To the astonishment of none, Barack Obama has once again forced a comparison between himself and Abraham Lincoln. When asked to assess his Oval Office tenure on “60 Minutes,” Barack was humble enough to put the 16th president on a short list of three presidents who may have outperformed him. It’s a shame that Lincoln can’t defend himself. He was well-known for his sense of humor.
Laughable hubris and absurdity aside, this is not the first time President Obama has bathed himself in the glow of the Great Emancipator. Approaching his inauguration, Barack invoked Lincoln in several interviews. He allowed fawning reporters to draw generous, hopeful parallels between the two adopted sons of Illinois. As president-elect, Obama dropped all pretense and organized his own railroading whistle-stop tour on the way to Washington. He even elected to swear upon Lincoln’s Bible when he took the oath of office.
Most presidents would find such a contrast daunting. But in the months before Obama took office, I understood the comparisons and the reasons for making them. Both Lincoln and Obama were lawyers. Both were elected to a single term in Congress. Lincoln freed the slaves, and Obama was the first non-white president. Even those who didn’t support Obama could appreciate the moment in historical terms.
But that was then. Drawing parallels to Lincoln before the inauguration or even early in Obama’s first year made some sense, but that was before Barack had a track record. Why now? With a $15 trillion national debt and the unemployment rate near 9%, one would think that such an unenviable comparison would be avoided. At the moment, it seems like a colossal unforced error.
Of course, it’s Christmastime. I’ll be charitable and let history decide if Barack’s hopelessly presumptuous self-assessment is accurate.
The Lincoln door, however, is ajar. And because it was so ostentatiously opened, Honest Abe’s standard will likely loom over the final year of Obama’s term. Detractors, supporters and historians alike will have that metric at the ready to measure the president’s words and actions. Will their comparisons be as flattering in 2012? So far, it doesn’t look promising.
If you squint in just the right light, you can almost see Abraham Lincoln as a wholly owned subsidiary of the social justice wing of progressivism. Certainly, this is how Obama sees him. Lincoln championed an underclass, scuttled an oppressive establishment and increased the power and scope of the federal government — all paramount virtues for today’s liberal set. If we continue to squint, some might attempt to draw further favorable and striking parallels between the Obama and Lincoln administrations. But one can’t squint forever.
In the cold light of day, the parallels quickly fall apart. Obama does endeavor to champion an underclass. But Lincoln did not. Lincoln championed freedom. Along with being The Great Emancipator, Lincoln was The Great Unifier. His appeals to end slavery sought to and ultimately succeeded in uniting Americans under a common morality. Obama’s efforts to foment class friction have the opposite intent. Lincoln appealed to a Christian nation’s justice and kindness. Obama appeals to a secular nation’s greed and envy.
Barack Obama has a narrow and narrowing path to victory in 2012. His discernable strategy is to agitate the left and scorch the right to such an extent that the center becomes disillusioned and apathetic. However successful he is, Obama’s efforts are, in a word, unique — and foreign to Abraham Lincoln.
Yates Walker is a conservative activist and writer. Before becoming involved in politics, he served honorably as a paratrooper and a medic in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. He can be reached at email@example.com.