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Examiner
  • Neal Simon: Obama’s no Lincoln, and there’s no shame in that

  • Early in Barack Obama’s first term in the White House, there was a lot of media attention about the president’s preoccupation with one of his predecessors. That would be the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

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  • Early in Barack Obama’s first term in the White House, there was a lot of media attention about the president’s preoccupation with one of his predecessors. That would be the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
    For his first inaugural in 2009, Obama chose the Lincoln Bible, the book on which Lincoln swore his oath of office in 1861. The president is known to regard Lincoln as a personal hero and model of public leadership.
    Obama’s admiration for the Kentucky-born Lincoln is not surprising, and there are some similarities between the men. Like Lincoln, Obama was born in one state (Hawaii) but came to national prominence in another —  Illinois.  He’s the first African-American president, and it was Lincoln who issued the Emancipation Proclamation and was the force behind the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the U.S. Like Lincoln, Obama came to power in a time of deep political division. Obama’s critics talk a lot about secession. Lincoln’s enemies went ahead and did it.
    Early on, Obama’s opponents seized on the Lincoln comparison and tried to turn it against the president. It’s not so much that he admires Lincoln, the argument went, but that he thinks he’s another Lincoln or at least Lincoln’s equal in political ability and historical significance.
    About four years ago, an article in USA Today generated thousands of comments on the Obama-Lincoln comparison. One writer seized on the revelation that Obama’s Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner had not paid $35,000 in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes from 2001 through 2004 while working for the International Monetary Fund.
    The writer scoffed at Obama, claiming his selection of a man like Geithner was evidence of moral weakness. Lincoln, the writer said, surrounded himself with men of high character only.
    It was typical spouting off without knowing anything about history. As proof, I give you Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s first secretary of war. A U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Cameron became secretary of war through some good old fashion horse trading, backing Lincoln at the 1860 Republican convention in Chicago in return for a spot in the president’s cabinet. Cameron was known to be  dishonest and notoriously corrupt. The most famous thing ever said about Cameron came from Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Discussing Cameron’s honesty, Stevens remarked to Lincoln, ‘”’”I don’t think that he would steal a red hot stove.’”
    When Cameron objected to the statement, Stevens agreed to a retraction, saying ‘”I believe I told you he would not steal a red-hot stove. I will now take that back.’”
    Cameron stayed around for a year or two, before Lincoln let him go.
    Lincoln doesn’t need to be mythologized. His humanity is what makes him both great and fascinating. Lincoln had some inherent weaknesses, including a life-long struggle with depression. He started his journey on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, had little formal schooling and suffered a string of political defeats prior to 1860.
    Page 2 of 2 - Lincoln was an outstanding president, a master tactical politician and the greatest writer to ever sit in the Oval Office. I put Lincoln at the top of the list when it comes to our greatest presidents, and I wouldn’t put Obama anywhere near the top at this point. Almost 600 people have voted in an Evening Tribune online poll that asks readers to select their favorite president. Lincoln is no better than third in the rankings, trailing Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy by a wide margin. I’m pleased with the response to the poll, but I find it a little disconcerting that so many people see Reagan and Kennedy as greater presidents. Without Lincoln, there may not have been a nation for JFK and Reagan to lead.
    The release of Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed film, ‘”Lincoln,’” has generated renewed interest in ‘”Honest Abe.’” Maybe that increased interest will result in a better understanding of Lincoln, both the president and the man.
    The Hornell, N.Y., Evening Tribune
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