Michael Gaynor
How Lincolnesque is Barack Obama?
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By Michael Gaynor
April 16, 2010

It was ironic for Obama to describe Bush as "almost messianic," but there was no way Obama would have joined the Gang of 14. He was hoping to be nominating justices and judges himself and he wanted to nominate liberal judicial activists who would rubberstamp "fundamental change" for him instead of persons who might declare any of his achievements unconstitutional.

As presidential candidate and president, Obama has tried mightily to appear to be Lincolnesque.

Naturally, Newsweek helped to create that impression in the public mind that Obama is like Lincoln (without mentioning Lincoln's unconstitutional suspension of the right to habeas corpus and decision to ignore a United States Supreme Court decision so ruling, or the naming of the volunteers from the United States who served in the Spanish Civil War in the International Brigades as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, or the congratulatory letter that Karl Marx, the father of communism, wrote to Lincoln after Lincoln's reelection www.marxists.org/archive/marx/iwma/documents/1864/lincoln-letter.htm).

After Election Day 2008, Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe's "Obama's Lincoln" was posted on November 15, 2008 and appeared in the November 24, 2008 issue.

Thomas and Wolffe: "It is the season to compare Barack Obama to Abraham Lincoln. Two thin men from rude beginnings, relatively new to Washington but wise to the world, bring the nation together to face a crisis. Both are superb rhetoricians, both geniuses at stagecraft and timing. Obama, like Lincoln and unlike most modern politicians, even writes his own speeches, or at least drafts the really important ones by hand, on yellow legal paper such as his remarkably honest speech on race during the Reverend Wright imbroglio last spring."

Amusingly, Thomas and Wolffe continued:

"Obama does have a...speechwriter named Jon Favreau, and on the day before the election, Favreau worked up a draft of a victory speech and sent it to Obama. The word came back from Obama's chief strategist... 'Barack wants to lean into bipartisanship a little more. Even though the Democrats have won a great victory, we should reach out and be humbled by it. Figure out a good Lincoln quote to bring it all together,'....

"More than familiar with Lincoln's rhetoric, Favreau decided to pass on...invoking 'the better angels of our nature,' and to quote the words that came before: 'We are not enemies, but friends ... Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.'"

To be sure, Obama and his team wanted to bring about "fundamental change" without opposition and would say what they thought would help while always keeping their eyes on the prize "fundamental change."

Lincoln, who actually wrote his Gettysburg Address himself, closed it with an expression of resolution that "this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

He was championing freedom, not socialism, and respect for the will of the people, not paternalism.

Thomas and Wolffe continued:

"To a public thoroughly sick of partisan bickering, these words rang with hope as Obama spoke them on election night before a vast crowd in Chicago's Grant Park. If there was any one message that defined the Obama campaign from the beginning, it was his promise to rise above the petty politics of division and unite the country. But now comes reality. The newly elected Congress will be left of center, particularly the old liberal bulls that chair committees and form much of the leadership of the House and Senate. The country, on the other hand, remains right of center (exit polls on Election Day show that 22 percent of voters identify themselves as liberal, 33 percent as conservative and 46 percent as moderate). Especially in the Senate, where the Democrats will be perhaps two or three votes shy of the 60 needed to break a filibuster and pass a bill, compromise and coalition-building will be the order of the day. If Obama is to accomplish much of anything, he is going to need all the leadership skills of a Lincoln."

WRONG!

Obama ended up with 60 Democrats as votes in Minnesota were recounted until Al Franken was declared the winner and Arlen Specter, originally a Democrat, decided to rejoin the Democrat Party. Obama did not compromise with Republicans and thus constitutionally defective Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote in either the House of Representatives or the Senate as Obama proved to be a divider, not a uniter.

Yes, the theme of Obama's Inauguration was taken from a line in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: "A New Birth of Freedom." But...is Obama a Lincoln?

To their credit, Thomas and Wolffe acknowledged that "Obama can be cocky," and related how Senator Obama had ineptly compared himself to Lincoln: "In his book 'The Audacity of Hope,' [Obama] describes how he rather grandly wrote in the pages of Time magazine, 'In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles.' Recalling the episode, Obama goes on to ruefully note that he was zinged by columnist Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal: 'This week comes the previously careful Sen. Barack Obama, flapping his wings in Time magazine and explaining that he's a lot like Abraham Lincoln, only sort of better.' Writes Obama: 'Ouch!'"

Now Obama's hubris is causing national pain.

But Thomas and Wolffe tried hard to make Obama seem Lincolnesque:

"Obama....observes himself as a kind of figure out of literature. Walking the streets of Springfield, the Illinois state capital, on the day he was speaking at the dedication of the Lincoln library, he 'started wondering,' as he put it, whether 'the poor boy born in the backwoods of Kentucky ever dreamed' that a presidential library would be dedicated in his name or that it was possible 'for a black man [Obama] to speak at that dedication as a United States Senator.' As a senator, Obama writes in 'Audacity,' he liked to jog on warm evenings down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, where he stood and silently mouthed the words carved in marble.

"He writes of going to the White House, of visiting the Lincoln Bedroom: 'A modest space with antique furniture, a four-poster bed, an original copy of the Gettysburg Address discreetly displayed under glass and a big, flat-screen TV set atop one of the desks. Who, I wondered, flipped on "SportsCenter" while spending the night in the Lincoln Bedroom?' At a White House breakfast meeting with some other senators, he describes President Bush as a kind of anti-Lincoln. Dealing with the question of judicial appointments, writes Obama, 'the President's eyes became fixed; his voice took on the agitated, rapid tone of someone neither accustomed to nor welcoming interruption; his easy affability was replaced by an almost messianic certainty."

But, in enacting Obamacare, it was Obama whose "easy affability" was "replaced by an almost messianic certainty."

Thomas and Wolffe continued: "By contrast, Obama praises Lincoln's 'practicality,' 'that self-awareness, that humility.' And yet, apparently without sensing any irony, on the very next page of his book, Obama records how he 'declined to be a part of what would be called the Gang of Fourteen.' The Gang of 14 was a bipartisan group of senators that tried to break through partisan deadlock over judicial appointments. As a senator, Obama showed a notable unwillingness to take political risks by reaching across the aisle on controversial matters (in contrast to his presidential opponent, John McCain, who routinely sought bipartisan coalitions and was one of the Gang of 14)."

It was ironic for Obama to describe Bush as "almost messianic," but there was no way Obama would have joined the Gang of 14. He was hoping to be nominating justices and judges himself and he wanted to nominate liberal judicial activists who would rubberstamp "fundamental change for him" instead of persons who might declare any of his achievements unconstitutional.

Thomas and Wolffe reported that an unidentified staffer "says that Obama believes he can by force of character bring Republicans into the fold without sacrificing Democratic principles."

Thomas and Wolffe concluded their article: "...when the 44th president is inaugurated on Jan. 20, and he mounts a platform that looks west, down the Mall and toward the Lincoln Memorial honoring the 16th president, he could do worse than ask himself: what would Lincoln do?"

About that, Thomas and Wolffe were right.

© Michael Gaynor

 

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Michael Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member... (more)

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