Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Obama’s Ambition vis-a-vis Lincoln and the American Founding

Obama’s speeches and books make liberal use of Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence, but in far different ways than they intended. What isn’t appreciated is how Obama’s rhetoric fits perfectly his political strategy and tactics.

Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod’s "bookshelves are filled with Abe Lincoln biographies, but what he says he admires about Lincoln isn’t just his philosophy but his political effectiveness, the Great Emancipator’s secret shiv."

Not just conservatives will repeatedly bleed from that "secret shiv" wielded by an Obama Administration. Moreover, his campaign skillfully displayed time after time neo-Lincolnian "political effectiveness"--e.g., turning Obama negatives into formidable political plusses and transforming the most appealing features of the American political tradition into a post-modern willfulness that reinforces the Administrative State and undermines true liberty.

Thus, Obama’s frequent recourse to the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln is not just a sign of self-flattery but of grand ambition, to remake America, in the name of a new, new birth of freedom.

In this, does Obama not recall Lincoln’s warning, issued short of his 29th birthday:

Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored. It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

Distinction will be his paramount object; and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

So to such an ambitious type a terrorist William Ayers blowing up some buildings is child’s play, beneath contempt; black liberation theology is mere recreation; international capitulation follows naturally from nationalism’s exhaustion. Obama is hunting bigger game: A whole mentality, expressed succinctly as Reaganism but more broadly as the American political tradition, is what must be overthrown--in the name of the Declaration of Independence. Obama replaces Lincoln as its great interpreter.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Obama's trying to overthrow the whole American political tradition? Sheesh.

Note from Karl Rove to Ken Thomas: Obama likes to quote from Lincoln, so snoop around for a quote from Abe that denounces terrorism, and then quote it against Obama while linking it to Ayers. It will be so witty and clever a few days before the election, and it will be a double snarky bonus of playing the terror card and quoting a founder on NLT. Yours truly, Karl.

Bill Ayers is akin to John Brown. Reverend Wright to William Lloyd Garrison. So Obama is akin to Lincoln?

Lincoln's Lyceum address points to the problem of the demand for abstract justice being made real outside the rule of law. A passion for justice here and now destroys the very same law that provides for the conditions of civil and religious liberty. Mob law sets a negative example for others--the law abiding and the lawless in spirit alike. It leads to the alienation of the people from its political institutions. It thereby raises anew the question of whether the people are capable of governing themselves.

Obama must separate himself from the Ayers and Wright types just as Lincoln distinguished his position from that of Brown and Garrison.

Is Obama so alienated from the American political tradition that he sees nothing worth preserving? Is he posing as the towering genius? If this were the case then he would disdain the beaten path of the Presidency.

Instead of towering genius, Obama wants a return to the tradition of progressivism. Hardly terrorist or mobocratic, this tradition attempts to redefine rights and thereby the role of the law and government in making those rights secure.

It is true that progressivism requires strong leadership to make that reinterpretation take effect, as Woodrow Wilson argued for and attempted in practice. Wilson failed in practice, but succeeded in and through the legacy he left to FDR. Nonetheless, for all of his reinterpretations, Obama will still have to deal with the constitution and laws, the Congress, the courts, the states, and the people (or at least the Republicans).

This suggests he will become a failure in terms of grandiose change.

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