It can take generations to determine a president’s full legacy. For even as heated debates over a president’s historical actions rage, new developments bring fresh perspectives and pronouncements on his sagacity or stupidity.
For example, many lament President Woodrow Wilson’s creation of the Federal Reserve Board and rampant internationalism. But these historical indictments pale before his presidency’s most notorious “unforeseen consequence”: He preempted Tuesday night’s episode of “Vegas.”
After a century of our free republic surviving its absence, it was Wilson who revived the “long-abandoned custom” of personally delivering the “Annual Message to Congress,” i.e., the State of the Union address. Now, Americans reap his bitter fruit on viewing screens cluttered with a preening political class preempting our favorite shows.
It shouldn’t have been like this. Only in an age sans electronic media could any political advisor deem it a good idea to plop the stern, austere, didactic Wilson at a podium in front of anyone except some Princeton students serving detention. Heedless of this new tradition’s future toll when the day came print didn’t rule the news, on December 2, 1913, the dour former New Jersey governor — a.k.a., the “anti-Christie” — got off to a rollicking start:
I shall ask your indulgence if I venture to depart in some degree from the usual custom of setting before you in formal review the many matters which have engaged the attention and called for the action of the several departments of the Government or which look to them for early treatment in the future, because the list is long, very long, and would suffer in the abbreviation to which I should have to subject it [Yawn, mine].
This is why, a century later, I can’t watch Sheriff Ralph Lamb chase mobster Vincent Savino around the Strip?
Oh, some will argue not to jump the gun. Maybe Wilson’s “Annual Message” provided some electrifying policies or farsighted predictions. Well, here’s a rich one from the realm of international relations: “The country, I am thankful to say, is at peace with all the world. … There is but one cloud upon our horizon … Mexico.”
Doubtless, this news relieved the Kaiser. But what I want to know is whether Jack is going to tell Mia he shot her father; and, if he does, what will it do to their interpersonal relations?
As for any Wilson apologists who argue that the 28th president couldn’t have foreseen the advent of our media-saturated age, here’s a hint of Wilsonian foreshadowing from his address: “I hope that it may not be deemed an impertinent intrusion of myself into the picture …”