Lincoln’’s view of Obama
Lincoln’s view of Obama
With the 20-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln gazing from the Lincoln Memorial across the National Mall, I wondered, what would the Civil War president think about Barack Obama being sworn in as America’s 44 th president? Lincoln is obviously Obama’s favorite president. But would America’s 16 th president return the same sentiment? There’s no doubt these two presidents from Illinois share some similarities. As Australia’s Herald Sun noted, “Both were derided as too young and inexperienced to be president; both wrote best-selling books before running for the White House; both were lawyers and extraordinarily gifted orators; both came to power during a national crisis; and both were tall, lanky, self-made men determined to maintain contact with the citizens they served.” But some retort by saying every president since the 16 th president has felt some sense of his legacy. Lincoln scholar and historian Harold Holzer, who has written 31 books on the Great Emancipator, said: “They all feel it. Everyone finds something in him.” And, I would add, everyone finds their contrasts, too. “I think it is time to claim Lincoln as one of our own,” Franklin Roosevelt said in the spring of 1929. “I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln,” Gerald Ford once said. Obama even recently confessed, “There’s a genius to Lincoln that is not going to be matched.” Obama and Lincoln, however, do share one gigantic thing in common above all others: a rare and historic symmetry. One served as a catalyst to end slavery, and the other demonstrates just how far that freedom has advanced in almost 150 years. There cannot be enough said about the historical magnitude of this presidential moment — a true fulfillment of the American experiment, spirit and dream (an achievement embedded long ago in the equality clauses of the Declaration of Independence). In the end, our 16 th and 44 th presidents have not only some positives but also some negatives in common. The latter includes:
• They both believe imposing more taxes is the way to economic recovery. (Lincoln was dependent upon Southern taxes and initiated the first income taxes, which eventually would become law, in 1913, through our 16 th Amendment.) • They both believe in regarding the Constitution as a living document (allowing them more flexibility and power for preferred political decisions and presidential autonomy). • They both believe in big government solutions. Lincoln once said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all or cannot so well do for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities.” So where do these similarities and contrasts leave us in considering what Lincoln’s view of Obama’s inauguration might have been? About this we can be absolutely certain: Lincoln and his contemporaries couldn’t even have imagined a day when America would elect a black man as president. Such an elevated position was simply out of sight from the social paradigm of their time.
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