Apparently, Glenn Beck (who I don't watch) has a serious dislike of Woodrow Wilson, possibly informed by Jonah Goldberg's book, Liberal Fascism, which I have written about before. There are little pockets of discussion of Wilson all over the internet. (What? You haven't read them? You mean not everybody reads early 20th-century political theory for fun? Here's one from this week, just as a taste.)
It just so happens that I just finished teaching about Wilson this week. And I'm not a big fan, either. There are lots of reasons--Wilson was a racist, I think his vaunted "idealism" was rooted in a terribly naive worldview which at least partially contributed to the causes of WWII, and his espionage and sedition acts of 1918 (among other things) were, in my opinion, an example of one of the times when we as Americans did not live up to our stated principles. I could go on and on about these and other evils, real and imagined, but that's not the point.
The real reason I don't like Wilson is that I think he's overrated. If he were a bad guy and everyone agreed about it, I'd be fine with that. Or if my opinion of him were lower than most people's, but no one sang his praises, he wouldn't cross my radar screen. But what gets me is that many, many historians rank him among the best presidents. There was a great poll done by the Wall Street Journal in 2005 that ranked all the presidents from G.W. to G.W. (Washington to Bush). The thing I like about this particular poll is that they tried to balance liberals vs. conservatives, so in theory the ideology should balance out (unlike, say, the famous rankings done by the Schlessingers, which could be translated as "liberals good, conservatives bad"). I actually use that poll in my history class. But even on it, Wilson gets the #11 ranking of all time. (As an aside, you can't look at the ranking of George W. Bush with any confidence, as the poll was taken in 2005, immediately after his reelection and before the slide he took starting in 2006.)
Anyway, I understand why he gets the "near-great" designation. He was the first Democrat to win consecutive terms since Andrew Jackson. He is the guy who brought "progressivism" to the Democrats (where it would develop into modern liberalism). And you always get bonus points for winning a war, in his case WWI. Moreover, I never try to judge a president by whether or not I agree with his agenda (or else you get the Schlessinger problem). Even a liberal can respect Reagan's success, and even a conservative can respect FDR's. (And incidentally, I'm perfectly fine with FDR outranking Reagan--the 1930s depression was worse than the 1970s malaise, WWII was worse than the Cold War, and 4 landslides trump 2.) But I just happen to think that those criteria for which Wilson gets so much credit are mis-used. He only won his first term in 1912 because of the Taft vs. Teddy Roosevelt split. In neither of his two electoral college victories did he win over half of the popular vote (incidentally, the same was true of Bill Clinton, but that's just interesting trivia). And I firmly believe that although Wilson "won" the great war, he lost the peace. Moreover, I would say that it was his own ego that prevented the US ratification of thee Treaty of Versailles, and set the stage for WWII.
Anyway, historians can argue about that, and they do. But what amuses me is that I feel the exact same way about Kobe Bryant. I'm not a Kobe fan. Yes, he scores a ton of points, and yes, he has won several championships. But the main reason I don't like Kobe is because too many folks swoon and call him the best player of all time. I'm sorry--he's not the best player in today's league (that would be Lebron), he's not the best player ever at his position (that would be Michael Jordan), he wasn't the best player on his own team for four of his championships (that would be Shaq), and he's certainly not the best player in his franchise's history (behind Magic, Kareem, Shaq, possibly Jerry West, and that's not even counting the time Wilt Chamberlain was there). It just bugs the heck out of me that people walk around not knowing that, the same way they know that 2+2=4.
Oh, well. I guess that's why I blog.