As Bloomberg.com notes, “Obama Inaugural Strains Lincoln Comparisons While Inviting Them”:
Barack Obama’s inauguration is dedicated to the proposition that all presidencies are not created equal.
In ways big and small, Obama is trying to summon Abraham Lincoln’s spirit to the proceedings.
Obama will roll into Washington’s Union Station today by train, duplicating part of Lincoln’s railroad journey from Illinois for his swearing in. The president-elect is to appear at a concert tomorrow at the Lincoln Memorial, and will take the oath of office Tuesday with one hand on the Bible that Lincoln used in 1861. Inaugural planners drew so many ties between the Illinois legislators-turned-presidents that Obama may risk straining the comparison.
“Everyone wants to be Lincoln,” says Harold Holzer, who has written or edited more than 20 books on Lincoln and the Civil War. “Is Obama overdoing it? Maybe.”
For most of the 144 years since Lincoln’s death, presidents of all political persuasions have tried to enlist Lincoln’s reputation for honesty and courage in support of their own ambitions. Leaders “see in Lincoln’s suffering validation of the criticism they have to endure,” Holzer says.
In the early, pre-9/11 days of the Bush Administration, the left threw a snit about President Bush invoking JFK and his call for tax cuts to bolster a similar 21st century plan, as Jeff Jacoby wrote in March of 2001:
JFK’s words are as persuasive today as they were four decades ago — so much so that a group of Republicans has resurrected them for use in radio ads promoting Bush’s tax-cut proposal. Narrated by Steve Forbes, the conservative publisher who has long championed lower taxes, the ads are designed to put pressure on Democratic senators in states Bush carried last year. “If Jack Kennedy can support tax cuts,” Forbes says in the version of the ad airing in Louisiana (for example), “so can Mary Landrieu.”
But not everybody welcomes President Kennedy’s contribution to the tax-cut debate. Ted Kennedy, for one, is in a snit.
“It is intellectually dishonest and politically irresponsible,” he fumes in a letter to the team that created the ads, “to suggest that President Kennedy would have supported such a tax cut…. If President Kennedy were here today he … would be outraged by comparisons between his 1963 tax cut and the current proposal.”
He wouldn’t of course, and there’s likely much in Barack Obama that Lincoln would have admired as well. But has any journalist asked someone in that slain leader’s party if they’re OK with one of their chief icons being co-opted for partisan purposes, as they did in 2001?
Update: Related thoughts from Sister Toldjah.