“Lincoln and Obama shared a loved of words, a belief that rhetoric and oratory could change people’s minds, and the way they would express things, the confidence they would have in a debate – not by fiery oratory, but by a calming presence, a reasoned argument,” says Rice University History Professor Douglas Brinkley.
Brinkley cautions against too close a comparison between Lincoln and Obama. “When Lincoln came to Washington, seven states had already seceded from the Union. And the Civil War would kill countless Americans.”
From CBS News
With Lincoln often ranking atop historians’ surveys of the greatest U.S. presidents, who wouldn’t want the “Lincolnesque” moniker applied to them? Obama’s circle goes further in portraying him as also fulfilling the legacies of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
“What all of those men have in common is a kind of rallying the country together behind words,” Brinkley says. “If people start to have the name Barack Obama uttered in the same breath as Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln, that’s walking in pretty tall cotton.”
As Brinkley sees it, a better analogy lies between Obama and Franklin Roosevelt, who inherited the Great Depression or Lyndon Johnson, who launched the Great Society programs. The Lincoln inspiration, Brinkley says, is nothing new.
“All Presidents walk the corridor and think about Lincoln. They stare at his portrait. Richard Nixon used to drink gin and have the Secret Service take him to the Lincoln Memorial at night just to talk to Lincoln’s statue,” Brinkley says. Theodore Roosevelt wore a lock of Lincoln’s hair in a ring on his finger.
“We don’t realize how hard it is to be President and how lonely it is in the White House,” Brinkley says, especially when rebel troops are occupying Maryland and Virginia.
“It’s very hard to say who has a tougher job,” says Holzer. “Is it the man who’s facing a fiscal crisis worse than any since the Depression and also the specter of nuclear war, terrorism, health pandemics, and all of the issues that a 21st century president has to deal with and hopefully solve? Or is it the President who is facing the destruction of the entire country that he’s been elected to lead?”
Obama Reaching Too Much Toward Lincoln?
Obama’s “Lincoln Obsession”
For Obama, Media Can’t Wait, Can’t Criticize
Historians say Obama is no Lincoln
Obama And The Press: What’s The Future?
Obama and Lincoln: Historians Mixed (As Usual)
Read all the CBS story:
The spirit of Abraham Lincoln will suffuse Tuesday’s inauguration day, as Barack Obama channels the example of America’s greatest president for a national struggle to overcome the trials of today.
From the Bible that Obama intends to use at his swearing-in to the food he will eat afterwards, the 44th president is overtly invoking his illustrious predecessor in an audacious grasp at history’s inspiration.
“The comparisons to Lincoln, which he has not run away from, set up a high standard, particularly for Americans who don’t really follow politics,” Princeton University presidential historian Julian Zelizer said.
“I think his goals are threefold: first to connect himself with a great leader; second, to place himself in a broader narrative about the nation overcoming its racial past; and third, about being a leader who can heal divisions in difficult times,” he said.
In the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, Obama is reaching back to another lanky lawyer from Illinois who surmounted doubts about his political inexperience to win the presidency at a time of the greatest crisis.
President from 1861 to 1865, Lincoln steered the north to victory over the rebel south in the Civil War, abolished slavery and handed down some of the most inspirational oratory of US history.
His adroitly managed administration was a “team of rivals” drawn from his competitors for the Republican nomination, an example that the Democratic Obama has emulated in naming Hillary Clinton to his cabinet as secretary of state.
In his books and speeches, Obama has described Lincoln as his political hero. He launched his quest to become America’s first black president from the steps of the Illinois state legislature, where Lincoln also served.
For the over-arching theme of his inauguration, Obama has dusted off words from Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address — “A New Birth of Freedom.”
There is a risk of rhetorical over-reach as the untested Obama takes office with the economy deep in crisis and US troops engaged in two wars. But he is not shying away from the comparison, re-reading Lincoln as he hones his own inaugural address.
“You know, there’s a genius to Lincoln that is not going to be matched,” he said in an ABC television interview, claiming to be “intimidated” at the power of Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
But like Lincoln, Obama says he will use his inaugural speech to urge Americans to come together in a spirit of sacrifice, defeat the present challenge and remake their nation as a “beacon for the world.”
And intimidated or not, Obama was funneling the Lincoln example en route to the inauguration, on Saturday retracing his predecessor’s train journey into Washington from Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Obama was Sunday beginning the official inaugural festivities with a public event at the imposing Lincoln Memorial, at the far end of the National Mall from Congress, where he will be sworn in Tuesday.
For that occasion, in front of a crowd expected by city authorities to number millions, Obama will rest his left hand on Lincoln’s own Bible — borrowed from the Library of Congress — to take the oath of office.
Afterwards, Obama will sit down for lunch with congressional leaders, Supreme Court justices and members of his incoming cabinet to eat the kinds of food enjoyed by Lincoln.
The VIP guests will dine on seafood stew, wild game, root vegetables and apple cake off a replica service of the china set selected by Lincoln’s wife at the start of his presidency.
But perhaps just as well, one Washington site intimately connected to Lincoln will not figure in Obama’s celebration. Ford’s Theatre, where the 16th president was assassinated, is closed for renovation.