Apr 102008
Authors: Joseph Haynie

Ever since Barack Obama entered the presidential race, his supporters have compared him to Abraham Lincoln.

This comparison is drawn most often when addressing Obama’s lack of significant experience, seemingly placing the unproven presidential candidate on par with Lincoln in terms of greatness.

His supporters, ignoring several differences, are trying to say that just because he is well spoken and gangly, he must be on the same level as Lincoln. However, despite what they say, the only things log-cabin-esque about their candidate is a vocation and a location. Other than that, there are not many ties that bind the two men together.

Any attempt to draw a comparison of the two politicians from Illinois is unfair, inaccurate and incomplete.

First and foremost, Obama has no body of work from which to draw a comparison.

During his short tenure in the U.S. Senate, he has not faced a domestic crisis nearing the magnitude of a civil war.

Furthermore, his time as a senator has been lackluster and frustrating. As Kate Zernike and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times noted, aside from ethics reform, Obama, during his first few years in office, “like most freshmen [senators] did not play a significant role in passing much other legislation and disappointed some Democrats for not becoming a more prominent voice in other debates.”

Instead of rising to the occasion and capitalizing on the momentum he gained from his election in 2004, Obama chose to take a back seat, waiting for the opportune time, namely a presidential election, to cash in his political chips.

Second, the historical context of Lincoln is far different from that of today.

Despite a string of military victories, which included victories over Great Britain and Mexico, America was not considered a military superpower as it is today. Neither did it play a prominent role in international economic affairs. America was a fledgling nation of little international importance.

Third, Lincoln’s fame and greatness is attributed to his time in the White House, not his time in Springfield, or during his one term as a U.S. Congressman.

Just because the potential is there, does not mean that everything will go as it did before. Does anyone remember Harold Miner? No? My point exactly.

Miner, upon entering the NBA after one season of college basketball, was dubbed “Baby Jordan.” He not only possessed amazing skill and acrobatic ability similar to Michael Jordan’s, he also looked like him, baldhead and all.

However, he was unable to perform at a professional level and subsequently retired from basketball. He is one in a number of individuals who failed to live up to the hype.

Fourth, would we hold Lincoln in such high regard had the North lost the Civil War? After all, the war was mismanaged and characterized by Union defeats until Lincoln chose a competent general and devised a new strategy that the tide of war turned toward the North’s favor. Kind of reminds me of what’s going on today.

It’s true that experience does not always equal success.

Lyndon B. Johnson, a seasoned congressman and vice president, could not resolve the conflict in Vietnam, and instead, escalated America’s involvement. The same can be said for those who lack experience. Jimmy Carter failed to overcome foreign struggles, a domestic energy shortage and high levels of inflation.

Presidential politics is a crapshoot in which success lies within the intangibles. The ones who can communicate, lead in troubled times and make informed decisions will be the ones who will be remembered as great.

Could Obama be the “Next Lincoln?” Sure, but drawing any comparison of the two of them at this stage seems like a perverse justification for a shabby resume. Greatness is something Obama will have to earn.

Joseph Haynie is senior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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