Monday, December 15, 2008

Too Much Lincoln?

Barack Obama, former U.S. senator from the Land of Lincoln. Appoints his cabinet on the axiom that it should be a "Team of Rivals", as Lincoln's cabinet has been described. Chooses as his inauguration theme "A New Birth of Freedom", a line from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Plans to ride to the inauguration by train, entering Washington the same way as Lincoln. I really hope he's not also going to leave Washington the same way as Lincoln.

To be fair, Lincoln is probably one of the better role models anyone could pick. Emulating Lincoln is a politically savvy move; since he is a figure revered by both Democrats and Republicans, it is a subtle hint of bipartisanship. Since Lincoln is best remembered as a capable leader during a time of crisis, Obama's Lincolnizing may cement his own appearance of being up to the task of handling the presidency in hard times. And of course, Lincoln was the president who gave the executive order which freed African-American slaves in this country, arguably the single greatest thing any American president has done for the Black community. Obama happens to be the first Black president of the U.S.

But let's not forget that Lincoln was president 150 years ago, and times have changed a bit. Lincoln's challenge was bringing together a bitterly divided union and win a war that could not have been avoided, Obama's will be to restore a battered economy and end a war that should have been avoided. When Lincoln held office, the U.S. was not a superpower whose every action had effects around the world. In Lincoln's time, nuclear weapons didn't exist, and terrorism meant an anarchist with a derringer. And unlike Obama, Lincoln didn't carry a blackberry.

It's true that good leadership is timeless. But how much Lincoln is too much? It would be great if Obama was the next Lincoln, but it would be even better if he was remembered as the first of his kind. So, Mr. President-Elect, let's try and tone down the open references to Lincoln. Don't let the Obama Express make any whistle stops in Gettysburg, don't name your new pooch Abe, and for god's sake don't buy your daughters Lincoln Logs this Christmas.

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