We have grown accustomed to Barack Obama invoking the name and memory of Abaham Lincoln, this day of the 16th President's 200th birthday being no exception. But even in this brief news article, our current President manages to be so grossly wrong in his lessons and parallels that is almost laughable. Here it is:
Obama urges Americans to follow Lincoln's example
By BEN FELLER Associated Press Writer
Published: Thursday, Feb. 12, 2009
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama called on citizens Thursday to follow Abraham Lincoln's example of showing generosity to political opponents and valuing national unity - above all else.
At a ceremony in the stately Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol marking the 16th president's 200th birthday, Obama said he felt "a special gratitude" to the historical giant, who in many ways made his own story possible. On Thursday night, Obama, the nation's first black president, will deliver the keynote address at the Abraham Lincoln Association's annual banquet in Springfield, Ill.
As lawmakers and guests looked on, Obama recalled Lincoln's words in the closing days of the Civil War, when the South's defeat was certain.
Lincoln "could have sought revenge," Obama said, but he insisted that no Confederate troops be punished.
"All Lincoln wanted was for Confederate troops to go back home and return to work on their farms and in their shops," Obama said. "That was the only way, Lincoln knew, to repair the rifts that had torn this country apart. It was the only way to begin the healing that our nation so desperately needed."
A day after House and Senate leaders agreed on a costly economic stimulus plan that drew scant Republican support, Obama said, "we are far less divided than in Lincoln's day," but "we are once again debating the critical issues of our time."
"Let us remember that we are doing so as servants to the same flag, as representatives of the same people, and as stakeholders in a common future," Obama said. "That is the most fitting tribute we can pay and the most lasting monument we can build to that most remarkable of men, Abraham Lincoln."
Surely Obama is correct to call attention to Lincoln's generosity following the Civil War, a powerful symbol indeed. But it is one thing to forgive rebels after they have been defeated following four long, bloody years of battle. It is something else to summon up such virtue when it is not called for. Is Obama forgiving Republicans for losing the election? Should they be returning to their homes or more likely simply retreating in the face of the Democratic victory not only in November but even the predictable victory on the "stimulus" [re: Big Government] package flying through Congress? Is asking your political opponents, in other words, to roll over and play dead an example of Obama's magnaminity? Shouldn't that be reserved for graver situations than getting bills passed? We should be pleased, I suppose, that Obama and congressional Democrats aren't seeking revenge! (Although congressional committees are planning to hold hearings on possible Bush Administration "war crimes.")
As to the plea for unity, Obama is not even close. When Lincoln ran for President, nay, as he campaigned against the spread of slavery for six years prior following passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that permitted slavery to go into the Western Territory under the deceptive slogan of "popular sovereignty," he was hardly calling for unity but accepting the unavoidable consequence of hard and bitter division over the nation's most pressing issue. He was denounced for uttering the Biblical saying that "A house divided against itself cannot stand," which put the onus on pro-slavery Democrats for dividing the nation even as he knew that existing divisions would be exacerbated. It was the speech, as political philosopher Harry Jaffa has written, that changed the world, for it made clear that Lincoln was prepared to accept "disunity," and even Civil War, to prevent slavery from being enshrined forever by the imperialist impulses of its apologists and advocates.
If Lincoln was denounced for recklessly dividing the nation, not to mention stirring up war, that was unfair, but it is even more unfair to misrepresent Lincoln when he knew that fighting for the equal rights of all under a central government able to exercise its constitutional authority after a free and fair election, was the right thing to do, even if it "divided" the country.
Doubtless Obama will not abandon the useful device of brow beating his opponents with the authority of Abraham Lincoln. Thus, we who know what Lincoln's statesmanship actually consisted of, should not hesitate to point out his errors. It is our turn to "speak truth to power."