Saturday, January 17, 2009


The train has officially left the station in Philadelphia, and with that departure, the Obama inauguration ceremonies have officially begun. 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 four-day inauguration schedule starts this morning in Philadelphia, where Obama boards a train to trace the last segments of Lincoln’s route, stopping in Wilmington, Delaware, to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden. 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. Obama also plans a public event in Baltimore, which Lincoln slipped through in disguise, under cover of darkness, after learning about an assassination plot there.
The 44th president will be sworn in with an 1853 printing of the Bible, bound in burgundy velvet, purchased for Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861. On Inauguration Day, not only will President-elect Obama be sworn in using the Bible that was used to swear in President Abraham Lincoln, he will dine like Lincoln as well. The luncheon that will be served in Congress's Statuary Hall to the president-elect and vice president-elect and their families -- as well as congressional leaders, justices of the Supreme Court and pending members of the Obama Cabinet -- will be modeled after foods that Lincoln ate and enjoyed. The first course will even be served on replicas of the china picked out by then-first lady Mary Todd Lincoln at the beginning of her husband's term in office. The luncheon's appetizer will be seafood stew in puff pastry -- scallops, shrimp, lobster -- served as a nod to the 16th president's love of stewed and scalloped oysters. The main course -- duck breast with sour-cherry chutney and herb-roasted pheasant served with molasses sweet potatoes and winter vegetables -- is a nod to the root vegetables and wild game that Mr. Lincoln favored growing up on the frontier in Kentucky and Indiana. The apple cinnamon sponge cake dessert is a nod to Mr. Lincoln's love of apples and apple cake.
Lincoln-y enough for you? Obama has invoked the memory, and startling comparisons between himself and Lincoln at almost every stage of his campaign. At a time when the inauguration marks defining moments unique and historically to Obama, he has unselfishly placed the focus on Lincoln. And, the comparisons are striking......
Obama and Lincoln share a state, and almost every president seems to love the "tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer," as Obama once called him. But Obama's affinity for Lincoln goes far beyond the simple issue of common geography and the widespread love of Lincoln generally.
Obama apparently wants to model himself after Lincoln as a unifying national figure—a repairer of the breach. Obama is looking to Lincoln as a brilliant politician who understood the public's mood, the temperaments and desires of friends and foes alike, and when to strike out in bold new directions. Goodwin's overlooked subtitle, "The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," is a clue to why Obama would be drawn to his 19th-century predecessor.
Like Obama, Lincoln arrived in Washington with scant political experience. But he was able to figure out how to lead in wartime. Obama sees his presidency as an opportunity to overcome a bitterly divided politics that has dominated since at least the 1960s. He has written of his ability to bring people of diverse backgrounds together and expressed his desire to make progress on common challenges instead of descending into the petty bickering of the politics of the recent past.
Just as Lincoln sought to achieve a measure of national redemption and racial reconciliation, Obama has sought, in Lincoln's famous words, "to bind up the nation's wounds." Obama's riff on red America vs. blue America is echoed in Lincoln's earlier refrain about how "a House divided against itself cannot stand."
Indeed, Lincoln stands as perhaps the pre-eminent presidential symbol of reconciliation and unity on a national scale. Obama, who in almost every major address since 2004 emphasizes this theme, clearly wants to follow in Lincoln's steps as an almost redeemer in chief.
Then, of course, there's the issue of the Civil War and race relations. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year's Day, 1863. He initially said that the war was being waged to preserve the union—not as a struggle to end slavery. During the wars first two years, Lincoln was wary of moving too far too fast and adopted a politically moderate position on the slavery question. "Lincoln...realized that any assault on slavery would have to await a change in public attitudes," Goodwin writes. "All his life, Lincoln had exhibited an exceptionally sensitive grasp of the limits set by public opinion."
Obama wants to imitate that Lincolnesque "sensitive grasp." He has identified a bold and possibly breathtaking reform agenda, ranging from economic recovery to energy independence to universal health care. He cannot undertake all these reforms simultaneously, and he'll have to figure out how and when and how quickly to move on each of these big-ticket agenda items. If Obama gleans anything from Lincoln's presidency, it is likely to be a finer feel for how to balance the forces of political necessity and public opinion against the power of moral conviction and doing what he believes is right for the country.
Finally, Lincoln was also probably our most literary president in terms of both the written and spoken word, and Obama figures to rank somewhere in that group. When Obama assumes the presidency, his first memoir, Dreams From My Father, will become the most eloquent book written by a president in modern times. Obama's aides have repeatedly referred to him as his own best speechwriter (Obama has said the same thing), indicating that like Lincoln, Obama understands the power of presidential oratory.
Just this week, Obama took his family for a surprise visit to the Lincoln Memorial, yet another nod to his mentor of sorts, honest Abe. And the Obama tributes to Lincoln keep on coming. And that is a good thing. A respectful thing. A nod back into history from someone making more history than anyone in recent times. A nod back into history from a leader who represents a heritage whose country did them a barbaric and brutal wrong.
Surprising? Not really. You see for all of the talk about his "community organizer" days, he is first and foremost, a constitutional scholar, and college professor. Thus the looks back into history, and the incorporation of arguably one of our greatest Presidents legacies into his own. Obama is an incredibly smart man, who obviously is a master planner of his actions and in the execution of his visions.
And his first act is to remind the American citizens of a portion of our history, as well as the mistakes we made in the past, so they will never be repeated. And with the Obama inaugural train officially leaving its perch, class is officially in session.
And with any luck, the starting of the Obama legacy will be marked with a change in the most common Google searched words........from Brittany Spears and the World Wrestling Federation, to Abe Lincoln and Barack Obama. Teach on Mr. President, we're listening. And he will. Dollars to donuts, the Obama inauguration speech will come with something special for the nation....a homework assignment.
And that is the world. The World According to Kimba. Thanks for reading.

No comments: