I think Obama played things pretty much perfectly at Arlington yesterday, continuing the tradition of laying a wreath at the memorial to the Confederate dead and starting a new one of leaving a presidential wreath at the monument to African-American soldiers who fought against the confederacy. I’m also going to leave alone the argument about what the South was — or was not — fighting for.
But, as NR’s foremost Woodrow Wilson hater (unless someone wants to compete with me for that title? I would enjoy the healthy competition!), I think it’s interesting to note how neutral the press is in describing the practice of laying wreaths at the Confederate memorial. Wilson began the practice in 1914 because he was very much a Southern partisan, the first Southerner to win the White House since before the Civil War. Many Southern Democrats hoped — and had good reason to expect — an all-out Dixiecrat revival with Wilson in the Oval Office. But they had to settle for Wilson’s re-segregation of Washington D.C. and the federal bureaucracy and screenings of Birth of a Nation in the White House.
It’s true that Wilson admired Lincoln, but his admiration was perverse. The progressive Democrat lamented Lincoln’s cause but loved his tactics. Crushing state autonomy, suspending habeus corpus, centralizing government, and all that statist stuff was great according to Wilson. But freeing the slaves and establishing universal male suffrage was “the foundation of every evil in this country.” For the record, the mainstream conservative view on Lincoln is that his tactics were regrettable but necessary evils in the fight against the far greater evil of slavery.
Anyway, I don’t really have a problem with the press playing it straight on Wilson. Except that if Wilson was a Republican, something tells me the press and the Left would put a lot more stink on the tradition. We’d hear more handwringing about the GOP’s or conservatism’s “legacy of racism” and whatnot (even though the GOP was founded as an anti-slavery party). But, since Wilson was a Democrat and liberal hero, the alleged racist overtones of the traditions are an indictment of America’s sins, of America’s troubling legacy (which they are, of course, but not exclusively so), while they say nothing of import about liberalism, progressivism, or the Democratic party. Because, remember, liberalism is never wrong.