The Right Opinion

Obama's Lincoln Presumption

By Mona Charen · Jan. 22, 2013

He swore his oath of office on Abraham Lincoln's Bible. He has asked to give the State of the Union address on Lincoln's birthday. He rode to Washington in 2009 on a train route similar to Lincoln's in 1861. He has compared his critics to Lincoln's critics. He confides to admirers that he likes to read the handwritten Gettysburg Address that hangs in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Barack Obama is inviting the world to compare him not just to good presidents but to the greatest in American history.

There can be majesty in invoking past presidents and the Founding Fathers. But Obama's quotations and allusions in his inaugural address served only to highlight the flatness of his own prose. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” he intoned, repeating the echoing words of the Declaration of Independence. What followed was: “Today we continue a never-ending journey to bridge the meaning of those words with the realities of our time. For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they've never been self-executing.” Clunk. “Self-executing” is a word best left to legal documents. It has as much poetry as a filing cabinet. As for “never-ending journey,” it's a phrase that belongs in the juvenile fiction section – if there.

Obama's second inaugural poached lines from Lincoln's speeches. The effect was like inserting snatches of Mozart into a Mariah Carey song. Obama said: “Through blood drawn by lash and blood drawn by sword, we learned that no union founded on the principles of liberty and equality could survive half-slave and half-free.” He was paraphrasing two Lincoln quotes – one from the Cooper Union speech and this one, from the second inaugural: “Yet if God wills that it continue until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said: 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

Obama's speech also seemed to allude to Lincoln's message to Congress before signing the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln said: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. … As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” Obama, able to wring banality from the best material, said: “But we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” Clunk.

Bounding from bromide to platitude, Obama alighted on his true theme – to excoriate his opponents and to deny that choices must be made between providing lavish welfare state benefits and ensuring the prosperity of future generations. Deploying well-worn campaign themes, he slashed away at straw men: “We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few.” And: “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” And: “For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”

In the midst of the worst crisis the United States ever faced – with hundreds of thousands of soldiers already dead, thousands more wounded and the outcome uncertain – Lincoln found it within himself to be charitable and humble. Of the contending sides in the Civil War, he said: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.”

Though he could have been excused for a certain moral superiority – he was fighting the slave power, after all – Lincoln instead proclaimed, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.”

Lincoln did not strut. He was too wise. Obama's attempt to lasso Lincoln's legacy for his narrow partisan ends reveals that he doesn't even understand Lincoln's greatness, far less partake of it.

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8 Comments

Bruce R Pierce in Owensboro, Ky said:

You lost me when you said "compare him not just to good presidents but to the greatest in American history". Lets be for real the current President is just trying to finish what Lincoln started.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:12 AM

rab in jo,mo replied:

I, too, choked on that line. Perhaps Ms. Charen had recently watched the movie "Abraham Lincoln, Vimpire Slayer" before writing her piece.

I hold Lincoln in far less esteem, and certainly not in a position as "greatest" President. The Emancipation Proclamation was a political expedient, designed to foment slave uprisings/rebellions in the Confederacy. It didn't have the desired effect, as slavery was simply one of many issues.

I do have to agree with Ms. Charon in one respect - Obama's oratory skills are a joke compared to Lincoln's.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 8:56 AM

DaneChile in Unknown replied:

Excellent article but I, too, choked on that little gem.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 2:29 AM

Sammy in Kansas said:

Obungle may be closer to Lincoln's situation than he thinks. If he keeps on his chosen path, it may well lead to a civil war.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 9:23 AM

DaneChile in Unknown replied:

...and the event that followed...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 2:31 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA said:

Lincoln was not the greatest President. In my opinion, that belongs to George Washington. When he became President there was talk of making him a King. He refused to even consider such a thing and at the end of his second term every one waited to see he would actually stepdown or declare himself President for life. He chose to the follow the Constitution and retired to private life. Because of his immense popularity at the time he probably could have remained as President if he had chosen to do so.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Mindblown in Flyover USA replied:

And now Obozo is positioning himself to be just that -- president for life.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 12:12 PM

Brian in Newport News said:

Mona,

I invite you to learn a bit more about Mr. Lincoln:

http://mises.org/books/century.pdf

I suspect once you read details that our history books leave out, you will want to demote him from the "great" category.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 11:29 AM