His Lincoln Moment(s)

by Eliana Johnson

Historians and political analysts have been drawing comparisons between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln since Obama’s rise to prominence on the national political stage. Obama’s decision to recreate Lincoln’s historic 1861 train journey from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration – and to take the oath of office on the Bible on which Lincoln was sworn in on at his first inauguration – prompted further examination of the similarities between the two leaders. 

NBC’s David Gregory evoked the comparison yesterday, asking the president, regarding the fiscal cliff, “Is this your Lincoln moment?” Obama responded, “Well, no. Look, A, I never compare myself to Lincoln and, B, obviously the magnitude of the issues are quite different from the Civil War and slavery.”

In fact, Obama has repeatedly compared himself to Lincoln. In a 2005 piece for TIME, then-Senator Obama wrote that the parallels between his life and that of the 16th president served as an inspiration. “In Lincoln’s rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat–in all this, he reminded me not just of my own struggles. He also reminded me of a larger, fundamental element of American life–the enduring belief that we can constantly remake ourselves to fit our larger dreams.”

The president has also seen similarities in the type of partisan criticism leveled at the two leaders. “Lincoln, they used to talk about him almost as bad as they talk about me,” Obama told a crowd last year at a town hall in Decorah, Iowa.

So, the president’s assertion that “I never compare myself to Lincoln” isn’t quite right; in fact, the comparison is one he has actively nurtured throughout his political career.