In that vein, I found an article by Tom Foreman to be a fascinating take on that topic. He interviews Professor Robert Bray, one of the nation's leading Lincoln scholars, to ask what lessons Obama could learn from the former president.
He suggests that Lincoln Lesson One might be: Make your enemies into friends.Color me a bit confused by this advice. Because those three things seem to describe President Obama to a tee...already. As a matter of fact, they are the very things I have been trying to highlight about him for years. They are also the things some on the left has been criticizing him for since the 2008 primaries.
Bray notes that Lincoln had an enormous talent for turning around even his fiercest opponents. "He was able to keep his eye on the prize," Bray says, "which means he was able to disassociate himself from personal attacks." No matter how cruelly his foes savaged him, Lincoln repeatedly rose above the fray, using humor and warmth to disarm his enemies and refocus everyone on the agenda at hand.
Instances of his temper showing, Bray notes, were rare.
Lincoln Lesson Two: Be firm, but play nice. Lincoln was no pushover. Despite his legendarily laconic style, Bray says Lincoln had a single-minded ability to steadily exert political pressure on others, inexorably pushing them toward the action he wanted, or rather he felt the nation needed. And yet, he did so in a way that left others feeling unthreatened. "He could talk without anger," Bray says. "He could talk without heat to his political opponents."
Lincoln Lesson Three: Take the long view. Lincoln clearly saw the future in a way that many of his contemporaries could not. He imagined not merely the end of slavery, but also the repercussions that would follow for freed African Americans, southern citizens, and northerners as well. He knew resolution might take many years, and yet he tried to point the politics of the day in the proper direction. "He believed firmly, I think, that if we put our heads to it and we put our wills to it, the American people could be that shining example of equality for the world," Bray says.
And so I would suggest that the two men have an awful lot in common. Whether President Obama learned all that from President Lincoln, or whether the two men have a natural affinity based on similar personalities (which might be what drew Obama to study Lincoln) is something that could be discussed.
All of this also reminds me that there are comparisons to be made with another political leader who clearly had a commitment to the long view...Nelson Mandela. These are the kinds of things some of us see in our current President. And its why we know that we are living in extraordinary times - even when we are in the midst of a long hard struggle for remarkable, historic change.