Lincoln, Obama and urgency
Our President likes to demonstrate parallels between himself and the 16th President. He announced his decision to run for President from Springfield, Illinois, for example. It is good politics, of course; current Republicans refrain from bad-mouthing Abraham Lincoln, even as they pander to unreconstructed Confederate sympathizers. The press has willingly, thus far, played along, helped out by the then fairly recent publication of Doris Kerns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005). The snappy title of the book provided a capsule of its argument and allowed mainstream journalists, who probably did not read the book and who certainly had no deep grasp of American history, to appear literate by comparing Obama to Lincoln when he selected his “rival” Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State. The novelty of having poitically ambitious members of an administration was stressed despite its not having been particularly novel — the tradition had so many examples from George Washington (who had both Jefferson and Hamilton in his cabinet) to Ronald Regan (who selected his rival George H.W. Bush for his running-mate) that it might actually be considered quite common.
Nevertheless, it seems likely that Obama himself believes he is much like the Great Emancipator. Perhaps the “charity for all” business allowed Obama to (wrongly) believe that Lincoln’s own style was similar to his own simplistic philosophy that the best policy is exactly in the midde of two perceived extremes. Or perhaps Lincoln’s leisurely story-telling reputation and soaring language allowed Obama to (again wrongly) believe that rhetoric trumps attention to executive skills.
There is one quote attributable to Lincoln, however, that Obama never seems to heed, possibly because it is apocryphal: “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” This quote was brought to mind today by the description in today’s New York Times of the complete disorganization that still characterizes the response to the disaster of the Deepwater Horizon 56 days after the explosion:
“From the beginning, the effort has been bedeviled by a lack of preparation, organization, urgency and clear lines of authority among federal, state and local officials, as well as BP. As a result, officials and experts say, the damage to the coastline and wildlife has been worse than it might have been if the response had been faster and orchestrated more effectively.”
Ah, urgency! If thou weren’t so uncool, we might have used thee to appoint U.S. Attorneys, pass an effective jobs bill, prosecute torturers, obtain a public health insurer alternative, withdraw from Iraq … the list keeps getting longer. It makes you wish that instead of reading A Team of Rivals, the President had read The Lincoln Story Book by Henry L. Williams (NY: 1907), p227:
“Giving a lift in his carriage to two ladies, to the Soldiers’ Home, the horses were splashing and sliding after a shower in the mire, when Mr. Lincoln assisted the frightened women to alight. He set three stones for stepping-stones in the mud, and assisted them to firm ground. He had cautioned them in making the passage:
“All through life be sure you put your feet in the right place, and then stand firm!”