Six Characters in Search of a Blogger


11.7 The Seventh Day: Running the “Machine”
February 3, 2009, 2:09 pm
Filed under: Lincoln's Team of Rivals | Tags: , , , ,

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I love turning back and revisiting history; not necessarily for the specific lessons it teaches us, but because it reminds me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  

Although we have almost deified Abraham Lincoln–consecrated him in marble, honored him as one of our greatest Presidents–he was, for much of his time in office, a troubled man.  He was steering the country through one of the most precarious (and costly) conflicts we have known.  He faced power struggles within his own Cabinet.  He made mistakes in his political and military appointments, hiring ineffectual leaders and generals.  And his popularity plummeted as the war raged on and the deaths of Union soldiers mounted.

The caricature above appeared in 1864, when the Civil War still engulfed the country, and gives an idea of how Lincoln was perceived–at least by a segment of the population.  He is pictured laughing (a thoughtless act in a serious time), being reminded of a joke while his Cabinet indulge in questionable war work:  claiming “great victory” for the capture of one prisoner and one gun; using ridiculous math to mount Navy attacks; arresting citizens for opposing the government; and above all, printing money.  Lots and lots of money. 

I bring this up because as we head into this week’s analysis of Obama’s Cabinet, it is critical that we remember that even our greatest Presidents have made mistakes.  And that large swaths of money have been made and spent, again and again–Americans have always been critical of such expenditures.  Now some would argue that if we are to forgive Obama for his mistakes and his stimulus package spending, then certainly George W. Bush might deserve the same regard.  After all, he made mistakes.  And he was a spendthrift (look at the Iraq War.)  

But I would suggest that the very real difference between Bush and Obama (and even Lincoln)–aside from their relative eloquence–is intent.  President Bush promised compassionate conservatism, and instead supplied us with something quite different–divisive elitism.  President Obama is promising change through bipartisanism and ethics reform, but we are far too early into his administration to see where those promises might lead.

One thing is certain:  no matter how he runs the machine, as it has been for every President before him, history will be his judge. 

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