Oval Office hours: What President Obama could learn from Woodrow Wilson

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
Oval Office hours: What President Obama could learn from Woodrow Wilson

Politics Confidential

President Obama could improve relations with Congress by taking a page from Woodrow Wilson's playbook, so says Pulitzer- Prize-winning biographer A. Scott Berg.

Berg, who has recently published a new book on Woodrow Wilson, told “Politics Confidential” that the 28th president, in contrast to Obama, had a “sustained dialogue with lawmakers.”

“People have accused president Obama of lurching from crisis to crisis,” Berg said. “Wilson had as many crises, but he didn't have to lurch because there was an ongoing conversation.”

Wilson would regularly go to Capitol Hill to hold office hours for members of Congress, sitting in a room off the Senate chamber where lawmakers could easily access him. Wilson’s unique approach, Berg says, came from his belief that the White House and Congress should “literally ... co-operate the government.”

Wilson also called 25 joint sessions of Congress over the course of his two terms as president and brought back the in-person State of the Union address -- important interactions with the Congress that Berg says “worked” – helping the president to accomplish his legislative agenda.

But Berg praised Obama for his “Wilsonian” handling of Syria.

“What I found ‘Wilsonian’ was there was some leisure to it,” Berg says, referring to Obama’s decision to go to Congress for approval of a military strike and then indefinitely delay military action after Russia came forward with a diplomatic alternative.

“You never know what can happen in a day, or in a week, or in an hour for that matter,” Berg said. “And Wilson, the way he kept us out of World War I for a couple of years ... here was Obama now, who knew that Russia and Syria might start talking to each other, so by buying a few extra days there may be a solution.”

Another area of similarity between the two presidents is their mutual love for golf, though Obama can’t come close to matching the record-breaking 1,200 rounds of golf that Wilson played over the course of his presidency.

“Woodrow Wilson played more rounds of golf than any president in history,” Berg said.

Considering Obama has already received plenty of criticism for the amount of time he spends on the golf course, this is one “Wilsonian” quality that Berg admits Obama might be better off not emulating.

For more of the interview with Berg, including a discussion of Wilson’s atrocious civil liberties record, check out this episode of “Politics Confidential."

ABC’s Alexandra Dukakis, Hank Brown, and Shari Thomas contributed to this episode.