Truth in Politics

What is missing in politics? Political debate and discussion among the body politic, both in communities and in Congress. We don’t have a parliament, and the town meeting is almost gone. Instead, we’ve got a manufactured narrative from the parties. Not the truth.

“For a long time this country of ours has lacked one of the institutions which freemen have always and everywhere held fundamental. For a long time there has been no sufficient opportunity of counsel among the people; no place and method of talk, of exchange of opinion, of parley. Communities have outgrown the folk-moot and the town-meeting. Congress, in accordance with the genius of the land, which asks for action and is impatient of words, –Congress, in accordance with the genius of the land, which asks for action and is impatient of words, –Congress has become an institution which does its work in the privacy of committee rooms and not on the floor of the Chamber; a body that makes laws,– a legislature; not a body that debates, –not a parliament. Party conventions afford little or no opportunity for discussion; platforms are privately manufactured and adopted with a whoop. It is partly because citizens have foregone the taking of counsel together that the unholy alliances of bosses and Big Business have been able to assume to govern for us.

“I conceive it to be one of the needs of the hour to restore the processes of common counsel, and to substitute them for the processes of private arrangement which now determine the policies of cities, states, and nation, We must learn, we freemen, to meet, as our fathers did, somehow, somewhere, for consultation. There must be discussion and debate, in which all freely participate.

“It must be candid debate and it must have for it honest purpose the clearing up of questions and the establishing of the truth. Too much political discussion is not to honest purpose, but only for the confounding of an opponent.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 5/The Parliament of the People.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 90-91. Print.

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Flower Power

Nowhere else in the book The New Freedom is Woodrow Wilson as lyrical or poetic as in this chapter, paraphrased below. Here, he describes the kind of power that rises from the soil, the roots, to produce the flower.

“Today, when our government has so far passed into the hands of special interests; today, when the doctrine is implicitly avowed that only select classes have the equipment necessary for carrying on government; today, when so many conscientious citizens, smitten with the scene of social wrong and suffering, have fallen victims to the fallacy that benevolent government can be meted out to the people by kind-hearted trustees of prosperity and guardians of dutiful employees,–today, supremely, does it behoove this nation to remember that a people shall be saved by the power that sleeps in its own deep bosom, or by none; shall be renewed in hope, in conscience, in strength, by waters welling up from its own sweet, perennial springs. Not from above; not by patronage of its aristocrats. The flower does not bear the root, but the root the flower. Everything that blooms in beauty in the air of heaven draws its fairness, its vigor, from its roots. Nothing living can blossom into fruitage unless through nourishing stalks deep-planted in the common soil. The rose is merely the evidence of the vitality of the root; and the real source of its beauty, the very blush that it wears upon its tender cheek, comes from those silent sources of life that lie hidden in the chemistry of the soil. Up from that soil, up from the silent bosom of the earth, rise the currents of life and energy. Up from the common soil, the quiet heart of the people, rise joyously today streams of hope and determination bound to renew the face of the earth in glory.

“…the need of the hour is just that radicalism that will clear a way for the realization of the aspirations of a sturdy race.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 4/Life Comes from the Soil.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 88-89. Print.

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Insulting Women

I’m struck with Woodrow Wilson’s framing of the difference between the classes in this essay. First, he insults the rich kids at a college where he’s speaking, then he insults everybody else by calling them “common.” But what’s even worse is how obvious it is that women aren’t even considered in his thoughts about leadership and industry.

“I remember speaking at a school not long ago where I understood that almost all the young men were the sons of very rich people, and I told them I looked upon them with a great deal of pity, because, I said: “most of you fellows are doomed to obscurity. You will not do anything. You will never try to do anything, and with all the great tasks of the country waiting to be done, probably you are the very men who will decline to do them. Some man who has been ‘up against it,’ some man who has come out of the crowd, somebody who has had the whip of necessity laid on his back, will emerge out of the crowd, will show that he understands the crowd, understands the interests of the nation, united and not separated, and will stand up and lead us.”

“If I may speak of my won experience, I have found audiences made up of the ‘common people’ quicker to take a point, quicker to understand an argument, quicker to discern a tendency and to comprehend a principle, than many a college class that I have lectured to,–not because the college class lacked the intelligence, but because college boys are not in contact with the realities of life, while ‘common’ citizens are in contact with the actual life of day by day; you do not have to explain to them what touches them to the quick.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 4/Life Comes from the Soil.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 84-85. Print.

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Out of the Unknown, that Great Voiceless Multitude

Where Woodrow Wilson says below “we have got to organize a government whose sympathies…” he makes me think of what I tried to do with Writeindependent.org.

“A nation is as great, and only as great, as her rank and file.

“So, the first and chief need of this nation of ours today is to include in the partnership of government all those great bodies of unnamed men who are going to produce our future leaders and renew the future energies of America….The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it. The man who is in the melee knows what blows are being struck and what blood is being drawn. The man who is on the make is the judge of what is happening in America, not the man who has made good; not the man who has emerged from the flood; not the man who is standing on the bank looking on, but the man who is struggling for his life and for the lives of those who are dearer to him than himself. That is the man whose judgment will tell you what is going on in America; that is the man by whose judgment I, for one, wish to be guided.

“We have had the wrong jury; we have had the wrong group, –no, I will not say the wrong group, but too small a group, –in control of the policies of the United States. The average man has not been consulted, and his heart had begun to sink for fear he never would be consulted again. Therefore, we have got to organize a government whose sympathies will be open to the whole body of the people of the United States, a government which will consult as large a proportion of the people of the United States as possible before it acts. Because the great problem of government is to know what the average man is experiencing and is thinking about. Most of us are average men very few of us rise, except by fortunate accident, above the general level of the community about us; and therefore the man who thinks common thoughts, the man who has had common experiences, is almost always the man who interprets America aright. Isn’t that the reason that we are proud of such stories as the story of Abraham Lincoln, — a man who rose out of the ranks and interpreted America better than any man had interpreted it who had risen out of the privileged classes or the educated classes of America?

“The hope of the United States in the present and in the future is the same that it has always been: it is the hope and confidence that out of the unknown homes will come men who will constitute themselves the masters of industry and of politics. The average hopefulness, the average welfare, the average enterprise, the average initiative, of the United States are the only things that make it rich. We are not rich because a few gentlemen direct our industry; we are rich because of our own intelligence and our own industry. America does not consist of men who set themselves up to be political leaders; she does not consist of the men who do most of her talking, –they are important only so far as they speak for that great voiceless multitude of men who constitute the great body and the saving force of the nation.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 4/Life Comes from the Soil.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 80-82. Print.

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Freedom Not Thralldom

Shall we submit to a monopolistic culture, to an authoritarian government that rules by strong-arming the public into submission? Woodrow Wilson says we shall not, and yet, what is being done? He falls short on his call to action. It should have been stronger.

“America is never going to submit to guardianship. America is never going to choose thralldom instead of freedom. Look what there is to decide! There is the tariff question. Can the tariff question be decided in favor of the people, so long as the monopolies are the chief counselors at Washington? There is the currency question. Are we going to settle the currency question so long as the government listens only to the counsel of those who command the banking situation?

“Then there is the question of conservation. What is our fear about conservation? The hands that are being stretched out to monopolize our forests, to prevent or pre-empt the use of our great power-producing streams, the hands that are being stretched into the bowels of the earth to take possession of the great riches that lie hidden in Alaska and elsewhere in the incomparable domain of the United States, are the hand of monopoly. Are these men to continue to stand at the elbow of government and tell us how we are to save ourselves,– from themselves? You cannot settle the question of conservation while monopoly is close to the ears of those who govern. And the question of conservation is a great deal bigger than the question of saving our forests and our mineral resources and our waters; it is as big as the life and happiness and strength and elasticity and hope of our people.

“There are tasks awaiting the government of the United States which it cannot perform until every pulse of that government beats in unison with the needs and the desires of the whole body of the American people. Shall we not give the people access of sympathy, access of authority, to the instrumentalities which are to be indispensable to their lives?”

Let us take authority, then! Let us rise up against these forces that mean to keep us down!

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 3/Freemen Need No Guardians.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 77-78. Print.

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One Hundred Years Ago

Woodrow Wilson explains the problem with voting and money in politics from a hundred years ago.

“All over the Union people are coming to feel that they have no control over the course of affairs. I live in one of the greatest States in the union, which was at one time in slavery. Until two years ago we had witnessed with increasing concern the growth in New Jersey of a spirit of almost cynical despair. Men said: ‘We vote; we are offered the platform we want; we elect the men who stand on that platform, and we get absolutely nothing.’ So they began to ask: ‘What is the use of voting? We know that the machines of both parties are subsidized by the same persons, and therefore it is useless to turn in either direction.’

“This is not confined to some of the state governments and those of some of the towns and cities. We know that something intervenes between the people of the United States and the control of their own affairs at Washington. It is not the people who have been ruling there of late.

“Why are we in the presence, why are we at the threshold, of the revolution? Because we are profoundly disturbed by the influences which we see reigning in the determination of our public life and our public policy. There was a time when America was blithe with self-confidence. She boasted that she, and she alone, knew the processes of popular government; but now she sees her sky overcast; she sees that there are at work forces which she did not dream of in her hopeful youth.

 

“Here, for example, is the old question of campaign funds: If I take a hundred thousand dollars from a group of men representing a particular interest that has a big stake in a certain schedule of the tariff, I take it with the knowledge that those gentlemen will expect me not to forget their interest in that schedule, and that they will take it as a point of implicit honor that I should see to it that they are not damaged by too great a change in that schedule. Therefore, if I take their money, I am bound to them by a tacit implication of honor. Perhaps there is no ground for objection to this situation so long as the function of government is conceived to be to look after the trustees of prosperity, who in turn will look after the people; but on any other theory than that of trusteeship no interested campaign contributions can be tolerated for a moment, –save those of the millions of citizens who thus support the doctrines they believe and the men whom they recognized as their spokesmen.

“I tell you the men I am interested in are the men who, under the conditions we have had, never had their voices heard, who never got a line in the newspapers, who never got a moment on the platform, who never had access to the ears of Goernors or Presidents or of anybody who was responsible for the conduct of public affairs, but who went silently and patiently to their work every day carrying the burden of the world. How are they to be understood by the masters of finance, if only the masters of finance are consulted?

That is what I mean when I say, “Bring the government back to the people.” I do not mean anything demagogic; I do not mean to talk as if we wanted a great mass of men to rush in and destroy something. That is not the idea. I want the people to come in and take possession of their own premises; for I hold that the government belongs to the people, and that they have a right to that intimate access to it which will determine every turn of its policy.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 27-28. Print.

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 3/Freemen Need No Guardians.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 75-77. Print.

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Who Runs Our Government?

Woodrow Wilson describes the troubling association between government and business.

“One of the most alarming phenomena of the time, … one of the most significant signs of the new social era is the degree to which government has become associated with business. I speak, for the moment, of the control over the government exercised by Big Business. Behind the whole subject, of course is the truth that, in the new order, government and business must be associated closely. But that association is upside down. Our government has been for the past few years under the control of heads of great allied corporations with special interests. It has not controlled these interests and assigned them a proper place in the whole system of business; it has submitted itself to their control. As a result, there have grown up vicious systems and schemes of governmental favoritism (the most obvious being the extravagant tariff), far-reaching in effect upon the whole fabric of life, touching to his injury every inhabitant of the land, laying unfair and impossible handicaps upon competitors, imposing taxes in every direction, stifling everywhere the free spirit of American enterprise.”

“…It is an intolerable thing that the government of the republic should have got so far out of the hands of the people; should have been captured by interests which are special and not general. In the train of this capture follow the troops of scandals, wrongs, indecencies, with which our politics swarm.”

“There are cities in America of whose government we are ashamed. There are cities everywhere, in every part of the land, in which we feel that, not the interests of the public, but the interests of special privileges, of selfish men, are served; where contracts take precedence over public interest. Not only in big cities is this the case. Have you noticed the growth of socialistic sentiment in the smaller towns? Not many months ago I stopped at a little town in Nebraska, and while my train lingered I met on the platform a very engaging young fellow dressed in overalls who introduced himself to me as the mayor of the town, and added that he was a Socialist. I said, ‘What does that mean? Does that mean this town is Socialistic?’ ‘No, sir,’ he said; ‘I have not deceived myself; the vote by which I was elected was about 20 per cent socialistic and 80 per cent protest.’ It was protest against the treachery to the people of those who led the other parties of that town.”

I want to explain the last story here by Woodrow Wilson, to the best of my ability. The mayor in overalls won his seat by capturing the votes of the disgruntled public who were not happy with either of the major parties. They elected, against their favorite position, a less corrupt candidate, even though he was a socialist. Imagine that in our day!! (Not to say that I am a socialist! I am not!)

If you think you can explain Wilson’s Nebraskan story better than I, please go ahead and leave a comment.

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 24-27. Print.

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Canary in a Coal Mine

Woodrow Wilson makes a case for regulating corporations.

“It was no business of the law in the time of Jefferson to come into my house and see how I kept house. But when my house, when my so-called private property, became a great mine, and men went along dark corridors amidst every kind of danger in order to dig out the bowels of the earth things necessary for the industries of a whole nation, and when it came about that no individual owned these mines, that they were owned by great stock companies, then all the old analogies absolutely collapsed and it became the right of the government to go down into these mines to see whether human beings were properly treat in them or not; to see whether accidents were properly safeguarded against; to see whether modern economical methods of using these inestimable riches of the earth were followed or were not followed. If somebody puts a derrick properly secured on top of a building or overtopping the street, then the government of the city has the right to see that that derrick is so secured that you and I can walk under it and not be afraid that the heavens are going to fall on us. Likewise, in these great beehives where in every corridor swarm men of flesh and blood, it is the privilege of the government, whether of the State or of the United States, as the case may be, to see that human life is protected, that human lungs have something to breathe.

“These, again, are merely illustrations of conditions. We are in a new world, struggling under old laws. As we go inspecting our lives today, surveying this new scene of centralized and complex society, we shall find many more things out of joint.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 23-24. Print.

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Why Corporations Need to Be Regulated

In the following excerpt Woodrow Wilson makes a case for regulating corporations, for making their businesses open to scrutiny so that shareholders may see the scruples and values under which they operate.

“There has come over the land that un-American set of conditions which enables a small number of men who control the government to get favors from the government; by those favors to exclude their fellows from equal business opportunity; by those favors to extend a network of control that will presently dominate every industry in the country, and so make men forget the ancient time when America lay in every hamlet, when America was to be seen in every fair valley, when America displayed her great forces on the broad prairies, ran her fine fires of enterprise up over the mountainsides and down into the bowels of the earth, and eager men were everywhere captains of industry, no employees; not looking to a distant city to find out what they might do, but looking about among their neighbors, finding credit according to their character, not according to their connections, finding credit in proportion to what was known to be in them and behind them, not in proportion to the securities they held that were approved where they were not known. In order to start an enterprise now, you have to be authenticated, in a perfectly impersonal way, not according to yourself, but according to what you own that somebody else approves of your owning. You cannot begin such an enterprise as those that have made America until you are so authenticated, until you have succeeded in obtaining the good-will of large allied capitalists. Is that freedom? That is dependence, not freedom.

“We used to think in the old-fashioned days when life was very simple that all that government had to do was to put on a policeman’s uniform and say, “Now don’t anybody hurt anybody else.” We used to say that the ideal of government was for every man to be left alone and not interfered with, except when he interfered with somebody else; and that the best government was the government that did as little governing as possible. That was the idea that obtained in Jefferson’s time. But we are coming now to realize that life is so complicated that we are not dealing with the old conditions, and that the law has to step in and create new conditions under which we may live, the conditions which will make it tolerable for us to live.

“Let me illustrate what I mean: It used to be true in our cities that every family occupied a separate house of its own, that every family had its own little premises, that every family was separated in its life from every other family. That is no longer the casein our great cities. Families live in tenements, they live in flats, they live on floors; they are piled layer upon layer in the great tenement houses of our crowded districts, and not only are they piled layer upon layer, but they are associated room by room, so that there is in every room, some times, in our congested districts, a separate family. In some foreign countries they have made much more progress than we in handling these things. In the city of Glasgow, for example, they have made up their minds that the entries and the hallways of great tenements are public streets. Therefore, the policeman goes up the stairway, and patrols the corridors; the lighting department of the city sees to it that the halls are abundantly lighted. The city does not deceive itself into supposing that that great building is a unit from which the police are to keep out and the civic authority to be excluded, but it says: ‘These are public highways, and light is need in them, and control by the authority of the city.’

“I liken that to our great modern industrial enterprises. A corporation is very like a large tenement house; it isn’t the premises of a single commercial family; it is just as much a public affair as a tenement house is a network of public highways.

“When you offer the securities of a great corporation to anybody who wishes to purchase them, you must open that corporation to the inspection of everybody who wants to purchase them. There must, to follow out the figure of the tenement house, be lights along the corridors, there must be police patrolling the openings, there must be inspection wherever it is known that men may be deceived with regard to the contents of the premises. If we believe that fraud lies in wait for us, we must have the means of determining whether our suspicions are well founded or not. Similarly, the treatment of labor by the great corporations is not what it was in Jefferson’s time. Whenever bodies of men employ bodies of men, it ceases to be a private relationship. So that when courts hold that workingmen cannot peaceably dissuade other workingmen from taking employment, they simply show that their minds and understandings are lingering in an age which has passed away. This dealing of great bodies of men with other bodies of men is a matter of public scrutiny, and should be a matter of public regulation.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 18-23. Print.

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The big fellow and the little fellow

What this country needs is a leader who is willing to tell it like it is, but then to do something about it!

It’s hard to believe that Woodrow Wilson published the following text 100 years ago, in 1913, when it could have just as well been written yesterday.

“The rank and file of business men …would say… if they dared …that the present organization of business was meant for the big fellows and not the little fellows; that it was meant for those who are at the top and was meant to exclude those who are at the bottom; that it was meant to shut out beginners, to prevent new entries in the race, to prevent the building up of competitive enterprises that would interfere with the monopolies which the great trusts have built up.

“What this country needs above everything else is a body of laws which will look after the men who are on the make rather than the men who are already made. Because the men who are already made are not going to live indefinitely, and they are not always kind enough to leave sons as able and honest as they are.

“The originative part of America, the part of America that makes new enterprises, the part into which the ambitious and gifted workingman makes his way up, the class that saves, that plans, that organizes, that presently spreads its enterprises until they have a national scope and character,–that middle class is being more and more squeezed out by the processes which we have been taught to call processes of prosperity. Its members are sharing prosperity, no doubt; but what alarms me is that they are not originating prosperity. No country can afford to have its prosperity originated by a small controlling class. The treasury of America does not lie in the brains of the small body of men now in control of the great enterprises that have been concentrated under the direction of a very small number of persons. The treasury of America lies in those ambitions, those energies that cannot be restricted to a special favored class. It depends upon the inventions of unknown men, upon the originations of unknown men, upon the ambitions of unknown men. Every country is renewed out of the ranks of the unknown, not out of the ranks of those already famous and powerful and in control.”

Wilson, Woodrow. “Chapter 1/The Old Order Changeth.” The New Freedom; a Call for the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People. New York and Garden City: Doubleday, Page, 1913. 16-18. Print.

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