We understand the insatiable need for the media to compare Obama to Lincoln, we really do. There's no need to rehash the potential similarities all over again, because Newsweek is devoting their cover story this week to doing exactly that. On one hand, comparing a president-elect to a another guy from Illinois who did the job well makes all the sense in the world. And above all else, Lincoln was a good man. On the other hand, there are elements of this comparison that are wildly not suggestive of BO:
Towering over his generals, someone of Lincoln's background would have a real hard time getting elected today. Rising from manual laborer (he was once a rail-splitter) to the highest office in the land, Lincoln had no formal education. As Paul Johnson suggests in his book Heroes (even better than the TV series!), the only reason Lincoln was able to enter politics at all was because it was so easy to become a lawyer in America. And though he undoubtedly was a great president, he did have one blind spot worth noting, as Johnson writes in the book:
Lincoln did not regard blacks as equals. Or rather, they might be morally equal but in other respects they were fundamentally different and unacceptable as citizens without qualification. He said bluntly that it was impossible just to free the slaves and make them "political and socially our equals." He freely admitted an attitude to blacks which would now be classified as racist: "My own feelings will not admit [of equality." The same was true, he added, of a majority of whites, North and South. "Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment is not the sole question. A universal feeling, whether well- or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded." It is such statements, and many other of a similar nature, which make Lincoln's speeches and writings so riveting. They show that his salient characteristic was candor, a willingness to admit and articulate truth, however inconvenient or unheroic or distateful or inconsistent it might be.
Barack's attitude towards people of color is surely different, but the more interesting question is whether Obama sees himself as Lincoln does — as a democrat "who reacts to events rather than directing them," as Johnson puts it. To some extent, President Obama will have no choice but to respond to the evident truth of the country's economic problem. But from the aggressive policy proposals we've seen so far, we shouldn't expect that to last long. Obama's Lincoln [Newsweek]