Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Obama and the Lincoln Legacy

It is quite clear, even to the casual observer, that President Elect Obama has employed the legacy of Abraham Lincoln as a theme for his Presidential campaign. He announced his candidacy in Lincoln's adopted home of Springfield Illinois and spoke of Lincoln's political and social philosophies repeatedly in his speeches. He will be travelling to Washington by train just as Lincoln did and stopping for a speech in Philadelphia, again mirroring Lincoln's pre-inaugural activities. The closing symbolic act of his campaign will be to get sworn in on the same bible used by Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

The Republican Party has laid claim to the Lincoln legacy for years by touting themselves as the "Party of Lincoln," which seems rather far fetched considering the fact that President Lincoln was ideologically a center left politician. When he was elected, Lincoln represented a loose coalition of former Whigs, anti-slavery Democrats, abolitionists, and a nativist anti- immigrant group called the "Know Nothing" party. This group collectively branded themselves the Republican party as they came together over a period of several years prior to his election. Any unbiased review of Lincoln's policies clearly reveals that he was left of center and in no way ideologically aligned with the Republican Party of today.

President elect Obama's campaign has emphasized the similarities between his political philosophy and Abraham Lincoln's. He often echoes Lincoln's emphasis on national unity by referring to the United States specifically as the Union, which also serves to remind modern day pro-confederates who won the war and that the South "won't rise again." He is openly reclaiming the Legacy of the Lincoln Presidency from the Republican Party by demonstrating his ideological alignment with Honest Abe. Invoking Lincoln's legacy while proposing left of center populist policies will leave the Republican Party in the position of voicing their support of President Obama whenever they attempt to make gains using Lincoln's Party affiliation. I suspect it will be quite rare to hear members of the GOP promoting themselves as the "Party of Lincoln" over the next four to eight years.

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