Abraham Lincoln

A Team of Rivals?

Wasn’t it about a year ago we heard of the daring moves by President Obama to gather around him in the Cabinet Room a “team of rivals,” a la Abe Lincoln.  LaHood, Clinton, Gates.  Do you see much impact from these unprecedented moves?

Is it just another example of a story line that adds drama but little else of substance?

Lincoln, 1862 & Obama, 2009

Much has been made about how President Obama fashioned his cabinet after Abraham Lincoln’s by recruiting some of his adversaries and Republicans.  Whether it was to have his adversaries close or to remove them from the electoral landscape is a point of debate.  It certainly didn’t help Lincoln dissuade his Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase from attempting an aborted run against Lincoln for the nomination in 1864.  Lincoln also chose William Seward, another Republican rival, as his secretary of state.  Seward was considered the front runner before the convention.  Obama, of course, chose the early front runner to lead his State department

I have just finished reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals, meaning I know just enough about Lincoln to be dangerous.

But I’m struck by a different parallel between the two presidents.  Goodwin characterizes Lincoln, especially during the early years of his presidency, as cautious, uncertain, and conciliatory.  In her book, he does not come off as an extremely confident individual during the first year of his presidency. 

Once elected, one issue Obama was expected to address fairly early was discrimination against gays.  It was thought that he would extend to gays benefits comparable to what heterosexuals have.  Perhaps not gay marriage at first, but certainly overturning “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Despite this week’s announcement that Obama will extend some benefits to gay in the federal workforce, the LGBT community has a right to feel disappointed.

In 1860, some leading Republicans were among those most opposed to slavery.  Once the Southern states seceded, many wanted to declare all the slaves free.  Lincoln demurred.  He did  not think black people were equal to whites, but he opposed slavery.  Yet during the first two years of his presidency, as Republicans ratcheted up calls for freeing the slaves, Lincoln resisted, even as he grew less prejudice in his view of blacks. 

Goodwin suggests that by late 1861, the reason Lincoln was still resisting issuing the Emancipation Proclamation was not because of any hesitation on his part.  Rather, she suggests that he was waiting for the country to catch up with him.  Many Northern Democrats, especially, were still against freeing the slaves, and not all moderate Republicans were there yet, either. 

But as 1862 wore on, the mood in the Northern states changed.  So that by the end of the year, the country (that is the Northern states) was ready, and so Lincoln issued the Proclamation freeing slaves living in the Confederate states.

One has to wonder if Obama is waiting for the country to catch up with liberals on gay issues.  I’ve said before that it is inevitable that gays will ultimately win this fight.  I expect gay marriage to be legal in most states in 10 years.  The younger generation is way ahead of the country on this.  But the rest of the country is catching up to them

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait 10 years.  I doubt we will.  I expect after the 2010 elections, maybe a year later, Obama will make the big moves the LGBT community is waiting for.  In fact, I would think it strategically advantageous to wait closer to the 2012 elections and hope that the Republicans jump all over the issue.  If they make it central to their presidential campaign, I think it will help sink them.

Is Obama emulating his hero and simply lying in wait?