Today’s political landscape is dominated by the issue of expanding government. Citizens all over the United States are fearful of the involvement of government into their private lives. Throughout America’s history, government has expanded based on the needs, or perceived needs, of the people during the time. Government has expanded to protect the people; government has expanded to allow the people to protect themselves as they see fit. Government has expanded to give people more freedom, and government has expanded to restrict freedom. When people think of expanding government, they tend to think of the same handful of Presidents. Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Barack Obama are some of the first to come to mind. However, Woodrow Wilson, in campaign speeches he made during his presidential bid of 1912, advocated greatly for the expansion of government into the business sector. Upon close examination of his speeches, we see his reasoning for the need of government growth into the private sector. Most revealing is a statement he makes about private corporations. “Whenever bodies of men employ bodies of men, it ceases to be a private relationship.” (Cummings and Dolbeare, 2010, pg. 440) What is his reasoning behind such a statement? “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.” (Cummings and Dolbeare, 2010, pg. 440) What a revealing statement! Rarely has such an intelligent statement been made to advocate the expansion of government. Reasons of protection and liberty of free men are not nearly as well accepted as this; for Wilson’s logic puts no man down. Wilson’s reasoning says to no one, “You have not the intellect to take care of yourself! You have not the foresight that I do!” Men are often greatly offended by such logic. President Obama’s reasoning for expanded government, much in the mold of FDR, has been to “protect” the people from the perils of economic depression. Free men are perfectly capable of protecting themselves. Free men need not government to take over their businesses because they lack the foresight and efficiency that their elected officials possess. Wilson says this best when he says that, “if the free people can’t take care of itself, then it isn’t free.” (Cummings and Dolbeare, 2010, pg. 443) This is one of the lessons that future presidents can learn from Wilson: use rhetoric that does not put others beneath oneself. Thomas Jefferson said, in his First Inaugural Address, that one of the duties of government, in fact the first duty, is “equal and exact justice to all men”. (Cummings and Dolbeare, 2010, pg. 161) In Jefferson’s day, this statement was made to address the judicial issues that arise in the government of a new republic, not the business world. This duty of government is applicable in modern times to the private, corporate business world. As Wilson put it, “that time is past”. (Cummings and Dolbeare, 2010, pg. 439) How does Wilson tie these two thoughts together? He says that “the government of the United States shall see to it that these gentlemen who have conquered labor shall be kind to labor.” (Cummings and Dolbeare, 2010, pg. 441) This was the same thought that many Americans of the day had as well. In the Progressive Party Platform, a party which would have a great degree of influence on America’s political landscape, one of the issues they saw as needing overhaul was “the fixing of minimum safety and health standards for the various occupations, and the exercise of the public authority of State and Nation…to maintain such standards.” (Cummings and Dolbeare, 2010, pg. 427) Wilson took an idea that was already cemented in the minds of Americans, and gave it legs and logic. Here is the second lesson that future presidents can learn from Wilson: grab the thoughts of those governed and put solid logic to them that leads to viable solutions rather than focusing on how to implement programs that could lead to solutions. Solid logic is more than important than implementation. How can this be? For it is logic and reason that lead to the ideas that become policy. Programs, no matter how they are implemented, will never succeed unless they are founded on a logical and reasonable solution. For what is the job of the bureaucracy anyway? Is it not to implement the plans of government? Therefore, why should a President concern himself with implementation of programs? A better President is one who can recognize a problem and perceive why it is a problem. This type of analysis leads to viable solutions; solutions that are based on analysis; careful analysis. This process can only be achieved through a sympathetic spirit. Woodrow Wilson recognized this, as evidenced in an essay he once wrote. He says that, “successful leadership is the product of sympathy, not of antagonism - a sympathy which is insight.” (Younger, 1956, pg. 391) Sympathy and solution cannot and should not be divorced. Logic and reason are never the byproduct of ambition; programs are. “The New Deal”, “The Great Society”, and “ObamaCare” are all programs birthed out of ambition – a desire to have your name stamped in history as one who implemented a program to help people. Logic and reason have no catchy, memorable titles, but their effects are far greater. If programs are not the offspring of this combination of sympathy and logic, then what is? It is something far grander than programs: it is a man, a leader, who understands the needs of the people and knows how to help them. Wilson understood this concept very well, for he wrote, “I do not conceive the leader a trimmer, weak to yield what clamour claims, but the deeply human man, quick to know and to do the things that the hour and his nation need.” (Younger, 1956, pg. 391) A deeply human man is one who is down-to-earth, and compassionate towards the plight of others. Notice what Wilson says takes place when one is sympathetic to others and observes what they need. He says it leads to a man who is “quick to know and to do”. Either of these things in isolation does not constitute a strong, understanding leader. If someone is knowledgeable but cannot do what needs to be done, they are unfit for duty. Similarly, if someone is a real “man of action”, a real go-getter, but has no idea about what is really going on in people’s lives, then they are also unfit for duty. Herein is the final lesson which future presidents can learn from Wilson: when it comes to leadership, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. In a C-SPAN poll from 2000 that is designed to rank Presidents according to their leadership abilities, Woodrow Wilson placed sixth out of forty-one, which is quite remarkable. (National Cable Satellite Corporation, 2010) Wilson tends to be a President that is not usually mentioned with the great Presidents in history. Yet he ranks above Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, Dwight Eisenhower, the great hero of World War II, and Andrew Jackson, a Revolutionary War veteran and hero of the Battle of New Orleans. How can this be? It all stems from his theories of leadership – compassion combined with logic leads to improvement. In the minds of those governed, compassion goes farther than brilliance and heroism, as this poll would suggest. In fact, the men that are ranked above Wilson are seen as some of the most compassionate Presidents in history. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Theodore Roosevelt are some of the most sympathetic men who have ever served in office. It would seem that perhaps Wilson derived his theory of leadership from some of these previous giants. Woodrow Wilson offers up many lessons to be learned from. Like many Presidents, Wilson had his fair share of national problems as he ascended the Presidency. In describing Wilson’s great problem that he was addressing, one man says that, “the relationship between the two is essentially adversarial, with the government trying to superimpose its (political) goals on economically minded managers who resist such intervention.” (Hafsi, 1985, pg. 64) This is a very real problem that still exists today, though undoubtedly not to the degree that Wilson had to deal with. Yet even a problem as hard to solve as this, and be assured that it is a difficult compromise to make, it is solvable with the right type of leader in place. Wilson had a “system” for solving these problems and it this “system” that offers the greatest lessons to future Presidents, and all who serve in public office. Firstly, possess compassion toward those whom you govern. Without true compassion, without sympathy to those in need, government ceases to exist. Compassion is a virtue that is very hard to find in government, especially at the Federal level. Yet, with more power comes more responsibility. Since the Federal government is the most powerful level of government, they should be the most compassionate. Secondly, observe the problems in society and listen to those who talk about them. As Wilson demonstrated with the Progressive Party, when you listen to the plight of those living in hazardous situations, and observe them for yourself, you can make a great deal of change occur. The steps in this system are not isolated; rather they build upon one another. In other words, it is impossible to observe and listen without concern for others. Thirdly, take what you hear and observe and apply logic and reason to the situation to determine how to fix it. Do not put yourself above others when looking at their problems. Do not offer solutions because you seek to “protect” others – a free people do not need this, save under extreme circumstances. Wilson demonstrated this principle beautifully in his analysis of why government should interfere with the private business world. His compassion and observation led him to his conclusion. In Wilson’s case, this system ultimately did lead to a few programs; programs like the League of Nations and the FDIC. However, these came about as a result of this system, rather than selfish ambition. Perhaps people are learning from Wilson and studying his theories and thought processes. The statement has been made that, “[Wilson’s] political science has served for several generations as the intellectual framework for presidential studies in the United States.” (Eden, 1995, pg. 488) Woodrow Wilson has earned his number six ranking by using this system and it can only be hoped that others will learn from it as well.
Cummings, Michael S., and Dolbeare, Kenneth M. (2010). American Political Thought, 6th Edition. Washington DC: CQ Press
Eden, Robert. (1995). Opinion Leadership and the Problem of Executive Power: Woodrow Wilson’s Original Position. The Review of Politics, Vol. 57, No. 3, pp. 483-503. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1408598
Hafsi, Taieb. (1985). The Dynamics of Government in Business. Interfaces, Vol. 15, No. 4, pp. 62-69. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25060725
Younger, Edward. (1956). Woodrow Wilson: The Making of a Leader. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 64, No. 4, pp. 387-401. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4246246
National Cable Satellite Corporation. (2010) Historians Presidential Leadership Survey. Retrieved April 8, 2010, from http://www.c-span.org/PresidentialSurvey/Overall-Ranking.aspx
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