Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Obama, Lincoln, and Carter

Sean Wilentz’s cover story in the New Republic reviews seven recent books on Abraham Lincoln and reflects on the “almost cultish enthusiasm” for comparing Barack Obama (who has been president for little more than five months) to the greatest president in American history.

The intellectuals’ rapture over Obama, their eagerness to align him with their beatified Lincoln, has grown out of a deep hunger for a liberal savior . . . . Although Obama’s supporters at times likened him to the two Kennedys, and at times to FDR, the comparisons always came back to Lincoln — with the tall, skinny, well-spoken Great Emancipator from Illinois serving as the spiritual forebear of the tall, skinny, well-spoken great liberal hope from Illinois.

Wilentz writes it is natural that electing an African-American president brings Lincoln to mind, but that “the hunger pangs of some liberals have caused them to hallucinate.”

Obama’s legendary announcement in Springfield was the purest political stagecraft, but it was happily regarded as a kind of message from history. . . . One hears that the rhetoric that carried Obama to the White House is Lincolnesque, which it most certainly is not, either in its imagery or its prosody. One hears even that Obama is not just an extremely talented and promising new president but, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes, that he is “destined” — destined! — “to be thought of as Lincoln’s direct heir.”

Wilentz further notes the irony of Obama obtaining the Democratic nomination by manipulation of caucus rules in early states and later obtaining the backing of the “super delegates,” and then winning the presidency in part through a massive funding advantage over the Republican candidate.  There is “something, well, rich about the candidate beloved by the good-government reformers relying on the party insiders to get nominated and rejecting public financing in order to get elected.”

Five months into his presidency, it is increasingly apparent that Obama is the heir not of Lincoln, but of another president who initially inspired high hopes with his intelligence (he graduated from Annapolis and worked on nuclear physics with Admiral Rickover) and literary skills (he was the author of a well-received autobiography with the audacious title “Why Not the Best?”), but who lacked experience (serving only one term as a governor before becoming president), and who fundamentally misread the country’s Communist and Islamic adversaries.

As Obama heads off to Russia without his secretary of state, and Iran’s fists remain clenched despite videos and speeches, even liberal historians are starting to hedge their bets.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.