Archive for the ‘enemies’ Category

Barack Obama Needs To Know: Lincoln’s Dysfuncional Cabinet Was Not Your Mother’s A-Team

November 18, 2008

People love Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on the Lincoln presidency, “Team of Rivals.” More important, for this moment in American history, Barack Obama loves it. The book is certainly fun to read, but its claim that Abraham Lincoln revealed his “political genius” through the management of his wartime Cabinet deserves a harder look, especially now that it seems to be offering a template for the new administration.

“Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet,” is the way Obama has summarized Goodwin’s thesis, adding, “Whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was how can we get this country through this time of crisis.”

By Matthew Pinsker
The Los Angeles Times

That’s true enough, but the problem is, it didn’t work that well for Lincoln. There were painful trade-offs with the “team of rivals” approach that are never fully addressed in the book, or by others that offer happy-sounding descriptions of the Lincoln presidency.

Lincoln’s decision to embrace former rivals, for instance, inevitably meant ignoring old friends — a development they took badly. “We made Abe and, by God, we can unmake him,” complained Chicago Tribune Managing Editor Joseph Medill in 1861. Especially during 1861 and 1862, the first two years of Lincoln’s initially troubled administration, friends growled over his ingratitude as former rivals continued to play out their old political feuds.

In fairness, Goodwin describes several of these more difficult moments, such as when Secretary of State William Seward tried to seize political command from Lincoln during the Ft. Sumter crisis. But she passes over their consequences too easily.

Though Seward, the former New York senator who had been the Republican front-runner, eventually proved helpful to the president, the impact of repeated disloyalty and unnecessary backroom drama from him and several other Cabinet officers was a significant factor in the early failures of the Union war effort.


Above: Seward

By December 1862, there was a full-blown Cabinet crisis.

“We are now on the brink of destruction,” Lincoln confided to a close friend after being deluged with congressional criticism and confronted by resignations from both Seward and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. Goodwin suggests that Lincoln’s quiet confidence and impressive emotional intelligence enabled him to survive and ultimately forge an effective team out of his former rivals, but that’s more wishful thinking than serious analysis.

Consider this inconvenient truth: Out of the four leading vote-getters for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination whom Lincoln placed on his original team, three left during his first term — one in disgrace, one in defiance and one in disgust.

Simon Cameron was the disgraced rival, Lincoln’s failed first secretary of War. Goodwin essentially erased him from her group biography, not mentioning him in the book’s first 200 pages, even though he placed third, after Seward and Lincoln, on the first Republican presidential ballot. Cameron proved so corrupt and inept that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives censured him after he was removed from office in 1862.

Above: Portrait of Simon Cameron by Freeman Thorp.

Chase was the defiant rival. As Goodwin acknowledges, the Treasury chief never reconciled himself to Lincoln’s victory, continuously angling to replace him. Lincoln put up with this aggravation until he secured renomination and then dumped his brilliant but arrogant subordinate because, in his words, their “mutual embarrassment” was no longer sustainable.

Atty. Gen. Edward Bates was the disgusted rival. The elder statesman — 67 when he was appointed — never felt at home in the Lincoln Cabinet and played only a marginal role in shaping policy. He resigned late in the first term. His diary reflects deep discontent with what he considered the relentless political maneuvering of his Cabinet peers and even the president.

“Alas!” Bates wrote in August 1864, “that I should live to see such abject fear — such small stolid indifference to duty — such open contempt of Constitution and law — and such profound ignorance of policy and prudence!”

Only Seward endured throughout the Civil War. He and Lincoln did become friends, and he provided some valuable political advice, but the significance of his contributions as Lincoln’s secretary of State have been challenged by many historians, and his repeated fights with other party leaders were always distracting.

John Hay, one of Lincoln’s closest aides, noted in his diary that by the summer of 1863, the president had essentially learned to rule his Cabinet with “tyrannous authority,” observing that the “most important things he decides & there is no cavil.”

Over the years, it has become easy to forget that hard edge and the once bad times that nearly destroyed a president. Lincoln’s Cabinet was no team. His rivals proved to be uneven as subordinates. Some were capable despite their personal disloyalty, yet others were simply disastrous.

Lincoln was a political genius, but his model for Cabinet-building should stand more as a cautionary tale than as a leadership manual.

Matthew Pinsker, author of “Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home,” teaches Civil War history at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

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Barack Obama will follow Lincoln’s lead in choosing bipartisan Cabinet

November 17, 2008

Barack Obama said today he would appoint at least one Republican to his cabinet as he praised the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln – a president who gave top posts to several of his bitterest political enemies.

Mr Obama, who meets John McCain in Chicago tomorrow to discuss ways they can work together after he becomes president, said he would be announcing Cabinet appointments soon, days after he discussed with Hillary Clinton the possibility of making her his Secretary of State.

In his first full interview since winning the election, Mr Obama described the challenges he faces when he takes office in January as “enormous” and “multiple”.

He made clear his determination to pick the most effective team to tackle them, even if it means choosing former rivals and Republicans.
Mr Obama said he had spent “a lot of time” reading the writings of President Lincoln since the election, because “there is a wisdom there and a humility about his approach to government, even before he was president, that I just find very helpful.”

He and Mrs Clinton have both read and admired ‘Team of Rivals’, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book about how President Lincoln bought old foes into government after winning the 1860 election.

Reminded that the 16th president put many of his political enemies in his cabinet, Mr Obama was asked on CBS’s 60 Minutes whether he was considering the same approach. “Well, I’ll tell you what,” he replied. “I find him a very wise man.”

Lincoln and his cabinet. Courtesy of The Gilder Lehrman Collection, New York

Read the rest:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_
americas/us_elections/article5167418.ece

Treatment of Bush Has Been a Disgrace; Emboldens Enemies

November 5, 2008

Especially today, as he hail and honor a new and historic president elect, this might be a good time to reflect upon the way we respect each other in America….

U.S. President George W. Bush speaks with President-elect Sen. ... 
U.S. President George W. Bush speaks with President-elect Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) during a congratulatory phone call, from the Treaty Room at the White House in Washintgton, November 4, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Draper
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Earlier this year, 12,000 people in San Francisco signed a petition in support of a proposition on a local ballot to rename an Oceanside sewage plant after George W. Bush. The proposition is only one example of the classless disrespect many Americans have shown the president.

By Jeffery Scott Shapiro
The Wall Street Journal
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According to recent Gallup polls, the president’s average approval rating is below 30% — down from his 90% approval in the wake of 9/11. Mr. Bush has endured relentless attacks from the left while facing abandonment from the right.

This is the price Mr. Bush is paying for trying to work with both Democrats and Republicans. During his 2004 victory speech, the president reached out to voters who supported his opponent, John Kerry, and said, “Today, I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust.”

Those bipartisan efforts have been met with crushing resistance from both political parties.

The president’s original Supreme Court choice of Harriet Miers alarmed Republicans, while his final nomination of Samuel Alito angered Democrats. His solutions to reform the immigration system alienated traditional conservatives, while his refusal to retreat in Iraq has enraged liberals who have unrealistic expectations about the challenges we face there.

It seems that no matter what Mr. Bush does, he is blamed for everything. He remains despised by the left while continuously disappointing the right.

Yet it should seem obvious that many of our country’s current problems either existed long before Mr. Bush ever came to office, or are beyond his control. Perhaps if Americans stopped being so divisive, and congressional leaders came together to work with the president on some of these problems, he would actually have had a fighting chance of solving them.

Like the president said in his 2004 victory speech, “We have one country, one Constitution and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.”

Read the rest:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122584386627599251.html
The Wall Street Journal