Tuesday, December 27, 2005

As for religion, Kuttner et al. might be thought to resemble most closely the anti-war Democratic newspapers of the day - along with many of the sophisticated newspapers of Europe - who were appalled by the religiousity of the Second Inaugural Address and accused its author of offering 'puritanical' theology in place of public policy, and who believed that Lincoln was invoking the mantle of the Almighty in order to shield his own policies from criticism...
Kenneth Anderson, law professor and blogger

Perhaps the most accurate thing about Anderson's analysis is his realization that both the sixteenth President and the forty third were rhetorically and politically unafraid to step onto a "higher plane." Under their command, the US fought what were simultaneously considered righteous and gratuitous wars. However, while Bush has won popular acclaim for his "decisiveness" as the nation's commander in chief, Lincoln was hesitant and inept. In fact, it could be said that the truer comparison, at least in terms of military leadership, would be between Bush and Lee.

From the moment he first stepped into command, the theretofore unknown Robert E Lee was a charismatic idol to his men. Contrary to popular contention, Lee owned no slaves, and, it could reasonably said, was personally opposed to the practice. (In and of itself this is no great revelation, because, of course, slavery's role in precipitating the war is vastly overstated.) Unlike McClellan(and, perhaps, Bush), Lee willingly bore the burden for his misdeeds, while the first thought of his Union counterpart was to blame Lincoln.

Simply noting a Lincoln-Bush resemblance is not necessarily a compliment to either. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus rights in Washington, DC almost immediately after being elected. When the Supreme Court ruled against him in ex parte Merryman, he ignored them. Bush has the "war on terror" to "justify" his quasi-constitutional transgressions, and Lincoln had the specter of assassination threats, already a dangling sword of Damocles.

Lincoln was guilty, in their eyes, of being at once a believer and a hypocrite, which is not that different, so far as I can tell, from how Kuttner sees Bush.

Lincoln's "Father Abraham" persona was far from organic to him. His early speeches indicate a plainer and wholly different style of communication, soon to be replaced by an embarking onto a "higher" linguistic and philosophical plane, most notably at his Second Inaugural. It is difficult to precisely define what precipitated this dichotomy(because, for one thing, the contention that Lincoln was trying to take the war to a "higher moral plane," however appealing, comes at odds with the realities of his administration, though it is probably true that Lincoln "stepped up to the plate" around this time in more ways than one), but it affirms that a few miscues-or pretzels-along the way will not always be deterrents.

Just like Bush, Lincoln has made notable appeals to multiple constituencies. When reading through the Lincoln Douglas debates, one can almost geographically chart Lincoln's conservatism(or lack thereof) towards the issue of slavery. In Ottawa, he famously remarked that "Just because I do not want a Negro woman for a slave does not mean that I must want her for a wife.") Whether this was, indeed, a political appeal made under hammering by Douglas(who was trying to make the inflammatory suggestion that Lincoln would condone miscegeny), or evidence of Lincoln's "true colors" on the subject is debatable. However, from the SCOTUS nomination process alone, Bush's status as a political chameleon is unquestionable.

Lincoln's military ineptitude and lack of, some would say, fortitude, as commander in chief would be one way in which he could be distinguished from the popular perception of Bush. The sixteenth President installed one failure after another as General of the Union army, including two stints with George McClellan. At the Seven Days battles, McClellan famously(or infamously) waited for Lee to attack. He had inaccurately been convinced that the Confederates had him vastly outnumbered, when, in fact, it was the other way around. This and many other similar incidents ultimately prompted an enraged Lincoln to ask of McClellan, "If you are not using the Union Army, may I have it back?"

Political maneuvering surely wasn't infra dig, either. Not only did the Emancipation Proclamation not "free" any slaves(because, of course, only those states in "active rebellion" were subject to it), but it also carried little portent from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His advisers had convinced Lincoln to wait for a nominal "victory" to release it, his last attempt to get the south to rejoin the Union, in many ways the last ember of a dying flame, before it was reignited by Grant and his "total war" campaign.

Lincoln's administration was as much as anything, the seminal years of the "new Presidency." His reign saw the greatest expansion of federal powers in American history, except for, perhaps, those of (Theodore, of course) Roosevelt. The first Republican president? Yes. The best? Hardly.


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