Rich Lowry: Obama ‘in a long line of Lincoln body snatchers’

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and author of a recently released book on Abraham Lincoln, says President Barack Obama “is in a long line of Lincoln body snatchers.”

“I believe Lincoln would be appalled by much that has been wrought by progressivism,” Lowry told The Daily Caller in an email interview about his book, “Lincoln Unbound: How an Ambitious Young Railsplitter Saved the American Dream—And How We Can Do it Again.”

“He would hate the class warfare. He would disdain the lack of realism about human nature. He wouldn’t understand the casual contempt for the Constitution and the Founders. He would be baffled by opposition to exploiting the country’s fossil fuel resources to the utmost and by development-impeding regulation. He would be troubled by the cultural breakdown that is eroding the work ethic and family stability. He might detect in welfare state policies supporting able-bodied, non-working adults a whiff of the moral stink of the plantation.”

According to estimates, over 15,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. So what does Lowry’s tome add to the already extensive literary portrait of honest Abe?

“I don’t think you can really understand Lincoln without getting what I say about him in my book,” Lowry said. “We know so much about the Civil War and the drama surrounding the assassination, but Lincoln’s worldview was formed well before those momentous events. I think other books get to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of Lincoln. ‘Lincoln Unbound’ gets to the ‘why.'”

While Lowry said Lincoln had a “more activist view of government than contemporary Republicans,” he countered the notion that Lincoln was the father of big government, as some Lincoln critics suggest.

“The government got bigger to fight the war but immediately shrank in size afterwards,” Lowry explained.

“Whether you support or oppose the transcontinental railroad or the Homestead Act — two of the signature policies of the Civil War congress — they are nothing like the transfer programs of the New Deal and Great Society, nor did they involve the massive regulation and bureaucracy of our administrative state. The true turn in American history toward big government is the responsibility of FDR, not Abraham Lincoln.”

In the interview, Lowry didn’t shy away from the more difficult questions about Lincoln’s legacy. Indeed, he addressed head on perhaps the most important question yet to be answered about Lincoln: What would he have thought of the car company Lincoln being named after him?

“He would love it!” Lowry exclaimed.

“He had a deep interest in mechanical implements and would always stop to examine anything he saw that was new when he was out riding the circuit as a lawyer. He had such a knack for understanding mechanics that he was known as an excellent lawyer on patent cases. And he loved transportation innovations, as can be seen in his support for his beloved railroads. So I believe he would consider having a car company named after him a high honor.”

See TheDC’s full interview with Lowry on his book, the best advice his mentor Bill Buckley ever gave him and the three books that most influenced him:

Why did you decide to write the book?

Oftentimes when I was working on it, on weekends or in the mornings, I would ask myself the same question: “Why exactly did I decide to write this book?” But I really admire Lincoln and think Lincoln as an exemplar and champion of opportunity is particularly important at the moment.

There have been a lot of books on Abraham Lincoln, especially in recent years. What makes your book different than other books that have been written on our 16th President?

I don’t think you can really understand Lincoln without getting what I say about him in my book. We know so much about the Civil War and the drama surrounding the assassination, but Lincoln’s worldview was formed well before those momentous events. I think other books get to the “what” and “how” of Lincoln. “Lincoln Unbound” gets to the “why.”

What are some of the most important lessons we should draw from Lincoln’s life?

He really speaks to our predicament as a country today. There are two big things: 1) He shows how we need a vibrant, diverse economy with opportunities with all sorts of people. That was the point of his political program from the beginning. 2) His personal example, meanwhile, shows the importance of determination, responsibility, and self-improvement. These were core values for him and he wanted to spread them widely.

What was Lincoln’s vision of government? In what ways, if any, does it differ from the vision of the modern Republican Party?

He said it in one passage: “I believe each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor, so far as it in no wise interferes with any other man’s rights — that each community, as a State, has a right to do exactly as it pleases with all the concerns within that State that interfere with the rights of no other State, and that the general government upon principle, has no right to interfere with anything other than that general class of things that does not concern the whole.”

It was one of his bedrock principles that you should keep what you earn. He denounced “the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it.” In contrast, Lincoln defended the principle that “each individual is naturally entitled to do as he pleases with himself and the fruit of his labor.” Or, in more down-to-earth terms, “I always thought that the man who made the corn should eat the corn.”

All that said, he had a more activist view of government than contemporary Republicans. He advocated government support for canals, railroads, and the like. But there aren’t many people today who oppose government support for infrastructure projects that make economic sense. And it is always important to remember that government was much different in the 19th century. It wasn’t intrusive and redistributive the way it is today.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about Lincoln?

He wasn’t a “common man.” He was exceptionally talented and despite the limited, rural circumstances of his upbringing, people recognized it from the very beginning. He had an uncanny memory and former neighbors recalled his ability to remember almost entire editorials verbatim that he read in newspapers.

He was the least bit warm and fuzzy. Despite his endless joke telling, there was a certain chilliness to his character and, with one possible exception, he didn’t have any close personal friends.

He wasn’t an accidental president. He was quite an accomplished politician even before his nomination in 1860 and he was always ambitious. In his very first run for office at age 23, he said: “Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”

What do you say to those who view Lincoln as the father of big government?

The government got bigger to fight the war but immediately shrank in size afterwards. Whether you support or oppose the transcontinental railroad or the Homestead Act — two of the signature policies of the Civil War congress — they are nothing like the transfer programs of the New Deal and Great Society, nor did they involve the massive regulation and bureaucracy of our administrative state. The true turn in American history toward big government is the responsibility of FDR, not Abraham Lincoln.

Barack Obama has tried to lay claim to Lincoln’s legacy. What would Lincoln have thought of Obama’s policies?

Obama is in a long line of Lincoln body snatchers.

I believe Lincoln would be appalled by so much that has been wrought by progressivism. He would hate the class warfare. He would disdain the lack of realism about human nature. He wouldn’t understand the casual contempt for the Constitution and the Founders. He would be baffled by opposition to exploiting the country’s fossil fuel resources to the utmost and by development-impeding regulation. He would be troubled by the cultural breakdown that is eroding the work ethic and family stability. He might detect in welfare state policies supporting able-bodied, non-working adults a whiff of the moral stink of the plantation.

What is the most interesting fact you discovered researching the book?

Back in his youthful days when he was a fierce and sometimes abusive partisan Whig, Lincoln almost fought a duel — with cavalry broadswords.

Perhaps most importantly: Do you think Abraham Lincoln would have liked that the car company Lincoln was named after him?

He would love it! He had a deep interest in mechanical implements and would always stop to examine anything he saw that was new when he was out riding the circuit as a lawyer. He had such a knack for understanding mechanics that he was known as an excellent lawyer on patent cases. And he loved transportation innovations, as can be seen in his support for his beloved railroads. So I believe he would consider having a car company named after him a high honor.

Bill Buckley chose you to replace him as editor in chief of the National Review. I presume you knew him fairly well. What is the best advice he ever gave you?

Don’t immanentize the eschaton.

What three books most shaped your worldview?

“Witness,” “Brothers Karamazov,” and “The Baseball Life of Mickey Mantle.”

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Tags : abraham lincoln barack obama rich lowry
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