Woodrow Wilson: A Frenzied Pedagogue

From Princeton to the presidency, he never doubted that he was right. He should have—and so should his biographers.

Issue: November-December 2013

A. Scott Berg, Wilson (New York: Putnam, 2013), 832 pp., $40.00.

WHICH PREVIOUS president does President Barack Obama resemble most?

Historians have likened the forty-fourth president to the thirty-second, Franklin Roosevelt. Obama, after all, chose to open his first term with a progressive campaign that explicitly evoked FDR’s progressive Hundred Days. But Roosevelt functioned in a more political and opportunistic fashion than does Obama.

Asked once about his philosophy by a close colleague, Frances Perkins, Roosevelt replied, “I’m a Christian and a Democrat, that’s all.” Obama, by contrast, approaches topics with the comprehensive high-mindedness of a law-school professor. Roosevelt lived fraternally, for and in coalitions, whether the task was building them up or knocking them down. FDR’s New Deal consisted of an entire network of deals between varying parties—between government and Congress, or, for a time, between government and big business, and between a leader and his people. Obama places less emphasis on “between.” Our current president prefers to go it alone. Instead of a deal, Obama offers principles for others to endorse if they wish.

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