Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lincoln Overload and Life Lessons

Yes, yes, we get it. Barack Obama has themed his installation to the Great Emancipator--"A New Birth of Freedom" from the Gettysburg Address, yesterday's train trip to Washington, last week's family visit to the Lincoln Memorial, the swearing-in with Lincoln's bible, everything but a stovepipe hat for the Inaugural Address.

No fault of Obama's, but it may all be on the brink of what Esquire used to call Wretched Excess with the Congressional Inaugural Committee's Tuesday luncheon of Honest Abe's "favorite foods" (seafood, apples and root vegetables) served on replicas of china selected by Mary Todd Lincoln in 1861.

The hoke is not surprising, particularly in the light of next month's 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, but may an admirer of both Lincoln and Obama suggest that Civil War era trappings are less to the point than an understanding of how the sixteenth president faced his time of national crisis and what the 44th might learn from his experience?

My friend Shaun Mullen on his blog "Kiko's House" has been conducting a festschrift about Lincoln and, in today's contribution, a colleague with no scholarly credentials suggests one noteworthy parallel, the empathy toward people who disagree with them and the shared caution about rushing into social change without first winning public approval.

Barack Obama seems commendably intent on learning from history, but he can lean on Lincoln only so far in an era when it's no longer possible to rally public opinion with what's written on the back of an envelope.

On January 21st, he has to start celebrating his role model with his own brand of honesty and leadership.

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