Barack Obama has refuted critics who call him a radical. He has shown himself to be a timid progressive. . . His progressivism is an attitude of genteel regret about the persistence of politics. . .
In a scintillating book coming in June ("The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris"), Peter Beinart dissects the progressivism of Woodrow Wilson. . .
Wilson, a professor of political science, said that the Princeton he led as its president was dedicated to unbiased expertise, and he thought government could be "reduced to science." Progressives are forever longing to replace the governance of people by the administration of things. Because they are entirely public-spirited, progressives volunteer to be the administrators, and to be as disinterested as the dickens. How gripped was Wilson by what Beinart calls "the hubris of reason"? Beinart writes:
"He even recommended to his wife that they draft a constitution for their marriage. Let's write down the basic rules, he suggested; 'then we can make bylaws at our leisure as they become necessary.' It was an early warning sign, a hint that perhaps the earnest young rationalizer did not understand that there were spheres where abstract principles didn't get you very far, where reason could never be king."
Professor Obama, who will seek re-election on the 100th anniversary of Wilson's 1912 election, understands, which makes him melancholy. Speaking to Katie Couric on Feb. 7, Obama said:
"I would have loved nothing better than to simply come up with some very elegant, academically approved approach to health care, and didn't have any kinds of legislative fingerprints on it, and just go ahead and have that passed. But that's not how it works in our democracy. Unfortunately, what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people."
Wilson was the first president to criticize the Founding Fathers. He faulted them for designing a government too susceptible to factions that impede disinterested experts from getting on with government undistracted. Like Princeton's former president, Obama's grievance is with the greatest Princetonian, the "father of the Constitution," James Madison, class of 1771.