Sure, we aren’t on the brink of a civil war, but Obama should still channel Abraham Lincoln in dealing with fierce opposition. E.J. Dionne writes in his new column, “Lincoln’s Lessons For Obama”:
Can President Obama take advantage of the egalitarian sentiment let loose in the country by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations? Would doing so be consistent with the moderate, conciliatory persona he has cultivated?
The best response comes not from polls but from history. Eric Foner’s magnificent book on Abraham Lincoln’s evolving views on the slavery question, “The Fiery Trial,” offers some surprisingly relevant lessons.
The thing to remember is that on the slavery question, Lincoln was a moderate, not a radical. He promised in the 1860 election to leave slavery alone in the South, and even after the Civil War began, he tried again and again to conciliate Southerners, believing that Southern unionist sympathies would eventually prevail over slaveholder extremism.
As a result, he was accused by his allies of “too much tenderness toward traitors and rebels,” and Lincoln worried to Republican leader Carl Schurz that his middle-of-the-road politics would offend both Democrats (the conservative party of the time) and Republicans (many of whom yearned for bolder action against slavery). Foner summarizes Lincoln’s concerns: “He feared he was too radical for the Democrats and not radical enough for the Republicans and would end up without political support.” Sound familiar?