David Cox | Lincoln redux

Two hundred years ago this week was born the man whom many consider to be our greatest president, thus far.
Three weeks ago yesterday was inaugurated a man who makes history if only for the fact that he, as an African American, brings to fulfillment a process which Abraham Lincoln to a large extent made possible.

Barack Obama has emulated Abraham Lincoln, point upon point. Both were gangly lawyers who came to prominence suddenly and from the most unlikely of circumstances. Both claimed Illinois as their home. Obama announced his candidacy in Lincoln’s town of Springfield, on the steps of the state capitol where each of them served. He quoted Lincoln in many of his speeches which, like Lincoln’s, are usually exceptionally well-crafted and tend to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

If anyone could possibly have missed the comparison prior to Jan. 20, Obama took the oath of office with his hand resting on the same Bible Lincoln used at his inauguration.

And, like Lincoln, he entered the White House with a huge mess on his hands—several, actually—which threaten the well-being of our nation to a degree which few presidents have had to face.

Millions of people pray for the success of this president, just as huge numbers prayed for Lincoln … if not so many in Virginia. I suspect most of them also pray that comparisons will conclude with the success of his efforts and not include Lincoln’s end.

But for both, it took but a short time for life to get complicated, and controversial, and for critics to come out of the woodwork that frames our democracy. Some pundits claim the Obama honeymoon ended in record time.

Nothing new. One of Lincoln’s army officers was bemoaning to the president the storm of criticism he faced from a congressional committee, criticism which documents proved was totally unjustified: Should he try to exonerate himself?

“Oh, no,” replied the president, “at least, not now. If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten thousand angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

Whether or not Barack Obama approaches his model’s greatness, we can hope, and work, for the end that brings Lincoln’s successor all right, for then, our end will be all right, too.


– Column by David Cox


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