Today marks the end of March 2011, and 150 years ago this month, President Abraham Lincoln gave his first inaugural address in Washington DC. In the midst of his transitioning to becoming our 16th President, states in the South had already begun to secede from the Union. Less than one month after taking the oath of office, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter, marking the beginning of the Civil War and what would become, arguably, the greatest American Presidency to date.
Lincoln’s Presidency was compared to that of our current President, Barack Obama, several times during the early days of the Obama administration. Obama himself has perpetuated such comparisons. Lincoln was to serve as a model for the Obama Presidency, and there were several similarities between Obama and Lincoln. Both took over the Oval Office during times of crisis (although Obama’s crisis of the financial meltdown and extreme recession is not on a different level than Lincoln’s dilemma of a broken Union). Both are the only two Presidents that came into office from the state of Illinois, representing their state as senators. It is here, however, that the similarities seem to end.
Despite a Cabinet with lukewarm loyalty and drive, despite incompetent leadership in the Union armed forces, despite the death of a son and a depressed, heartbroken wife, Lincoln worked tirelessly to achieve the end of preserving the Union. This goal was the paramount objective throughout his Presidency. Even when the war became politically unpopular, Lincoln stayed the course. Even while war riots broke out in northern cities, he stayed the course. He even conceded publicly that he was going to lose the Election of 1864, although he eventually won. That victory came from steadfast focus on the goal at hand and dedicated leadership, not from monitoring polls and sending mixed messages to the American people in order to avoid political minefields. Despite all of this, we never had confusion on Lincoln’s priorities.
Contrast that with our current President. Barack Obama has claimed he is going to have a laser-like focus on jobs, yet the evidence seems to point elsewhere. The signature accomplishment of his administration to date, Obamacare, has been found to be detrimental to job growth, according to the US Chamber of Commerce, the largest organization representing business in this country. What about Obama’s other beliefs? He has stated that he is for a green economy; however, he stood idly by when the Senate declared cap-and-trade legislation dead. He has said it is paramount to fix the deficit; however, his recent budget proposal does nothing to either address entitlement reform or significantly cut the $1.5T budget gap (according to his own party). He has said that we must close Guantanamo Bay; however, he put no political muscle behind forcing Congress to fund activities necessary for such a closure. His claim to fame when he announced his candidacy for Presidency in 2007 was his anti-war stance, but he has failed to end US troop presence in Iraq after 16 months in office and has upped the ante, not once, but twice in Afghanistan. Obama has even been lukewarm with health care reform, his signature accomplishment to-date, as dozens of corporations, entities, and even states are being allowed to opt out of his new health care law. All of this raises the question, what does Obama truly believe in?
To be clear, TOC is not stating agreement or disagreement with any stance that Obama has taken, but only requests that we all get a better picture on what stances Obama actually believes in. TOC yearns for a leader that says what he does and does what he says . . . just like Lincoln.
In conclusion, there is a stark contrast between the two senators from Illinois. For Lincoln, the cause of preserving the Union was bigger than his political career – it was even bigger than him. This is the epitome of leadership, and it is the reason that Lincoln is now immortal. For Obama, we do not know what cause is bigger than he his. It is not the greening of the economy. It is not positioning the US as an economic leader. We have no evidence that it is education reform (his administration has not offered any comprehensive education reform package to-date), and it does not seem to be health care reform. Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, we can all agree that true “change” only comes about when leaders stand above the fray and lead – not play politician. TOC understands that Obama is a politician and must adhere to the “rules of politics.” However, if that is true, let’s please stop comparing him to our hero that sacrificed himself and risked his political career in the name of what he believed.