December 29, 2008


George, Abe, Rick & Barack (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 12/29/08, NY Times)

[I] also have to admit that I look forward to Obama’s inauguration with a surprising degree of hope and good cheer.

For one thing, there will be the invocation, delivered by Rick Warren. I suspect he’ll be careful to say nothing pro-life or pro-traditional-marriage — but we conservatives have already gotten more than enough pleasure from the hysterical reaction to his selection by the tribunes of the intolerant left. And having Warren there will, in fact, be a welcome reminder of the strides the evangelical movement and religious conservatives (broadly speaking) have made in recent decades. [...]

Obama, it’s been announced, will be the first president to take the oath of office using the Lincoln Bible, held by President Lincoln at his first inauguration, since ... Lincoln.

Some commentators have poked fun at Obama’s presumption. And it might be a good idea if, when he takes the oath, Obama makes sure that the Good Book is open to Proverbs 16:18, and its reminder that “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

But my (generous) interpretation of Obama’s choice of the Lincoln Bible is this: It’s an homage to Lincoln, not a claim to be like him. Obama intends to look back to Lincoln for guidance and to look up to him as a model. Lincoln, our greatest president and statesman, had a deep understanding of American exceptionalism. He thought long and hard about the relationship of American founding principles to political practice, and in his actions exemplified the prudent and skillful pursuit of a principled end. He was also a great war president. Obama could do a lot worse than study Lincoln and learn from him.

What’s more, in a radio address this past week, Obama cited George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, as a lesson for us today. Obama’s academic supporters must be rolling their eyes, or assuming he’s just playing to the simple-minded patriots in the peanut gallery. But what if Obama’s own understanding of the founders is more in line with the admiring spirit of many recent popular biographies than the belittling efforts of post-1960s tenured radicals?

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2008 5:05 PM
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