service, the U.S. Postal Service, the Treasury Department, the Interior Department, the State Department, the War Department, and the Navy became segregated. Those applying to become federal employees now had to include photos of themselves so that their race would be apparent. In some cases, black and white employees were separated by screens. Employees who objected were shown the door. The NAACP protested, but to no avail.

Even the League of Nations, widely considered Wilson’s crowning achievement and vision, was marred by his racism. When a covenant for the League was being written, Japan attempted to insert a clause mandating racial equality. Not wanting the United States to be brought up on charges of human rights violations, Wilson helped nix the clause.

Certainly, Wilson looks bad when compared to the minority of whites in the early 1900s, such as Wendell Phillips Stafford, Mary Ovington, the Spingarn brothers, William English Walling, Anna Strunsky, Charles Edward Russell, John Dewey, Frank Sanborn, Horace Bumstead, Jane Addams, William Hayes Ward, Henry Moscowitz, Wilbur Thirkield, Rabbi Stephen Wise, Albert Pillsbury, Moorfield Storey, and the Garrisons, who favored racial equality. Yet he also looks bad next to other moderate, early 20th century political leaders. It has already been discussed how Wilson was more reactionary on race than Teddy Roosevelt. It should also be noted that his successors, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, called for federal anti-lynching legislation and a national conversation on race. Were they racist? Certainly. But their records look a sight better than Wilson’s. Charles Evans Hughes, Wilson’s 1916 Republican opponent quoted at the beginning of this post, also warrants attention. What course would Hughes have pursued on civil rights if he had beaten Wilson in 1916? It is hard to imagine him doing as badly. Years after losing to Woodrow Wilson, Hughes was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was not exactly a civil rights crusader, but he did make major decisions against exclusion of blacks from juries and voting primaries, helped chip away at segregated schooling by ruling that in the absence of an in-state school for blacks, the University of Missouri had to admit a black student, and upheld the right to boycott racist businesses. While the story is difficult to verify, it was said that during Hughes’ time as Chief Justice, a Marshall of the Supreme Court complained about black people eating in the Supreme Court’s cafeteria, Hughes threatened to fire him if he did not take a more enlightened attitude. Wilson was not only racist but abnormally so for his era.


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Woodrow Wilson’s “New Freedom”: Police State Totalitarianism

In 1912, Woodrow Wilson ran on a platform called “New Freedom.” Yet ironically, Wilson would govern the country as a hardcore authoritarian. The day after World War I began, Wilson signed legislation establishing the first federal draft to take place in the United States since the Civil War. Even setting the aside the necessity of fighting the Civil War compared to the lack of necessity for World War I, there was a distinct difference between Abraham Lincoln’s decision to institute the draft and Wilson’s. As a young man, Lincoln had joined the Illinois Militia and served as a captain in the Black Hawk War. To be sure, the war was a cruel attempt by the government to steal more Native American land. However, at least Lincoln could plausibly claim that he had taken the same risk he was forcing other men to take. Wilson, by contrast, had never served in the military a day in his life. While, to its credit, Wilson’s draft did attempt to avoid the loopholes favorable to the rich that had plagued Lincoln’s draft, it also failed to address the matter of a 50-year old man with no military background forcing younger men to do that which he had been unable or unwilling to do himself.

It is sometimes believed that prior to the Vietnam War, Americans automatically supported their government when it went to war. This is false. Every war that America has been involved in has triggered a homegrown antiwar movement. World War I was no different. Progressives like Jane Addams, Lillian Wald, and Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollete (R-WI) opposed U.S. military participation in World War I. Many German Americans opposed the war, as did many Irish Americans, who saw little reason to go to England’s aid. Some prominent libertarians, like Albert Jay Nock and Moorfield Storey, went on record opposing military intervention. The opposition was perhaps the strongest from Socialists, who were often pacifists as well. Socialist ministers like Norman Thomas, A.J. Muste, and John Haynes Holmes publicly opposed the war, as did other Socialists, such as Mary White Ovington. Eugene V. Debs, who had run as the Socialist Party’s presidential nominee in four previous elections, received special attention from the government for his antiwar stance, but he will be covered more momentarily. The National Civil Liberties Bureau, which would later become the American Civil Liberties Union, was founded to oppose World War I and aid conscientious objectors. Wilson feared that he could not mobilize the country for war with the level of opposition he was encountering. In 1917, Wilson signed the Espionage Act, which included a clause banning the spreading of false information that was intended to interfere with the war effort. Unfortunately, but perhaps consistent with the government’s intentions, the act was rather ambiguous.

Wilson feared that the Espionage Act was insufficient to muzzle antiwar sentiment. The following year, he signed the Sedition Act of 1918. One portion of the act stipulated that anyone who, “shall willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States . . . or shall willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or shall willfully . . . urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production . . . or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both….” Essentially, any criticism of the war or the government was now a prosecutable offense.

A look at some of the people targeted by the government under these laws shows how close the country had come to totalitarianism. On June 16, 1918, Eugene V. Debs delivered a speech in Canton, Ohio (the Midwest was probably the most antiwar region) blasting capitalism, World War I, and the draft and encouraging young men to refuse to serve in the military. Debs was convicted under the Sedition Act and sentenced to ten years in prison. Ironically, it was it was Wilson’s laissez-faire capitalist, Republican successor, Warren G. Harding, who finally freed Debs. Many readers probably support World War I and the draft, and most readers probably support capitalism. I myself am generally a believer in the free market. Yet it must seem disquieting that a person would be sent to prison for expressing their political beliefs. An issue of the Nation magazine was banned by the U.S. Post Office after Albert Jay Nock wrote an article laying blame for the war on union boss Samuel Gompers. A Hollywood producer named Robert Goldstein was imprisoned due to the fact that his Revolutionary War movie, The Spirit of ’76, depicted the British side very negatively. There is a certain irony in the fact that many modern day progressives admire Wilson while rightly decrying George W. Bush’s civil liberties abuses and foreign policy. Had these progressives been alive during World War I, they would likely have been thrown into jail. To Woodrow Wilson, the idea of freedom of speech only applied to patriotic speech.

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Woodrow Wilson’s Unnecessary War

More American soldiers died in World War I than any other wars except the Civil War and World War II. Indeed, despite the U.S. population being far smaller in 1917-1918 than it would become after World War II, more than twice as many American soldiers were killed in the single year that America fought in World War I than were killed in the Vietnam War and more than twenty times as many as were killed in the Iraq War. The Civil War was necessary to end slavery, though the North’s motives for fighting it were far less pure. But was World War I necessary? And since World War I was a stepping stone to World War II, what does that say about the inevitability or lack thereof of our second world war? It is surprising, given the staggering number of American soldiers killed in World War I, that this war has received relatively little attention.

Describing the causes of World War I in great detail would require a great deal of space and distract from the focus of this post. Suffice it to say, the root causes of the war were nationalism and imperialism, and the immediate cause was the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The war ended up involving the militaries of far, far more countries than it should have due to the fact that so many governments had mutual defense treaties. For three years, war waged between the Central and Allied Powers, while the United States avoided direct involvement. The U.S. government did, however, make the decision to continue trade with nations involved in the war, as well to allow Americans like J.P. Morgan to make loans to Allied nations. Germany was outraged by the U.S.’s decision to continue economic relations with nations of the Allied Powers, such as the British Empire. Germany also took out ads in American newspapers warning that Allied ships/ships in British waters were liable to be sunk. Thus, the infamous sinking of the Lusitania was tragic and immoral, but it was no surprise. While it would be another two years before the United States became directly involved in the fighting, the sinking of the Lusitania severely exacerbated U.S.-German tensions. Along with Germany’s submarine warfare against British ships, which sometimes carried American passengers, the Zimmerman Telegram helped convince Wilson to enter the war. This telegram was sent by the German Empire to the Mexican government proposing that, in the even that the United States entered the war on the side of the Allied Powers, Mexico should side with Germany and the other Central Powers. In the event of a Central Powers victory, Mexico would be given back Western territory that it had lost to America in the 1830s and 1840s. Just as it was ignored that the German Embassy had warned Americans before the sinking of the Lusitania that they traveled on British ships at their own peril, the facts that the Zimmerman Telegram’s proposal was moot if America did not enter the war and that the territory promised to Mexico had been plundered by the United States were considered irrelevant by Woodrow Wilson.

The issue of whether or not it was necessary for the United States to enter World War I is closely related to the issue of whether or not preserving foreign trade is a sufficient reason for war. I believe that any peace-loving individual must conclude that is not a sufficient reason. If another country attempts to force the United States to change the way it governs itself within its own borders, that is cause for war. For instance, if Germany had tried to forcibly prevent the United States from accepting German immigrants fleeing their native country, that would have interfered with both human rights on American soil and America’s self-government. Foreign trade, by its nature, goes beyond the borders of a single country. Hence, it becomes far harder to claim that by trying to prevent the United States from trading with Allied nations, Germany was interfering with our national sovereignty to the point that American military action was justified. Fighting a war to end slavery in our country, to keep our country from being conquered by a totalitarian power, or to be able to admit immigrants fleeing oppression, makes very good sense. Fighting to preserve foreign trade, however, seems cold comfort in the face of multitudes of husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons dead and many more wounded. What if, instead of going to war, America had instead worked to become less economically dependent on nations like Britain? Would the cost of this measure have really exceeded the cost of blood and treasure that the United States paid for World War I? Furthermore, it is worth noting that the Treaty of Versailles signed after the war, which included a clause allowing Germany to be occupied by foreign troops, helped create the resentment that Hitler manipulated to rise to power. Thus, the postwar treatment of Germany at the hands of the Allied Powers helped lead to World War II and the Holocaust.

But how does Woodrow Wilson share culpability for this? After all, Wilson did not start World War I, and he warned fellow Allied nations not to treat Germany harshly after the fighting ending. However, a strong case can be made that by entering the war on the side of the Allies, Wilson tipped the balance firmly in their favor and prevented the best possible result: a stalemate. As long as one side won decisively, a one-sided, vengeful treaty that heaped humiliating terms on one or more losing nations and filled their people with resentment was almost a guarantee. Yet, had both sides fought to a stalemate, they would likely have been forced to sign an equitable treaty. That, combined with the war’s sheer destruction, would have been likely to make both sides reluctant to enter into another war. Hitler would have probably never come to power, and the Holocaust would have probably never happened. Woodrow Wilson did not approve of the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, but his decision to send troops to Europe helped make these terms possible.

Did Woodrow Wilson enter the war to “make the world safe for democracy?” As will be discussed in upcoming blogs, Wilson was a staunch segregationist and went back and forth on women’s suffrage. If his motivation for fighting World War I had been to promote freedom, one would think he would have done a better job promoting freedom in his own country. Yet because of their race, Wilson probably a strong sense of empathy for the suffering of the people of Europe, an empathy that did not extend toward fellow Americans who happened to have been born with a different skin tone than him. Everyone should feel empathy for the Europeans who suffered in World War I. Yet can we really support the decision to wage war for the welfare of other nations while turning a blind eye to the welfare of oppressed Americans?

A final argument must be considered. Documents discovered by historians in recent years demonstrate that Kaiser Wilhelm II, the man who ruled Germany from 1888 until 1918, began planning in the late 1890s to attack the United States. While this demonstrates the ruthless, conniving leadership of Wilhelm II, it provides little justification for U.S. military involvement in World War I, since the plan was scrapped in 1906, eight years before the war even started and eleven years before the U.S. entered it.

“No, it wasn’t worth one.”–Harry Patch, last surviving British Army veteran of World War I, on whether or not the conflict was worth the lives lost.

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Blog Post #100-Did Woodrow Wilson Help Cause the Vietnam War?

Woodrow Wilson’s presidency began a hundred years ago, but he has been talked about a lot lately, due to a new biography about him by A. Scott Berg. While he is a shade below presidents like Washington, Lincoln, and FDR in terms of the regard Americans hold him in, Wilson is still frequently ranked as one of the best chief executives that this country has ever seen. In a 1982 survey, both liberal and conservative historians were asked to rank the best and worst U.S. presidents. Liberal historians ranked Wilson as the sixth best, and conservative historians ranked him the eighth best. Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, and University of Virginia all attempt to lay claim to a piece of Woodrow Wilson’s legacy.

In an astounding piece, Michael Kazin recently called Woodrow Wilson the “Forgotten President.” I have much respect for Kazin, but the title is absurd. Whatever one thinks of Woodrow Wilson, it would be almost impossible to refer to him as underrated or forgotten. As referenced above, Wilson is showered with honors. With the exception of Teddy Roosevelt, he is the only president between Lincoln and FDR who is generally held in high regard today. For comparison, Martin Luther King, Jr. is a personal hero of mine. But I would never describe him as underrated, because he is a national and international icon, beloved by multitudes of people of every race. And deservedly so. But does Woodrow Wilson deserve to be an icon? I believe not. This is my one hundredth blog post on WordPress, and I am using it to begin a series of blog posts attempting to reveal the truth about our twenty-eighth president.

Woodrow Wilson probably receives the most credit for his foreign policy. And for good or for ill, he played a major role in shaping the foreign policy that America has today–although his first three successors tried to go in a different direction. The truth, however, is that while Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize, the full number of deaths that he helped cause will probably never be known. It is quite likely that he played a role in causing a war that occurred decades after his presidency. Conservative estimates place the number of deaths in this war at over one million. That war is the Vietnam War. How could this be? The answer lies in the Paris Peace Conference. While the central focus of the conference was the peace terms for the opposing sides in World War I, another intertwined issue was what would become of the colonies held by European powers. At this time, France controlled Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, collectively called, “French Indochina.” A young Vietnamese nationalist wrote to Woodrow Wilson asking for aid. Perhaps he knew that Wilson was ostensibly anti-imperialist. At any rate, he wrote of his wish for a free, democratic government and urged Wilson to advocate for his cause at the peace conference.  Wilson apparently felt that this did not even warrant a response. The young nationalist, however, would not give up. He had decided that, by hook or by crook, the Vietnamese people would out from under the heel of France. His name was Ho Chi Minh.

With it now clear that he could expect no support from the United States government, Minh needed another ally. He found it in a nation that had recently experienced a revolution overthrowing an old aristocratic order and establishing a new government. This nation was the Soviet Union. The rest was history. When Minh’s revolution was successful, he did not establish a free, democratic government. He established a Communist dictatorship, and the Vietnam War eventually began. It is possible that Wilson advocating for Minh’s cause would have accomplished nothing. But it is also possible that Wilson could have successfully pushed France to agree to Minh’s demands, made Vietnam a free country, and averted a horrific war.

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Some Things You Might Not Know about “Obamacare”

As some of you know, I am against national health insurance and believe that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should be repealed. However, at the risk of seeming like a cheerleader for President Obama, I must say that I feel there are some important facts that are sometimes forgotten when discussing the act.

1. It really shouldn’t be called “Obamacare.”

Calling our recent health care law “Obamacare” is misleading, since it implies that Barack Obama was the first president to favor national health insurance. This is blatantly not the case. The first president to strongly favor it was Harry Truman. With the country on the heels of its largest economic boom ever, Truman called for the government to provide health insurance to all Americans who desired it just seven months into his presidency. According to the Truman Library, if “Give ‘Em Hell” Harry had gotten his way, “participants would pay monthly fees into the plan, which would cover the cost of any and all medical expenses that arose in a time of need. The government would pay for the cost of services rendered by any doctor who chose to join the program. In addition, the insurance plan would give a cash balance to the policy holder to replace wages lost due to illness or injury.” Perhaps the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act should be called, “Truman Care.” Why is this not more widely known? One possible reason is that Harry Truman’s hawkish foreign policy has made him popular with many conservatives. Some defenders of George W. Bush have compared him to Truman, arguing that Dubya will be remembered more positively by future generations, similar to how Truman is viewed more positively now than he was when he left office. Generally speaking, when a deceased president becomes popular with a certain political group, that group will try to downplay any of that president’s views that do not fit with their own. The liberal Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., for example, wrote an entire book called “the Age of Jackson,” without mentioning the Trail of Tears at all. These days, many Tea Party Republicans would probably prefer not to talk about Abraham Lincoln instituting the income tax, and many liberal Democrats would probably prefer not to talk about FDR’s anti-black, anti-Japanese racism. So it is little surprise that many hawkish conservatives would prefer to forget that Harry Truman favored national health insurance.

2. Ronald Reagan played a major role in moving the country towards national health insurance.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) as part of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. This piece of legislation required most hospitals to provide emergency care to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. I agree with this policy. Nobody should be denied access to health care because of poverty. The problem was that EMTALA was an unfunded mandate, failing to furnish hospitals with the necessary federal funds to provide care to anyone who showed up at their doors. So in order to be able to provide health care to the uninsured, many hospitals began to increase the costs of medical care on insurance companies. In turn, these insurance companies often began raising premiums on people who buy health insurance. There are two basic things to take away from this information. Firstly, it is important to distinguish between national health insurance, which is only just now becoming U.S. policy, and national health care, which we have had in the U.S. since 1986. Because while Obama was the president who signed legislation enacting national health insurance, it was a conservative Republican president who signed legislation basically enacting national health care. Secondly, by signing an unfunded mandate, Reagan and the Congress members who voted for EMTALA contributed to driving up insurance premiums, thereby increasing calls for the government to step in and give everyone insurance.

3. One of the most controversial portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was supported by both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.

One of the most controversial portions of the 2010 health care reform bill is that all Americans are required to have health insurance, whether they want it or not. What is less widely known is the support that prominent Republicans have shown for forcing people to buy health insurance. One of the largely ignored provisions of “RomneyCare,” the policy enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, is that everyone in the state must buy insurance or pay a fine. When I first visited Massachusetts, I saw signs warning passersby of the penalties they would receive if they refused to participate in the system. Romney never expressed regret for helping to implement this policy. While Newt Gingrich, one of the other frontrunners in the 2012 Republican primaries, has since retreated from this position, he stated in May 2011 that, “I’ve said consistently that we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance, or you post a bond, or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.”

4. Before becoming president, Barack Obama informed voters that, if elected, he would push for national health insurance early in his administration.

Many Americans were angry that President Obama quickly began spending a great deal of time and energy trying to enact national health insurance, rather than focusing more on the recession. However, this should not have been a surprise. On January 24, 2007, Obama delivered a speech in which he stated that, “I am absolutely determined that by the end of the first term of the next president, we should have universal health care in this country.” In his acceptance speech at 2008 Democratic National Convention, Obama re-iterated, “Now — now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American.” There was no reason to believe that if elected president, Barack Obama would not quickly try and tackle the issue of national health insurance. Whether he made the right decision or not, Obama was honest about his intentions.

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President Obama Follows Same Basic Civil Liberties Policy that he Always Has

Recently, there seems to have been a lot of dissatisfaction among liberals regarding President Obama’s civil liberties policies. Now, believe me, I understand that President Obama’s civil liberties record is really not much different from George W. Bush’s. Being a civil libertarian myself, there are certainly issues like the Patriot Act, phone monitoring, and warrantless wiretapping that I wish he would take different stances on. However, I predicted back in 2008 that Barack Obama would be authoritarian on civil liberties. I based this on the fact that, in 2006, he had voted for the Patriot Act. Not the 2001 version that every Senator but Russ Feingold voted for. The 2006 re-authorization that took place after many people had begun criticizing the Bush Administration’s tactics in the War on Terror. By this point, the post-9/11 surge of trust for the federal government had mostly petered out. But Obama, along with most other Senate Democrats voted to continue the Patriot Act. This was not a secret hidden from voters; it was a matter of public record.

In the 2008 Democratic primaries, I was too young to vote, but I staunchly supported Mike Gravel. Gravel was on record opposing the Patriot Act. My second choice was Dennis Kucinich, who had been in the House of Representatives in 2001 and voted against the Patriot Act then when doing so could have easily ruined his political career. If either of those men had been elected, then continued the civil liberties violations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, it would indeed have been fair to say that they had “sold out.” Most of the liberals that I know voted for Obama. A few voted for Hillary Clinton, whose record on civil liberties is more conservative than Obama’s. And as I have mentioned, both had already voted to re-authortize the Patriot Act at this point. I have disclosed that I am a single issue voter, my single issue being gay rights, so President Obama exceeded my expectations, and my attitude toward him went from being tepid in 2008 to quite positive now. But even with that aside, President Obama has not been any worse on civil liberties than I expected based on his record as a Senator. There was no reason to expect a Senator who voted for the Patriot Act in 2006 to govern like an ACLU lawyer while serving as president. It is fine to criticize President Obama’s civil liberties violations. But it is unfair to act as though he double-crossed the civil libertarians who voted for him.

A fact that eludes many on the Right and disgusts many on the Left is that Barack Obama is not running the country as a radical liberal. Make no mistake. He is a liberal. He’s blown any previous American president out of the water on gay rights, he pulled the troops out of Iraq, he instituted national health care, and he’s called for the DREAM Act and higher taxes on the wealthy. But he has also been hawkish in Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, generally follows an anti-civil liberties route, is continuing the War on Drugs, has defended the National Day of Prayer, and favors limited use of the death penalty. Barack Obama is a moderate liberal, and that is what he ran as. He never promised military isolationism. He never hid the fact that he voted for the Patriot Act. He never promised to legalize drugs. He never promised to end capital punishment. He never promised a totally secular government. There are hardcore, flaming liberals inside and outside of the Democratic Party. Farther on the left, there are a social democrats and democratic Socialists. But most American liberals did not support any of them for president. They supported Barack Obama, and that is who they got. As the expression goes, do not kick a cat for not being a dog.

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Time to End Slaps on the Wrist for People who Make Animals Fight for Sport

The American criminal justice system is sometimes extremely confounding. On the one hand, the system seems to try to punish anyone selling drugs as severely as possible. This trend is to the point that the death penalty is a possible punishment for large scale drug trafficking, even when no homicide has been committed by the person being sentenced. We are, in fact, a major anomaly in the sense that we are a Western nation with a lengthy tradition of republican government that still executes people at all. In the state of Texas alone, an average of over thirteen people are executed every year. Yet in other areas, our laws are horribly lenient. A primary example of this is pit fights involving animals. For running a brutal dog fighting ring, Atlanta Falcons player, Michael Vick, received a twenty-one month prison sentence. This was followed by two months under house arrest in a mansion, a sentence many criminals would relish. He is now back to a lucrative professional football career. (As the cases of Michael Vick and Riley Cooper demonstrate, the Philadelphia Eagles management seems to straddle the line between giving second chances and giving free passes.) There are millions of people languishing in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and unlikely to get out anytime soon who would give their right arm to be in Michael Vick’s position. In many states, a person can be sentenced to as little as one year, or even nine months, in prison for dogfighting. Many states also classify attending a dog fight as simply a misdemeanor.

It is well known that animals feel pain. They are, in fact, much more sensitive and mentally complex than many people like to admit. While progress has been made in criminalizing animal fighting, there is still much to be done. Traditionally, sentencing people for crimes of violence is considered to be the responsibility of individual states. That is fine, so long as the states deal with these crimes adequately. When they fail, the federal government must step in. The Violence Against Women Act was a prime example of this. That is why I propose federal legislation that sets a mandatory minimum five year prison sentence for  being involved in animal fighting, a mandatory minimum four year prison sentence for possessing animals with the intent to use them in fights, and a mandatory minimum three year prison sentence for being a spectator at an animal fight. The legislation should also stipulate that people involved in animal fighting will be required to pay full costs of treatment for any injuries incurred by animals as a result of said animals being forced to fight.

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Between Bashar al-Assad and a Hard Place

As a Barack Obama supporter, one of my main criticisms of his foreign policy is the opposite of a lot of people: I think he is too hawkish. The latest example of this is in the case of Syria. Recently, President Obama has proposed military strikes against Syria and is seeking approval from Congress for this action. I believe that military action by the United States against Syria would be a mistake. The country’s leader, Bashar al-Assad is a tyrant, and he has treated the people of Syria in a reprehensible manner. He should be overthrown. However, he is not trying to attack our country. While it is tempting for the United States to intervene on the basis of al-Assad’s human rights record, it would set a dangerous precedent. Iran, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia are all countries with terrible human rights records where slavery and/or genocide are par for the course. If we attack Syria, we must also attack these countries. Otherwise, we are being inconsistent when it comes to intervening militarily on the basis of human rights. The reality is that far from consistently intervening militarily when a country has bad human rights policies, the U.S. often trades with and supports such countries. For example, Pakistan receives close to a billion dollars in aid from the U.S. annually. Trade between the United States and the aforementioned Saudi Arabia flourishes.

The argument that the U.S. must intervene militarily to prevent Al Quaeda from gaining access to Asaad’s nuclear weapons, like the argument that we must intervene militarily to promote human rights, is compelling but ultimately fails. As stated previously, Asaad is not planning to use these weapons to attack the United States. Al Quaeda does have a presence in Syria’s rebel forces and could potentially get their hands on Asaad’s weapons at some point. But attacking Syria to prevent that scenario is the dictionary definition of pre-emptive war. We cannot attack a country because they have weapons that might fall into enemy hands at some point. If Asaad is toppled, which would be a good thing, and a government sympathetic to Al Quaeda takes control, which would be a bad thing, should we then attack Syria? That depends. This may sound heretical, but the mere fact that a government is colluding with Al Quaeda is not enough to justify the United States militarily attacking that government. In order to justify air strikes or invasion, it has to be demonstrated that this government is actively helping Al Quaeda attempt to attack the United States. After all, the United States government colluded with Osama bin Laden at one point, so it would make little sense for us to attack another country for doing the same thing that we did.

What should be done by the United States about oppressive foreign regimes? There is no great solution, but I believe that the best one is the use of sanctions. It is especially important that the United States should establish minimum human rights qualifications, then enact embargoes against all countries that fail to meet these qualifications. While such sanctions may not always achieve the desired results, the other two alternatives–doing little to nothing or attacking–are worse.

I close this blog with two warnings. The first warning is that if Asaad’s chemical weapons are capable of inflicting as much damage on the United States as is claimed by supporters of U.S. air strikes, Asaad may decide to use them in a retaliatory attack on one of our major cities if we choose to attack him. At that point, there will almost certainly be a full scale war. The second warning is that advanced weaponry destroys everything in its path. It does not take care to avoid hitting civilians. So American air strikes may kill some of the very people that we are trying to help.

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