It's ironic that Barack Obama chooses to infuse these opening days of his presidency with the imagery of Abraham Lincoln.
I don't think there could be two more different men. Understanding why may help us think about what to expect in the days ahead.
Beyond his trademark "change we can believe in," Obama's defining theme has been unity and inclusiveness. "... There's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America ... We worship an awesome God in the Blue States ... and have gay friends in the Red States."
Obama, of course, does not suggest that we don't have differences. His point is that those differences are not critically important and they're getting in our way. Let's put differences aside, get practical, and solve our problems.
The inaugural ceremonies have pastors for everyone. A white evangelical that opposes same sex marriage, a white homosexual, a left wing black male and a left wing black female.
His economic stimulus plan has large government expenditures to please Democrats and tax benefits to please Republicans.
Lincoln, too, sought unity. But Lincoln's notion of where national unity would lie was far different from Obama's.
He prophetically stated the challenge after accepting the Republican nomination for the Senate in 1858.
"A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure half slave and half free. I do not expect the union to be dissolved. I do not expect the House to fall. But I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other."
As historian Harry Jaffa points out, " For Lincoln, as for Jefferson and for all genuine supporters of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the distinction between right and wrong is antecedent to any form of government and is independent of any man's or any majority's will."
Lincoln knew that some principles are so fundamental they cannot be compromised. He knew that we couldn't ignore our key differences. Unity could only come from facing them and making the hard choices.
He knew that even though there were competing religious claims on the issue of slavery -- some found biblical sanction in it -- we would still have to choose and decide who we are.
As Americans killed each other, he observed: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God ... The prayers of both could not be answered ..."
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