“Barack Obama is just like Lincoln,” a youthful and eager fan reported to me.
And I thought: except for the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the preservation of the Union and his record as President of the United States.
Bill Sammon of the Washington Examiner said, “The American press has turned into a joke by comparing Barack Obama to FDR and Abraham Lincoln. They do him no favor by raising expectations to a level that is not achievable.”
Barack Obama, the first ever black man elected to America’s highest office, should be honored for sure; but we should also put our regard for him in proper perspective and watch how the next four years transpire.
Barack Obama is still, to me, a potential agent of manifest change: and not yet a historically overpowering figure we honor for his many accomplishments.
Oh I agree with others that the election of a Black American is historic and memorable; but while it says a lot about our new President-elect it says more to me about the American people.
The notion that Barack Obama is, in many ways, “Linconesque,” is at least premature and could seem a tad bizarre, especially to historians seeking meaning, accomplishments and proven character.
Obama has not yet managed through his Cuban Missile Crisis, his Vietnam War, his Great Depression or whatever real crises we can anticipate — and even whatever nobody could ever anticipate like George W. Bush’s “Nine Eleven.”
Yet both Lincoln and Obama certainly share Illinois and a place in history. Lincoln’s place in history is “writ large.” We do not yet know if Barack Obama is a chapter or two of history; or just a paragraph or two.
President-elect Barack Obama answers a journalist’s question during his first press conference following his election victory in Chicago, November 7, 2008.(John Gress/Reuters)
Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia. He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was president of the Harvard Law Review.
Obama is an “indoorsman,” who wrote two books about himself and arguably became addicted to his BlackBerry.
Lincoln was an outdoorsman who grew up in a log cabin in the rough “west” of the United States in his time, including Kentucky and Illinois.
Wikipedia says “Lincoln struck out on his own, canoeing down the Sangamon River to the village of New Salem in Sangamon County. Later that year, hired by New Salem businessman Denton Offutt and accompanied by friends, he took goods from New Salem to New Orleans via flatboat on the Sangamon, Illinois and Mississippi rivers.”
Lincoln’s formal education consisted of about 18 months of schooling, but he was largely self-educated and an avid reader. He was also a talented local wrestler and skilled with an axe.
Barack Obama is skilled with a computer keyboard, a teleprompter, and as a very eloquent public speaker and, though I myself have been moved by the style of many Obama speeches, the next day I have found something sometimes lacking. Yet like some of Mister Lincoln’s orations and remarks, Mr. Obama’s speeches are filled with “hope” and “change.”
Above: Barack Obama before a crowd in Germany. Photo: Getty Images
Lincoln participated in the most studied and recalled political debates ever held in America.
Barack Obama’s debates with John McCain will be recalled for one thing only: Obama became the elected president.
“I don’t think we need any big media-run productions, no processed questions from reporters, no spin rooms, just two Americans running for the highest office in the greatest nation on earth responding to the concerns of the people who’s trust that we must earn,” John McCain said well before the debates with Barack Obama.
Famously, McCain said he wanted ten “Lincoln-Douglas” style debates with Barack Obama.
The nation ended up with far fewer than ten debates and not one came close to resembling the famed and historic Lincoln-Douglas debates.
But the world is a different place now and our national attention span and will to concentrate is short for good reasons, even though we are multitasking…
Barack Obama and his wife Michelle are pretty much comfortable everywhere — from public speaking in Germany to Bill Ayers house and onward to Oprah’s TV show and to Hollywood.
Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd, which many historians believe was at least “on the edge” and probably crazy, were famously uncomfortable in most settings. Many Hollywood and TV people today say that Lincoln’s looks would probably make him unelectable today.
Lincoln mourned the loss of one of his own children: and he watched in horror as Civil War casualties bled the nation white. He even took the time to pen a letter to a grieving mother who lost five sons in “Lincoln’s war.”
Lincoln’s most famous oration, the Gettysburg Address, took just two minutes to deliver. For more than a century, American school children memorized this magnificent piece of writing and oration, one of the finest speeches ever given in America, some say, and all in less than 280 words.
On the day of that address, Lincoln was not the featured speaker, who droned on for some time. But nobody without a deep history education can even recall the man who delivered his remarks before Lincoln on Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the cemetery in Gettysburg.
Soldiers National Cemetery, Gettysburg
Lincoln freed the slaves and preserved the Union. So far, Obama freed the media and the electorate of the feeling and belief that racism kept good men of color from key posts.
Lincoln was unafraid of firing his top generals — and then while U.S. Grant was gaining ground and winning battles and his staff said the man was a drunk, Lincoln issued an order to send Grant a case of his favorite spirits, or so the story is told.
Lincoln in the field during the Civil War
Lincoln had to sneak into Washington DC for his inauguration. Obama will be greeted by a throng of millions.
Lincoln assembled a cabinet that was a train wreck of disagreement to the point of dysfunction. Some in the media today say that Obama is emulating Lincoln’s ability to be “inclusive” in his cabinet selections.
But Lincoln did famously “reach out” to all great leaders who could help him including the Catholic Archbishop of New York, “Dagger” John Hughes.
Linoln also gave a seemingly open door to the White House to Abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who pushed President Lincoln to create and issue the Emancipation Proclamation — against the advice of many including his top military commanders.
Barack Obama’s challenges have yet to unfold.
Lincoln’s challenges were manifest.
History has judged Lincoln. Obama’s first full chapter, now, at least in part, well chronicled by eager contemporary media scribes, is mostly still a way off for historians to evaluate.
John E. Carey
Wakefield Chapel, Virginia
November 19, 2008
The Topeka Capitol Journal began an article on November 9, 2008 with, “Plans are being made to promote a national holiday for Barack Obama, who will become the nation’s 44th president when he takes the oath of office Jan. 20.”
My Vietnamese American relatives say, “We seem to have the Easter before the Palm….”
Lincoln’s Day, once celebrated on his birthday, is now largely forgotten and squeezed out by the celebration of other great Americans like Martin Luther King. Frederick Douglass has no day at all. It might be prudent to hold off on the “Barack Obama Day” just a tad….