Newsweek: Obama Just like Lincoln?


By: Warner Todd Huston

Howard Fineman has no knowledge of history. In fact, it would not surprise me if we should find out some day that, in his original draft of this absurd comparison of Lincoln to Obama, he even spelled Lincoln’s name wrong. It is just that obvious that Fineman knows nothing of what he speaks. You see, Howard Fineman has decided that Barack Obama is somehow just like Abraham Lincoln. This is hero worship at its worst without being weighed down by any facts. It’s so bad that one wonders if Fineman had a Matthewsian “thrill up his leg” when writing this sycophantic slop?

In pondering if he should write a story about Obama’s connections to Chicago, Illinois, Fineman found his mind wandering to Abraham Lincoln — “the only president ‘from’ that city,” as Fineman says.

And right there we have the first stretch of reality to fit Fineman’s gauzy feelings. Lincoln was neither from nor “from” Chicago. Lincoln certainly visited the city during his lifetime but he never lived in Chicago and was never considered “from” there. His political machine was also not “from” there. His was very much a down state machine centered in Springfield, the State Capitol. So right off the top we have a tenuous connection between Lincoln and Obama whipped up to absurd proportions in Fineman’s mind.

Next we get this gem of historical illiteracy.

And that made me ask myself some questions. Is there any reason, other than the lean frame and knack for giving good speeches, to compare the two men? Is there any reason to see in Obama a Lincoln-like ability to unite a “house divided” in our perilous times? Is that even a fair question to ask or comparison to make?

First of all, Lincoln was not known for “giving good speeches” during his life time. There are some that are memorable for their results and literary excellence in OUR day, but in his day he was not thought to be a man of soaring oratory. His early work, such as during the Lincoln-Douglass debates, was thought to have homey, rough hewn touches and were generally well received. His Cooper Union speech in his day was hailed as having great content but not hailed as one well delivered. His Gettysburg address barely elicited notice when it was originally given. But it simply cannot be said that Lincoln was known as a great speaker in his own lifetime. In fact, his delivery, vocal abilities and nervous demeanor during his speeches was noted and ridiculed. This is quite unlike Obama whose speeches are hailed as great oratory in his own time (even by his political enemies), so Fineman fails with that comparison.

Next Fineman imagines that both Lincoln and Obama might share some mythical ability to “unite a ‘house divided’”? How is this again? First of all, Lincoln’s efforts begat a bloody Civil War that killed over 600,000 Americans and it was only his assassination that led to any sort of reunification in spirit. But that his hard work did, ultimately, lead to that healing of the “house divided” is beyond doubt, even if it was posthumous. Obama, on the other hand, has no… I repeat, NO… history of “uniting” anything. He’s never successfully reached across the aisle, he is not known for any efforts or crusades that have healed any rifts either politically OR spiritually. So, once again we get an utterly failed comparison being promulgated here by Fineman.

Fineman next imagined that Lincoln launched his campaign for the presidency in order to excise “the cancer of slavery from our body politic.” This is just flat out wrong.

I feel justified in asking because Obama himself raised these questions when he launched his candidacy February a year ago in front of the Old State House in Springfield. He didn’t lay the Lincoln references on thick, but he didn’t have to. Even I could hear the historical echoes. It was in that building, exactly a century and a half earlier, that Lincoln had committed himself to the cause of excising the cancer of slavery from our body politic.

I am not one of those Lincoln bashers that claim that Lincoln was indifferent to slavery and that he just used it as a war winning tool. It is clear that he personally hated slavery, thought it horrendous and wanted it “excised” from our “body politic.” But, regardless of his personal hatred of slavery, Lincoln absolutely did not launch his campaign for the presidency with the goal of ridding the nation of slavery. It was not a goal, not an aim, not a plank in his mind. In fact, he famously said he’d keep slavery if it would keep the union whole.

In a letter to New York Newspaper maven Horace Greeley, Lincoln wrote, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

This does not speak to Lincoln’s personal desire to rid the country of slavery. Any fair reading of Lincoln’s writing cannot help but to convince that Lincoln was an anti-slavery guy. His letter to Greeley does, however, speak to the fact that he did not see his presidency as one devoted to a crusade against slavery.

So, with that, Fineman is wrong on his reading of history again.

As an aside, there is one way in which Lincoln and Obama might conceivably be considered similar. In their respective runs for the White House, both have been considered a Trojan Horse of sorts. The fear that the South had for a Lincoln Administration was that his “black Republicanism” was an agenda that would, stealth-like, enter the White House and that agenda portended nothing less than the destruction of the Southern way of life. In Lincoln’s case, this was clearly an overblown fear meant to undermine Lincoln’s new administration because Lincoln’s history did not prove such intent. By comparison, in Barack’s case, the fear with his election is that his radical, leftist agenda will institute an anti-American, leftism that will sweep the country. In Barack’s case, that fear is not so hard to believe as his legislative history pretty much proves that he is a radical leftist.

Fineman goes on to claim that Obama aimed to prove that Lincoln’s concept that “all men are created equal” is the right idea “once and for all.” This is the sort of racist bilge that sickens me. There is no national sentiment that blacks are not “equal” in our society today. At this point in time, there is no leading figure or credible philosophy — whether religious, societal or scientific — that makes the base assumption that blacks are not equal or haven’t really been proven equal to whites. For Fineman to make this claim as if it is a given that blacks still need to “prove” something is simply an example of illegitimately stirring the pot and needlessly throwing the race card.

Then we see a non-sequitur and a lie in the same paragraph.

As Obama has said repeatedly, he is, by virtue of his own DNA, “the change we have been waiting for.” He is, by that standard, the rightful heir to Lincoln’s vision and hope. Obama is a brilliant and welcoming fellow with an eye for the main chance, a knack for offering himself as a vehicle for consensus.

Of course this blather of “we are the change we have been waiting for” is a complete, illogical non-sequitur. The lie that follows is that Obama is a “vehicle for consensus.” As explained above, there is no history of this being true. Obama has never in his lifetime been responsible for any meaningful, transformative “consensus.”

Then for several paragraphs, Fineman almost seems to come to his senses. He compares the trials and tragedies of Lincoln’s life to Obama’s and finds no similarities. In fact, Fineman notes that Obama has led a charmed and easy life, it was a “cakewalk,” compared to Abraham Lincoln’s. So, Fineman is correct that in these instances the two men are nothing alike.

Because of this lack of real life trials, Fineman is also correct to posit that we have learned nothing of Barack Obama to show us how he would handle a “real crisis.”

But, with his final paragraph, Fineman once again succumbs to his lack of historical knowledge.

So if he wins, and he well may, voters will have to hope that the lineage that traces back to Chicago is no mere coincidence, and that the echoes of Lincoln are credible enough to inspire us all.

There are almost no “coincidences” of importance between Obama and Lincoln. There really is only that they both once served in the Legislative House in the same city and state, Springfield, Illinois. There the similarities begin and end.

Besides, it is entirely insulting to Lincoln’s legacy to invite comparisons between the “great emancipator” and Barack Obama. After all, should Barack Obama become president, he’ll have no such weighty concerns as Civil War and the freedom of an entire race of people on his plate.

When all is reviewed there simply are no “echoes of Lincoln” in Barack Obama.

Fineman flunks his history test. Let’s hope he retakes his class in Summer School before he imposes his ignorance upon us again.

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