Originally published 05/17/2013
Jeffrey Rosen (@rosenjeffrey) is The New Republic's legal affairs editor....Obama’s rediscovery of the 1917 Espionage Act is grimly appropriate, since the president whose behavior on civil liberties he is most directly channeling isn’t, in fact, Richard Nixon or George W. Bush. It’s Woodrow Wilson. An enthusiastic supporter of Espionage Act prosecutions, the progressive, detached, technocratic Wilson was so convinced of his own virtue that he was willing to jail the Socialist candidate for president, Eugene V. Debs, for his mild criticism of the war, even as he championed progressive reforms such as the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission, both of them designed with the help of his economic advisor, Louis Brandeis.Wilson had a sorry record on civil liberties, and once Brandeis was on the Supreme Court, he eloquently criticized the Wilson administration for its betrayal of progressive values such as free speech and transparency, declaring that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and unforgettably extolling the necessity of protecting political dissent.Let’s hope today’s progressives teach the Wilsonian Obama a similar lesson.
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