Who is “on the wrong side of history,” progressives or conservatives? Progressives often insist they are “on the right side of history,” but their ideas failed 100 years ago.

Today, for example, progressives have opposed fracking and have halted the building of the Keystone Pipeline to bring cheaper oil from Canada through the United States. As a result, gas prices at the pump have been over $3.00 per gallon for years. One hundred years ago progressives also stopped the flow of oil. They used new antitrust laws to break up the Standard Oil Company; and, as a result, no American company had the venture capital to pursue the foreign drilling that might have prevented shortages today.

On taxes, President Woodrow Wilson gave us the first progressive income tax. He and his progressive friends said raising tax rates would not hinder investments. But the year President Woodrow Wilson left office, the U.S. had a top tax rate of 73% and unemployment had skyrocketed to 12%. Because of high taxes, entrepreneurs refused to invest, the national debt spiraled upward, and the number of Americans reporting $300,000 in income declined from almost 1,300 in 1916 to fewer than 250 in 1921. High taxes chased away wealth and stifled growth.

Today, progressives have recently raised tax rates on entrepreneurs, on capital gains, and on dividends—and they are surprised to see economic stagnation and record debt levels. What didn’t work a century ago is also not working now.

In foreign policy, progressives today shun commitments to promote stability in the world. President Obama has wanted to withdraw U.S. influence from the Middle East whenever possible. ISIS, President Obama insisted, was no serious threat; they were merely a junior varsity team trying to dress up like they were in the pros. When ISIS then began rampaging through Iraq and part of Syria, the president still preferred inaction. When they next beheaded James Foley, an American journalist, the president criticized this action, but then went back to another round of golf.

In foreign policy almost 100 years ago, progressives led the charge for isolationism after World War I. Senator Hiram Johnson, who ran for president in 1912 with Teddy Roosevelt, and Senator Robert LaFollette, who ran for president in 1924 on the Progressive ticket, believed that talk instead of action would abolish war forever. They supported the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed by dozens of nations, which declared war to be illegal. The U.S. and other nations agreed to “condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.” When running for president in 1924, Robert LaFollette wrote in his Progressive Party platform that he “promote[d] firm treaty agreements with all nations to outlaw wars.”

The progressive idea here is that if a problem exists, we can pass a law and the problem will go away. In the real world, however, we often have negative unintended consequences. By everyone signing an agreement to outlaw war, for example, nations that knew better were lulled into complacency. Germany rebuilt its military in the 1930s with almost no resistance. Like ISIS, Germany could have been stopped early but progressives believed their rhetoric, they abhorred foreign intervention, and an evil threat to world order went unchecked.

For progressives to dismiss ISIS, or any other group, because it is “on the wrong side of history” creates two problems. First, even if true, it ignores the damage caused by inaction. Second, it assumes a “progress” in human affairs that our Founders did not assume. Human nature, our Founders believed, was not to be trusted. Power needed to be dispersed because even good people could not be trusted with much power. And ISIS today is similar to the Ottoman Turks almost 100 years ago who killed more than 1.5 million Armenians primarily because they were Christians. Evil never thinks it is on the wrong side of history.

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Sadly, the best and brightest of American high school students will be taking Advanced Placement (AP) United States history courses this fall.

I say “sadly” because the AP committee has expanded its History Standards, which will guide the teaching of this course to millions of students in the fall and in years to come. These revisions are distorted and biased; they stress America’s failures and overlook many ways this country made the world better.

Where do the New AP Standards go wrong? Let’s start with the issue of race, which dominates the Standards from beginning to end. Slavery is indeed reprehensible because it violates the natural right of every U.S. citizen to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And yes, early America–along with the rest of the world–legalized slavery. We do need to describe the damage slavery did in America, but we also need to explain clearly how slavery was abolished. The Standards never tell students that Christian groups were the impetus in both Britain and the U.S. to abolishing slavery. What a great opportunity for students to study strong Christians like James G. Birney, who twice ran for president, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”–the first book in our nation to sell one million copies!

Let’s look at slavery from another angle. The story of Harriet Tubman and Thomas Garrett, also absent in the Standards, is one of black and white working together on the Underground Railroad to fulfill the goals of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Garrett, a Quaker, sacrificed his own freedom, with a jail term, to help Harriet Tubman bring hundreds of slaves across the Delaware border into freedom in Pennsylvania. They were heroic, and can inspire high school students today. Instead of using slavery as a tool to depress students, and make them ashamed of their past, students can identify with black and white leaders like Tubman and Garrett who strived to make the Declaration of Independence a reality in our nation.

The authors of the new Standards see racism as a perpetual problem that has infected almost all American history. Even when race was a minor issue, the Standards make it a major one. The Mexican War, for example, was triggered first by Mexico’s refusal to pay its monetary debt to the U.S., and second by Mexico’s surprise attack on American troops north of the Rio Grande River.

The authors of the Standards, however, ignore both of these causes and focus more on racism: “Enthusiasm for U.S. territorial expansion, fueled by economic and national security interests and supported by claims of U.S. racial and cultural superiority, resulted in war [with Mexico], the opening of new markets, acquisition of new territory, and increased ideological conflicts.” In other words, according to the Standards we wanted more land, we thought we were racially superior to Mexico, and so we fought Mexico to get what we wanted. Not true, and all students–black, white, and Hispanic–should be taught real history, not political correctness.

The Standards, with their negative spin on American actions, miss the chance to address some of life’s big questions. For example, “How do we get along with each other in the world today?” During the 1930s, Japan and the United States had strained relations, and in 1941 Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Almost four years later, the U.S. prevailed and dropped two atomic bombs on Japan before that country finally surrendered.

Then the U.S. did something almost never done in human history–we offered the hand of friendship; Americans spent huge amounts of money rebuilding Japan. The result: Japan and the U.S. have been cordial allies and at peace with each other for almost 70 years. Then we did the same thing in West Germany (through the Marshall Plan) and broke the long cycle of hate that created World War I and World War II. Our kindness softened the hurt and hate in the world and gained us new friends.

The world had never seen that reaction before, and if we teach that story to students we can inspire them to love their country, improve it, and help preserve it for its role in the world in the 21st century. Sadly, the new Standards move students in the opposite direction. Why should Americans spend huge sums of taxpayer dollars to teach students to despise their nation’s history?

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The problem starts in the schools, and with the content taught (or not taught). If, for example, most high school students today don’t know when the Civil War occurred, or why it occurred, how will they understand what it accomplished?

The Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school are important because they attract the best students and prepare them for college. The AP United States History Standards for teaching advanced history courses to millions of students across the nation were revised and expanded this year, “effective fall 2014″, so I read them to see what all the fuss was about. I was appalled.

The central theme in U.S. history, according to these slanted standards, is group conflict and the perpetual tension with race, class, and gender. Thus, the section on immigration in the late 1800s will astonish many students: Why would almost a million immigrants each year want to come to a country so oppressive to so many groups? No answer to this key question is forthcoming.

The sheer silliness of the Standards may thwart their efforts to turn the students into incipient radicals. For example, the Standards never explain why the Puritans came to America, or why the Cold War started or why it ended. Why did the U.S. become the major economic power in the world? On this question also the Standards are silent, but they do tell the students, “The market revolution helped to widen a gap between rich and poor.”

Few American presidents are even mentioned in the new Standards; entrepreneurs and even civil rights heroes are also mostly absent. Their stories of hard work, overcoming challenges, and seeing their vision change the nation have inspired many students over the years, but those stories disappear from the new Standards.

The Standards regularly confuse good intentions with outcome. In discussing the Great Society reforms of the 1960s, for example, the Standards praise liberals for good intentions in wanting to help people: “Liberalism reached its zenith with Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society efforts to use federal power to end racial discrimination, eliminate poverty, and address other social issues while attacking communism abroad.”

What the Standards don’t tell students is that the Great Society largely failed because its programs created perverse incentives. In the 1960s, under Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), unwed mothers were given incentives to have children out of wedlock. Payments for each child out of wedlock increased, Medicaid benefits were added, food stamps and rent subsidies were tossed in, and the King vs. Smith Supreme Court decision allowed these benefits to continue even if boyfriends lived with the unwed mother.

The intentions of the liberal reformers were good, but poverty often increased after the 1960s in part because millions of new babies–black, white, and Latino–were being born into fatherless homes. Research has strongly shown that children born into intact families have much higher rates of success and happiness in life than those children born into one-parent households. The Great Society, with its good intentions, weakened the family structure and often did more harm than good.

These points are, of course, omitted in the new Standards. Thus, we may be on be verge of failing to educate another generation of students. How can we preserve and defend the liberty this country was founded on if we don’t teach students how we won our freedom and why our country, with all its faults, is worth defending?

For the time being, we need to encourage parents to consider charter schools, private schools, and even home schooling in order to educate their children. Students in AP U.S. History classes should read Larry Schweikart’s Patriot’s History of the United States to give them insight into why America has been an exceptional nation in world history.

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Who Really Cares For the Poor?

by Burt on August 7, 2014

The Wall Street Journal reported today (“Stimulus for Clunkers” Aug 6, p. A12) the financial and environmental failure of the president’s “Cash for Clunkers” program in 2009. It was touted as “very nearly the best possible countercyclical policy,” but instead it was costly and ineffective.

Why do the good intentions of political do-gooders always seem to trump common sense and fiscal responsibility? That may be the most important question Americans can ask their political leaders today.

One helpful answer is that in school, through history textbooks, Americans are taught early that the greatest leaders were often the biggest spenders and dreamers. As The National Experience says about social worker Jane Addams, “She cared for the poor.” Not that she had good judgment, but that “she cared for the poor” with other people’s money.

Presidents, in our history texts, are “great” or “near great” if they create new expensive programs, with the intent (if not the result) of “caring for the poor.” Franklin Roosevelt is considered a “great” president in the textbooks because of his intention to help the poor, not because of his result of economic stagnation and double-digit unemployment throughout his first two terms as president. In the Emergency Relief and Construction Act, the first federal welfare program, Illinois–a key swing state for FDR–received $55,443,721 and Massachusetts received zero. As Governor Joseph Ely of Massachusetts observed, “Whatever the justification for relief, the fact remains that the way in which it has been used makes it the greatest political asset on the practical side of party politics ever held by any administration.”

Governor Ely implies a shrewd insight here: FDR’s real intent may not have been to care for the poor, but to win votes from states receiving the most cash. The WPA, supposedly created to give jobs to the unemployed, was used as a vote-getter by FDR. When I did research in the National Archives for my book New Deal or Raw Deal? my research assistant discovered this complaint from a WPA worker, who had received this warning in the mail: “You are either on the WPA or employed in some government department and by virtue thereof you owe a duty to the [Democrat] Party to do your part in making the canvass. Failure to do your active share will be reported to our county chairman, and you may find your position in jeopardy.”

In other words, the WPA was not so much about giving jobs to the unemployed as it was about giving jobs to campaign workers with taxpayer dollars. The textbooks may have confused a noble intent with a political one.

The same is true with President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Great Society programs of the 1960s. From 1963 to 2010, according to Michael Tanner at CATO, the U.S. spent $13 trillion on a series of anti-poverty programs that have “neither reduced poverty nor made the poor self-sufficient.”

Good intentions explain part of why such expensive and ineffective programs became law. But LBJ’s desire to win elections and create a permanent Democrat majority may have been an even bigger motive. As Professor Paul Conkin of Vanderbilt has observed, “Each of [the] Great Society commitments promised benefits to a targeted and often an increasingly self-conscious interest group (blacks, the aged, the educationally deprived, the poor, the unemployed, urban ghetto dwellers, consumers, nature enthusiasts).” And LBJ, like FDR before him, won the votes of those anointed with federal dollars.

If the new history texts being written continue to stress good intentions for federal spending, and ignore the often greater political intentions and the gigantic failure of such spending, we will sadly educate yet another generation that will be unable to turn off the federal spigot and turn on the entrepreneurs, whose investments might yet give our young people the jobs that can develop their talents.

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The Disaster That Was World War I

by Burt on July 28, 2014

One hundred years ago today, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia–which soon engulfed Europe in World War I. A complex system of alliances among the countries of Europe meant that dozens of governments had declared war within a few days. Sadly, the Great War, as it was then called, is not much remembered today. But it has at least three lessons to teach us.

First, a strong executive can be very dangerous. The U.S. could have avoided the carnage and the expense of entering the war, but President Woodrow Wilson, despite his rhetoric of neutrality, strained to get the U.S. on the side of the Allies (Britain, France, and Italy), almost from the start.

In September 1915, Wilson confided to his chief adviser, Col. Edward House, that the U.S. needed to join the Allies. Since most Americans wanted to stay out of war, Wilson later said, “I could not move faster than the great mass of our people would permit.” To speed up America’s war fever, Wilson created a double standard: He didn’t criticize Britain’s naval blockade of Germany, but protested loudly when Germany blocked Britain with submarines.

Wilson’s long range goal was to be the power broker after the war, the man who brought the world everlasting peace through a league of nations. As Col. House encouragingly said to Wilson: “This [power broker] is the part I think you are destined to play in this world tragedy and it is the noblest part that has ever come to a son of man.” Wilson’s ego, fed by such statements and Wilson’s own poor judgment, knew no bounds, but Wilson’s legacy after the war was not lasting peace. Instead, World War II would kill 50 million people in the next generation.

Second, wars are expensive and damage the economy. World War I cost too many lives (about 124,000 Americans killed and many more seriously wounded) and cost the U.S. too much of its wealth. Before the war, America’s national debt was $1.2 billion. After the war, it was $24 billion. Just the annual interest on our new debt was almost greater than the entire national debt right before the war. That meant high tax rates, and the tax on top incomes was hiked to 77%, which stifled investment for years and led to double digit unemployment in the early 1920s.

Britain, who urged us into the war, also borrowed from us about $6 billion (one fourth of our national debt) but paid almost none of it back. No wonder the U.S. went into isolation in foreign policy after the war. This isolation caused us, and other nations, to turn the other way when Hitler rearmed Germany for revenge. One bad war led to another.

Third, wars stifle civil liberties. In the U.S., World War I shut down free speech and led those in power to trample on the civil liberties that Americans had enjoyed since adopting of the Constitution. President Wilson fought hard to remove any opposition to his wartime decisions. He promoted the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a felony (up to 20 years in prison) for criticizing the president or U.S. foreign policy. Charles Schenck, among others, went to jail for handing out anti-war pamphlets; Robert Prager was hung in Collinsville, Illinois for displaying insufficient loyalty. One woman got a ten year sentence for writing in the local newspaper, “I am for the people and the government is for the profiteers.” A Hollywood filmmaker was arrested for producing The Spirit of ’76 on the war for Independence. That film, the courts declared, was “calculated . . . to make us a little bit slack in our loyalty to Great Britain in this great catastrophe.”

The FBI created files on two million Americans of questionable loyalty and Thomas Gregory, Wilson’s Attorney General, openly bragged that he had “several hundred thousand private citizens” working for him “keeping an eye on disloyal individuals and making reports of disloyal utterances.” Senator Hiram Johnson of California was aghast and said, “The war has set back the people for a generation. They have become slaves to the government.” After the war, President Wilson argued for a peacetime sedition act, and he refused to pardon socialist Eugene Debs, who ran for president in 1920 from jail.

Only by throwing Wilson and his friends out of office in the 1920 elections did the U.S. reestablish economic and civil liberties. The lesson: If a war can be avoided, avoid it. World War I, which we remember this week, was just such a war.

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Let’s Celebrate Liberty!

by Anita July 15, 2014

Posted by Anita Folsom      The 4th of July has reminded us about the importance of our liberty in this wonderful country.  We have a long history of independence and personal initiative.  Our forebears didn’t look to government as the answer for all problems.  Instead, most individuals discovered solutions in the free market and prized [...]

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Where Does President Obama Get His Ideas on the Constitution?

by Burt July 8, 2014

From the Progressives. And in particular from President Woodrow Wilson, who was president one hundred years ago. Wilson was the first president who explicitly attacked the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as well. Here’s the story. Before he was president, Professor Woodrow Wilson taught history and politics at Princeton. He admired the idea of [...]

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Is Today ‘The Worst of Times?’

by Anita June 26, 2014

Posted by Anita Folsom “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the [...]

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The Day Before D-Day: Leadership In Action

by Anita June 5, 2014

Posted by Anita Folsom Seventy years ago today–June 5, 1944–Dwight Eisenhower wrestled with the most important decision of his life.  He was Supreme Commander of the allied forces poised to invade Europe.  Hundreds of thousands of men were under his command, yet Eisenhower had to wait on a report from a weatherman before making a [...]

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James Madison vs. Barack Obama

by Burt June 3, 2014

The scandal at the Veterans’ Administration highlights the differences between constitutionalists and progressives. Constitutionalists often see history as the story of how and why power is abused and people are oppressed. Constitutionalists believe in limited government because kings have almost always abused power. Liberty is best preserved when power is fragmented among different branches of [...]

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