Obama v. Lincoln: On “Punishing” One’s Enemies

by Crocker on October 27, 2010, 5:58 am

in Culture,History,Politics

During the 2008 campaign and thereafter, Hope ‘n Change famously postured himself as a Lincolnesque figure. His rhetoric, however, has been somewhat different.

In a radio interview that aired on Univision on Monday, Mr. Obama sought to assure Hispanics that he would push an immigration overhaul after the midterm elections, despite fierce Republican opposition.

“If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, ‘We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us,’ if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s gonna be harder and that’s why I think it’s so important that people focus on voting on November 2.”

Two problems here: first, he apparently views the American people not as a unity but as warring, Balkanized factions in perpetual conflict. Second, he tells one such fragment that they must “punish” their “enemies”. Frankly, he sounds more like Stephen Douglas than Abraham Lincoln and apparently wants to govern by playing one group off against another. It’s all so . . . vindictive.

But what did Lincoln actually say in the midst of a bitter civil war in which hundreds of thousands died? Two quotations demonstrate the vast gulf separating the two men.

From Lincoln’s first inaugural, March 4, 1861:

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

From his second inaugural, March 4, 1865:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

I cannot imagine Lincoln urging people to “punish their enemies”. It simply wasn’t in the man.

But it is in Obama.

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