December 23, 2008

*Yawn* Lincoln “parallels” for Obama

Historian James M. McPherson sees some “parallels” between our 16th president and our new president-elect:

[T]he president-elect may want to put a new Lincoln book on his nightstand, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (Penguin).

The work by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson explores how the Illinois lawyer and self-taught military strategist managed to successfully prosecute the nation's bloodiest war.

Like Lincoln, Obama enters office without any military experience of his own, yet he becomes commander in chief during a time of not one but two wars. What can Obama learn from Lincoln's example? CNN put that question to McPherson, but first we discussed how the 16th president developed into arguably the country's greatest commander in chief.

Of course, Lincoln didn’t assume office in time of war now, did he? Not only that, when Lincoln did have to deal with military matters (shortly after he took office), he were exclusively dealing with matters right on American soil and territorial waters – not irregular conflicts thousands of miles away -- and already largely won. Ah, but what the heck, why let such a “trivial” detail get in the way of comparing The Messiah to one who many consider the country’s greatest president, eh?

Lincoln actually created the office of the modern commander in chief. The constitution merely says the president "shall be commander in chief of the army and navy of the United States and of the militia of the several states when called into federal service." Period. It doesn't define the powers of the president as commander in chief and there weren't any useful precedents for Lincoln in 1861, so he had to establish the precedents.

And what he did was to -- I wouldn't say usurp some of the powers that had been traditionally exercised by Congress in wartime in creating and maintaining an Army and Navy, but to assert powers that could really only be exercised by the commander in chief himself. ... He proclaimed the blockade of the Confederate coastline, which is really an act of war. ... He increased the size of the Army and Navy without congressional authorization. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus and the Chief Justice of the United States said that only Congress could do that. But Lincoln said this is logically an emergency function of the commander in chief and he established that precedent, as well.

Well, well, well. I wonder how McPherson would be viewed if he used the same justifications for George W. Bush that he uses for Lincoln. After all, the country has never fought a war like the current one we’re engaged in, the so-called War on Terror. Would McPherson legitimize [some of] the actions Bush’s administration has undertaken – say, like opening Guantánamo Bay for captured terrorists and terrorist suspects, and tapping phone calls where one party was located in a foreign country as … “establishing precedent?” Can you imagine if President Bush unilaterally suspended habeas corpus in the hours/days following 9/11? If he, without Congressional approval for funding, increased the size of the military? And what about what McPherson doesn’t mention at all about Lincoln: What if Bush, like Lincoln, regularly jailed and/or exiled his political opponents? As it is, the Left has been beyond apoplectic about Bush’s actions since 9/11 (hell, since his election!). He “shredded the Constitution,” he’s engaged in “a power grab,” he’s “in the pocket of Big Oil,” he’s “a fascist in the vein of Hitler,” he “should be tried for war crimes.” Etc.

The funny thing is, Lincoln’s opponents at the time said similar things. Now? “Greatest president of all time.” No, I’m not even close to saying George W. Bush should be considered such; however, Barack Obama shouldn’t be mentioned in comparison to Lincoln either … especially since the dude hasn’t even taken office yet!

I’ve said many times here and elsewhere that the measures the Bush administration has taken in the “War on Terror” pale in comparison to those done by presidents past, including FDR, Wilson, and especially Lincoln. Many of you know I think the Iraq War was a big mistake; however, the Afghan conflict was a legitimate response … and if we can now look back, as McPherson does here, with little or no reservations about quite questionable actions by presidents past, then history may indeed come to view George W. Bush’s tenure quite more favorably than it does now.

Posted by Hube at December 23, 2008 03:34 PM | TrackBack

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