Obama: Abraham Lincoln would have no place in today's GOP

In a California campaign stop Obama says Abraham Lincoln would not have fit in among this year's GOP candidates. Perhaps. But would Thomas Jefferson have made a good modern Democrat?

Lucy Nicholson /Reuters
President Obama waves after speaking at a campaign rally for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles Friday. Obama suggested that Abraham Lincoln would be a bad fit in the modern GOP.

President Obama thinks that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t make it in today’s Republican Party. That’s what Obama said today at a Los Angeles campaign event, anyway.

Obama did not really offer particulars here. Presumably he would argue that Lincoln is too moderate by today’s GOP standards.

“Can you imagine him trying to run with these folks?” said Obama at a rally for incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California.

Well, it is true that one of the big issues for Lincoln and the nascent Republican Party prior to the 1860 election was increased government support for internal improvements, such as roads, to boost commerce. A bigger budget for the Department of Transportation is not exactly on today’s Republican agenda.

But is it really a good idea to raise the issue of which historical president belongs in which modern party? That’s a parlor game two sides can play.

Thomas Jefferson, for instance, is an icon of today’s Democrats. But he favored states’ rights and opposed a centralized national bank. The Federal Reserve and its role in government bailouts might have driven him crazy.

And then there’s Andrew Jackson – another legendary Democrat. He was also a legendary fighter and tough guy known for his forceful removal of Native Americans from their territories. What would his Afghanistan War policy have been? Would it have included even a notional pull-out date?

On the subject of Lincoln, we’re pretty sure about one thing: let loose among today’s scripted and controlled politicians, he’d have been like a shark among chum. You want to see a real debate? Put Old Abe up on the stage.

Today’s political opponents really just have joint appearances. They get asked a question, one candidate talks for two minutes, then the other talks for one minute, and maybe there’s a rebuttal. Then they move on to another subject.

When Illinois Senate candidate Lincoln engaged Stephen Douglas in their famous series of debates in 1858, the format was this: one candidate spoke for an hour, then the other candidate spoke for 90 minutes, then the other had another half hour for a rejoinder.

They had seven of these debates, and they were pretty much all about only one topic: slavery. How many modern politicians can you imagine engaging in such a sustained verbal and intellectual exercise?

And for those who say Lincoln would be too verbose today, that he couldn’t boil his arguments down for the cameras, we have two words: Gettysburg Address.

It’s one of the most famous speeches ever made in English, and it’s only 10 sentences long.

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