WWLD? (What would Lincoln Do?), Patrick T. Reardon, Chicago Tribune, November 9, 2008.
If Barack Obama is looking for a model as president-elect, Abraham Lincoln seems perfect. In a time of national crisis, with Southern states seceding from the Union, that earlier son of Illinois had to prepare himself for taking office—but also avoid making a misstep. It was his first test as a national leader.
So, what lessons can Obama learn from what Lincoln did—and didn't do—in the time between his election and inauguration?
To find out, the Tribune asked two Lincoln scholars, Harold Holzer, author of the newly published "Lincoln President-elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861," and James McPherson, author of the classic Civil War history tome "Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief," published in October.
Here's their lesson plan:
Lesson 1: Keep your cards close to your vest.
Although pressured to deal with the secession, Lincoln refused to say anything to placate Southern leaders before his inauguration. "They tried to get him to approve compromise measures, but he wouldn't do it," said Holzer. "He said, 'By no act or complicity of mine shall the Republican party become a mere sucked egg, all shell and no principle in it.' " McPherson said, "Lincoln was like Franklin Roosevelt in the Depression. He didn't want to commit himself ahead of time." As president, Lincoln had power that gave him leverage in negotiations. But not as president-elect.
Lesson 2: Avoid empty rhetoric.
On his way to the inauguration, Lincoln took an 11-day train trip with whistle stops at dozens of cities and towns along the way. Lincoln didn't want to tip his hand about his plans for the South, so he gave speeches filled with bromides. "They were meaningless remarks, and they came across to many people as taking the crisis too lightly," McPherson said.
Lesson 3: Court the opposition media.
"One of the first things Lincoln did was invite a reporter for the pro-Stephen Douglas New York Herald to spend time with him," said Holzer. "He was virtually embedded in his office for four months. The reporter, who at first doubted him, was writing positively about him by the end. It would be like Obama inviting Sean Hannity to spend a lot of time with him."
Lesson 4: Pick Cabinet members who have skills and knowledge you lack.
"Some of the people Lincoln appointed had a good deal more experience in the federal government and in administration than he had," McPherson said.
Lesson 5: Use your Cabinet to bring diversity into your administration.
"In Lincoln's day, diversity meant regional and political roots," Holzer said. The Republican Party had been created by former Democrats and Whigs, so Lincoln "had as many former Democrats as former Whigs" in his Cabinet, Holzer said. Also, he had representatives from the various regions in the nation. "Today, it's ethnic and gender diversity that's needed."
Lesson 6: Use your Cabinet appointments to unite your party behind you.
"Lincoln appointed four of his [Republican] presidential rivals to the Cabinet—Salmon Chase, William Seward, Edward Bates and Simon Cameron," said McPherson. "I suppose Hillary Clinton would be the parallel." In fact, he said Obama already moved in this direction by naming former primary opponent Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.
Lesson 7: Get any resentment or bitterness off your chest in the first draft of your inaugural address—then cut it all out.
"Lincoln really poured it on in his first draft, and ended it with a line that the choice was between peace or the sword. But, in later drafts, he kept toning it down," Holzer said. "The final draft ended with the line about the 'better angels of our nature.' "
Lesson 8: Use your inaugural address to set the tone for your presidency.
Like many presidents before and since, Lincoln sent a message with his inaugural—that he would uphold the Union, even while trying to avoid civil war. "Lincoln used the inaugural to make clear that his administration would not accept the legitimacy of secession," McPherson said. "[Unless provoked,] the government would take no action against the South, and would follow a policy of encouraging Unionists. But he stood for the integrity of the nation, of the Union."
Text Source: Chicago Tribune
Image Souce: Library of Congress, February 1860 at the time of the Cooper Union Speech.
CWL: 1.) My daughter reports that Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) interviewed one of Obama's law professors. The professor said that two, tall, thin white guys from Illinois have been elected President: Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. 2.) It was nice to hear Lincoln quoted three times, I believe, in the victory speech in Grant Park, Chicago.