Monday, November 17, 2008

Barack Obama is not JFK, FDR, or Lincoln

All I here about now adays is how similar Barack Obama is to the great Presidents. He's young: JFK. He's meeting with his formal rival: Abraham Lincoln. He wants change: FDR.

First, and I want to say this clearly, I have no idea what kind of President Obama will be. He very well could be the next FDR (or Theodore Roosevelt), or he could be the next James K. Polk. There is no way of knowing that now.

Second, and most importantly, these comparisons with great Presidents are irrelevent. President-Elect Obama has plenty of comparisons with bad Presidents: James Buchanan was a Senator, just like Obama. Buchanan was also a Democrat. Warren G. Harding was a Senator, Herbert Hoover was President during economic hardships.

The point is that there is no way to know how he will govern our great land, and that connections draw are simply, in a way, a waste.


CKAinRedStateUSA said...

Careful, now. Suggesting that Obama is none of the three presidents you mention or some rollup of all three borders on -- drum roll! -- racism.

As for JFK: He nearly got us into not just a shooting war, but missles-in-the-air war. Too, there was Viet Nam.

As for FDR: Afer he became president, unemployment rose over those during his predecessor's time in office. World War II helped save the American economy.

As for Lincoln: How dare Barack Hussein Obama say he has anything in commone with Abraham Lincoln other than, say, their gender.

"Honest Barack"? Right. And Bill Clinton has been maritally faithful.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Right on target!
Even his initials aren't the same BHO!

Anonymous said...

CKAinRedStateUSA, HAS Obama said he has something in common with Lincoln? I've heard him say he admires him. Don't we all?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if President-Elect Obama compared himself to Lincoln, but other people are. For example:

CKAinRedStateUSA said...

Anonymous, I'll stick by what I said about Obama compariing himself to Lincoln.

This is what I had in mind when I said Obama had compared himself to Lincoln, best presented by The Claremont Institute in the fall of 2008 in "The Audacity of Barack Obama."

The article, by Charles R. Kesler, also appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 21.

Note: This is the part of the article that addresses Obama and Lincoln.

Note, too: I've broken some paragraphs into smaller bits and, in some few instances, rather than indent, I've used " " to identify that as it appeared in the original.

A New Lincoln

If the leading edge of Obama's audacity is his desire to bring about fundamental political change at a time when every other leading Democrat has given up on it or lacks the gifts to achieve it, his daring shows itself too in his confidence that he is the man for the job, the man of the hour.

His self-confidence has been noted, of course, and well parodied.

It's even been parodied unconsciously, as by Mark Morford, an online columnist in San Francisco [This was indented in the orginial text]:

"Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans...but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul."

Yet the fact is that the precise character of Obama's ambition has not been well understood.

In his own terms, he seeks to bring about enduring political change even as (to mention those he invokes in this connection) Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson did before him. (He didn't concur with Reagan's change, to be sure.)

It's Obama's account of Lincoln that deserves particular attention. [Emphasis added, not in original text.]

Lincolnian language appears and reappears in Obama's speeches.

In fact, he compares himself indirectly and sometimes directly to the first Republican president.

The speech that initially put Obama on the map, his 2002 denunciation of the pending Iraq War, concludes in a poor paraphrase of the Gettysburg Address [This is quoted in the original text.]:

"Nor should we allow those who would march off and pay the ultimate sacrifice, who would prove the full measure of devotion with their blood, to make such an awful sacrifice in vain."

He announced his candidacy in Springfield, Illinois, a place central to Lincoln's political career and site of some of his great speeches, including the "House Divided" and his affecting farewell to the city as he left to assume the presidency. In his speech, Obama does his best to appropriate Lincoln's memory [This is indented in the original text.]:

"And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together...I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for President.... By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail. But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in conviction. That beneath all the differences of race and region, faith and station, we are one people. He tells us that there is power in hope. As Lincoln organized the forces arrayed against slavery, he was heard to say: 'Of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through.' That is our purpose here today. That's why I'm in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.... Together, starting today, let us finish the work that needs to be done, and usher in a new birth of freedom on this Earth."

Obama identifies himself (as we say today) with Lincoln: Abe is not the only "tall, gangly, self-made" lawyer primed for greatness that the audience is supposed to recognize.

Though it ends with another paraphrase of the Gettysburg Address, the passage—and the whole speech—is meant to recall Lincoln's "House Divided" speech, which kicked off the Illinois senate campaign in 1858 against Stephen Douglas.

The quotation about the "four winds" is Lincoln's description of the new Republican Party, forged from fragments of the fading Whig and Free Soil parties, and reaching out to anti-slavery Democrats and centrists.

Thus Obama compares the new majority he seeks to build to the majority party that Lincoln helped to create.

He tries to inspire Democrats by appealing to the founder of the generations-long, post-bellum Republican majority.

This is partisan ambition of a high order, masquerading as high-toned bipartisanship or post-partisanship: Obama speaks as though Lincoln were trying to overcome the country's divisions by calling for unity, for cooperation in the spirit of national renewal.

In fact, Lincoln's point was that the Union would "become all one thing, or all the other." It would become either all free, or all slave. Lincoln's road to unity ran through division, through forcing the country to choose.

Obama's point is similar, despite his soothing language: our divisions will be healed once the country is safely in the hands of a new liberal, Democratic majority.

Obama spoke in 2005 at the opening of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. On that occasion, he talked more of the man himself. Lincoln exhibits "a fundamental element of the American character," he said, "a belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams."

He hailed Lincoln's "repeated acts of self-creation, the insistence that...we can recast the wilderness of the American landscape and the American heart into something better, something finer...."

The wilderness of the American heart—now that's an expression, and a sentiment, that Lincoln never uttered. Is it Obama's own view of the American soul's desolation?

Lincoln's life ends up sounding a lot like Obama's. "Lincoln embodies our deepest myths," Obama averred. "It is a mythology that drives us still."

Here is the stark difference between the two men. Lincoln never thought of himself as pursuing or being driven by a myth, even though his life and death acquired, in the eyes of others, mythic significance.

At any rate, when Obama later contributed a version of the speech to Time magazine, he altered a line to read [This was indented in the original text]:

"In Lincoln's rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat—in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles. He also reminded me of a larger, fundamental element of human life—the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams."

Peggy Noonan, with her usual keen perception, took him to task in the Wall Street Journal for having explained "that he's a lot like Abraham Lincoln, only sort of better."

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama charmingly relates the story, pooh-poohing the notion that he was seriously "comparing myself to Lincoln."

But Noonan had it right.