Obama's Lincoln Demurral Has a Hollow Ring

Obama's Lincoln Demurral Has a Hollow Ring

By Carl M. Cannon - December 31, 2012

David Gregory: “Is this your Lincoln moment?”

President Obama. “Well, no. Look, (a) I never compare myself to Lincoln . . .”

In perhaps his most famous skit, comedian George Carlin spoke about the “seven words you can never say on television.” For presidents, there is an eighth -- a term also used by Carlin -- that can also be perilous: the word “never” itself.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the record shows that Barack Obama consciously emulates Lincoln, quotes Lincoln, misquotes Lincoln, and most definitely compares himself to Lincoln -- and that he did so even before he used Lincoln’s bible to take the oath of office as the 44th president of the United States.

As they say in sportscasting, let’s go to the tape:

-- “What is it about this man that can move us so profoundly? Some of it has to do with Lincoln's humble beginnings, which often speak to our own. When I announced my candidacy for the U.S. Senate, it was hard to imagine a less likely scenario than that I would win -- except, perhaps, for the one that allowed a child born in the backwoods of Kentucky with less than a year of formal education to end up as Illinois' greatest citizen and our nation’s greatest President.” -- Sen. Barack Obama, writing in Time magazine on July 4, 2005.

-- “That is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.” -- Sen. Obama, on Feb. 10, 2007.

-- “So, you know what? If Abraham Lincoln could make some compromises as part of governance, then surely we can make some compromises when it comes to handling our budget.” -- Obama, on July 22, 2011.

-- “When you listen to what the Federalists said about the anti-Federalists, and the names that Jefferson called Hamilton and back and forth -- I mean those guys were tough. Lincoln? They used to talk about him almost as bad as they talk about me.” -- Obama, in Decorah, Iowa, Aug. 15, 2011.

-- “That vision of Lincoln’s, the vision of a big, bold, generous, dynamic, active, inclusive America -- that’s the vision that has driven this nation for more than 200 years. That’s the vision that helped create Chicago. That’s the vision that drove our campaign in 2008.” -- Obama, in Illinois on March 16, 2012.

-- “And while I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together -- I’m far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what Lincoln meant when he said, ‘I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.’” -- Obama, accepting his party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C.

To be sure, the problem with this last quote isn’t presidential vanity -- it’s actually an expression of modesty -- but, rather, of authenticity. If it doesn’t really sound like Lincoln that’s because it’s unlikely he said it.

The words were attributed to Honest Abe by Noah Brooks, a newspaperman originally from New England who moved to Dixon, Ill., in 1856 to cover Lincoln’s Senate campaign and who then continued his migration west, settling in California. In November 1862, the Sacramento Union sent Brooks east as its Washington correspondent, where he resumed his acquaintance with Abraham Lincoln and became a frequent visitor to the White House.

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Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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