Carter and the End of Liberalism

The Collapse of Liberal Empire: Science and Revolution in the Twentieth Century

by Paul N. Goldstene
Yale University Press, 139 pp., $10.00

Public Constraint and American Policy in Vietnam

by Bruce Andrews
International Studies No. 02-042, Sage Publications, 64 pp., $3.00

America will come into the full light of the day when all shall know that she puts human rights above all other rights.

—Woodrow Wilson, June 1914

We have reason to fear a moralizing foreign policy. Woodrow Wilson, our premier political gospeler, has not fared well in historical retrospect. So Carter’s preachments on human rights raise a shudder, as if a shadow of the Fourteen Points had passed over us.

There are disconcerting parallels between the two men’s careers. Carter came, fast, out of nowhere. Wilson came out of somewhere—out of Princeton; but came even faster than Carter. The latter spent four years in Georgia’s legislature, four more as governor, and a few months as a national party officer. Wilson’s first experience of a political campaign came just two years before his election as president. He ran for office only three times in his life, always successfully, and the last two times for our highest office.

Wilson used his “outsider” image as well as Carter has. He was the man above politics, and party, and nation. Carter carries his own suit bag. Wilson not only lugged around his battered portable typewriter, but tapped out his own speeches on it—and love letters, and press releases. Wilson did not settle for a “people’s inaugural”—he canceled outright the inauguration ball. He was certain of his attunement with “the people”—he spoke for them, and threatened to go around Congress to reach them—as he went around his board and his alumni at Princeton, around his party and legislature in New Jersey. He even thought he could go around rival Mexican leaders, speaking to and for the peons; and at Versailles he presumed to tell world leaders what their respective people were demanding of them. I thought of Wilson immediately when Carter told the UN he could empathize with Third World countries since he comes from a deprived sector of his own nation.

But these “resemblances,” like others that could be listed, just mislead. So far Carter seems, with the possible exception of Eisenhower, the least Wilsonian of recent presidents. In fact, he would have a hard time being Wilsonian even if he wanted to—for reasons indirectly spelled out in Godfrey Hodgson’s America in Our Time. The book, though hefty, is almost self-effacing. It reads like a college survey text, with the literacy put back in. Once in paperback, it will no doubt be used in many college courses, replacing inadequate books relied on for that purpose now. It simply gets right, without great fuss, the detail and proportion of things like the civil rights movement, student unrest, the stages of our Vietnam engagement. Hodgson is authoritative without being stuffy—he deftly works in bits of personal reminiscence, notes from interviews he took as a journalist in the Sixties.

Hodgson knows and profits from the work of some “revisionists” without joining them. Instead, his book becomes part of a growing literature he never cites …

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