'Honest Obe' Might Be a Bit of a Stretch

Just for the record, those who impersonate President Abraham Lincoln choose to be called Lincoln Presenters. The first photo at the link shows a gaggle of Presenters at their 1995 convention. I do not find Barack Obama among them, although he could be in the back obscured by all the stovepipe hats.

While I concede a few similarities between Lincoln and Obama, the president-elect has begun to display a rather alarming propensity to emulate the Great Emancipator.

Despite my disagreement with the media's obsession with his rock-star good looks, I am willing to concede that Obama is every bit as handsome as Honest Abe. Obama just needs a nickname to reflect the similarities of the two men.  Although it may be unseemly to assign the moniker "Honest Obe" to a politician risen from the Cloaca Maxima of Chicago, the shoe fits, even if no more aptly than when the sobriquet "Tiny" is applied to a hulk of a man, or "Grace" to a clumsy girl.

If only Honest Obe would have settled for the obsequious media's promotion of the obvious "lanky" and "Illinois Congressman" allusions, instead of front-loading his presidency with the implication that he might be Lincoln reincarnated. But no, on Inauguration Day Obama will even dine on foods that Lincoln was thought to have enjoyed, "served on china that duplicates the dishware first lady Mary Todd Lincoln picked for the White House."

There are many apt comparisons between the two. The Lincoln family was forced to move around the nation's Western frontier when Abe was a boy, uprooting themselves from Kentucky, moving to Indiana, and then to Illinois. This was due to the difficulty of obtaining clear title to land in the Northwest Territories. Coincidentally, Obama endured some real estate problems of his own. The Lincolns just needed a guy like Tony Rezko around to iron things out for them.

Lincoln kicked off his political career as a member of the Whig party in 1832, and only later did he help form the Republican Party. Similarly, Obama was a member of the Democratic Socialists of America's New Party and used his party affiliation as a springboard to mainstream success as a Democrat.

Surprisingly, Lincoln protested vehemently against the Mexican-American War as a congressman. The intensity of his attacks on President Polk earned him the enmity of Illinois Democrats, and Lincoln elected not to run for reelection in the face of certain defeat. When exercising the duties of commander in chief, however, Lincoln was stalwart and creative. Barack Obama also had pacifist connections, fronting for the 21st-century American anti-war movement. Let's hope he does a turnabout similar to his idol and becomes a steadfast commander.

The electoral strategies of Obama and Lincoln were similar as well. Lincoln almost completely disregarded the South on his path to victory in the presidential election of 1860. He wasn't even on the ballot in nine southern states and he carried only two of 996 Southern counties.

Obama did campaign more in the South than Lincoln did, but the results were similar, with Honest Obe carrying just three Southern states, although the demographics for Florida and Virginia today are more akin to composition of the Northern states of Lincoln's time.

Any comparison of Honest Abe and Honest Obe must, of course, address the rhetorical skills of both men. Lincoln, while not a great public speaker, ranks solidly as one of the greatest political rhetoricians in American history. The Lincoln-Douglas debates truly brought Lincoln's inspiring ideas to the attention of Americans. While these powers were insufficient to defeat Stephen Douglas for the Senate seat from Illinois, they made Lincoln a star and paved the way for his run for the presidency. Obama has garnered acclaim for his rhetorical skills since his debut at the 2004 Democrat Convention.  Many would argue that his superior oratory helped Honest Obe overcome a paper-thin resume and sordid Chicago associations to defeat accomplished politicians in both the 2008 Democrat primary and the general election. Clearly he can talk the talk. We are all praying that he can walk the walk.

Now about that presidential china selected by Mrs. Lincoln: Henry Ford's magnificent collection of Americana assembled at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, includes a delightful restaurant called A Taste of History. Encased under glass at various locations around the restaurant one finds the complete set of Mary Todd Lincoln's chosen porcelain. Of course, presidential china is highly sought after and of interest to historians, decorators, and porcelain collectors alike. This particular set of china, however, is most unique in that every single piece of china in the set, comprising over 500 pieces, has been chipped or smashed.

Many of the cups and plates and bowls are preserved with homely repairs which leaves the observer with two nagging questions: 1) Did the Lincolns continue to use this shattered china during his term in the White House, and 2) How did every piece get broken?

Let's hope that broken china doesn't become a metaphor for the Obama presidency.