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Why it's the perfect time for Leonardo DiCaprio to play Woodrow Wilson
A century later, the 28th president is more relevant than ever
 
Woodrow Wilson could soon get the Leo treatment.
Woodrow Wilson could soon get the Leo treatment. (Getty Images/Pascal Le Segretain)

Leonardo DiCaprio has portrayed his fair share of historical figures, including J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, and, way back in 1995, Arthur Rimbaud. Now comes news that he could be playing the 28th president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.

Warner Bros. is currently negotiating with DiCaprio over the film adaption of the recently released biography Wilson, with DiCaprio attached as the producer and star of the film.

At first glance, it certainly seems like there are more exciting people in American history to base a biopic on. But Wilson might be the perfect president to spotlight as the Obama era comes to a close.

Like Obama, Woodrow Wilson was "a Democrat who also sponsored aggressive national security actions and was criticized by civil libertarians," argues David Jackson at USA Today.

Take the Espionage Act, which bans "willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person."

The Obama administration has charged twice as many people under the law — including, most recently, NSA leaker Edward Snowden — than every other president combined.

The man responsible for the Espionage Act was, of course, Woodrow Wilson. The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen makes the connection between the two presidents:

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. [New Republic]

Rosen isn't the only one who considers Obama a Wilsonian. In The Week, Bill Scher argues that both presidents ran campaigns on anti-war sentiment, then later changed their tune while in office.

Wilson "won re-election in 1916 on the slogan 'He Kept Us Out Of War," Scher writes, only to relent in the face of "German aggression" and enter World War I. Obama "was re-elected at least in part for following through on withdrawal" from Iraq and Afghanistan, Scher says, only to be faced with Syria.

A. Scott Berg, the author of the biography the script is based on, has also made comparisons between Obama and Wilson. Both, he notes in The New York Times, had little political experience before becoming president.

In 1910, Wilson was president of Princeton. Two years later, he was president of the United States of America. Obama's rise wasn't as quick, but many in 2008 questioned whether one term in the Senate was enough to prepare him for the White House.

They also share a few enemies. Wilson is still a villain to some conservatives, namely libertarian-leaning Republicans, for creating the Federal Reserve. He was also one of only three presidents to win a Nobel Peace Prize while in office — the other two being Teddy Roosevelt and, yes, Barack Obama.

Of course, Hollywood could be more interested in the juicy subplot involving Wilson's courtship of and midterm marriage to Edith Galt, which would essentially be the 1920s version of The American President. At least that would be better than a remake of Dave.

 
Keith Wagstaff is a staff writer at TheWeek.com covering politics and current events. He has previously written for such publications as TIME, Details, VICE, and the Village Voice.

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