The Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank is bemused by Glenn Beck's fixation on the abiding evil influence of Woodrow Wilson, which he links to Beck's defiance of the convention against comparing political opponents to Nazis. (I suspect that if the taboo has eroded for Beck and others it's because it's hard to call people communist sympathizers any more, but that's another issue. And anyway, Beck and the Right didn't start the metaphor.)
I actually think Glenn Beck is right to be fascinated by Wilson. I am, too. But I can't agree that Wilson is still a liberal hero who needs to be unmasked. Au contraire, Wilson is a much-beleaguered figure among liberals and libertarians, who regard him -- rightly -- as a racist even by the standards of his time. Screening Birth of a Nation in the White House was typical, as Charles Paul Freund has observed in Reason. And at the Congress of Versailles in 1919, Wilson helped the British delegation block a Japanese proposal for a racial equality clause in the League of Nations Covenant. As Hugh Purcell has written in History Today (July 2009):
Woodrow Wilson's closest adviser, Colonel House, passed the President a note: 'The trouble is that if the Commission [the Covenant Committee] should pass it [the amendment], it would surely raise the race issue throughout the world.'
Wilson took the point and addressed the meeting in his headmasterly way, frank but firm. He said that the League was 'obviously based on the principle of the equality of nations' but once you spelt it out you invited 'embarrassments'. It was his own interest 'to quieten discussion that raises national differences and racial prejudices'.
Did this attitude, in part a concession to West Coast anti-Asian prejudice, in itself cause Pearl Harbor? Of course not, but Purcell recalls the words of the disappointed Japanese ambassador:
Such a frame of mind, I am afraid, would be most detrimental to that harmony and cooperation upon which foundation alone can the League now be contemplated to be securely built.
"He was prophetic," Purcell continues. "In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria; in 1933 it left the League and so began its aggression that led it into the Second World War."