Originally celebrated as George Washington's birthday, the holiday morphed into Presidents' Day in the 1980s, in part to honor Abraham Lincoln. Today, our first president has taken a backseat to the 16th, and the election of Barack Obama has only further increased Lincoln's legend. Many are asking if Obama will govern like Lincoln. He will, just as each president who inherited an America of Lincoln's making has done.
With the recent observation of Lincoln's 200th birthday, it might be worth looking at what the last two centuries have wrought. Washington's vision of a humble constitutional republic, decentralized and debt free, has been replaced by an imperial superpower, where U.S. influence not only spans the globe, but the globe foots the bill, as presidents and Congress hastily pass "bailouts" and "stimulus packages" in the hopes that China and other foreign nations will keep America financially afloat. Washington's farewell address, in which he urged a young republic to avoid "foreign entanglements" has been rejected by an America forever searching for foreign nations to tangle with. With the nationalization of significant parts of our economy, the Founders' attempt at republican democracy further descends into empire. Perhaps it is time Americans were honest about their Caesar?
Saying Lincoln was a great president is like saying Ike Turner was a great husband. Many contend that Lincoln did what was necessary to save the marriage between North and South, and if he had to resort to immoral, illegal, and gruesome tactics, the ends justified the means. Like Ike to Tina, Lincoln beat a nation into submission.
Forget the unconstitutionality of his suspension of habeas corpus or censorship of the northern press — consider the inhumanity of Lincoln's war strategy as explained by his favorite general, William Tecumseh Sherman: "There is a class of people (in the South) — men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order."
Today, we call this genocide. In his day, Lincoln called it "saving the union," a voluntary union he ultimately destroyed to make way for the centralized system we have today, in which big government colludes with big capital to maximize profits by minimizing liberty.
Leftist Kirkpatrick Sale recently pointed out that comparisons of Obama to Lincoln were accurate in ways most don't consider, noting that "Obama seems to promise: government subsidies for the larger corporations and banks (as Lincoln pushed in his day, especially for the railroads), refurbishing of the infrastructure (ditto), nationalization of the financial system and reckless printing of currency, increased centralization of the government and its hold on the economy, continuation and expansion of warfare and the war machine."
But didn't Lincoln abolish slavery? Lincoln made clear his loyalty was to his concept of the union, not abolition, writing in 1862, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that."
War is often couched in moralistic terms to obfuscate the non-benevolent, self-aggrandizing intentions of those who wage them. Few critics of George W. Bush believe the invasion of Iraq was due purely to the president's concern for democracy and human rights. When noting the many corporate and government interests who benefit from the Iraq occupation, Bush's critics are often shouted down as unpatriotic, as Saddam Hussein's genocide, rape rooms, and other ghastly examples are brought up to justify the invasion. To criticize Bush is to excuse Hussein, say many. To criticize Lincoln is to excuse slavery, say many.
Were Southerners who were disenfranchised or resistant during Reconstruction so different from the millions of disgruntled Iraqis today, who simply want occupying armies out of their country? Many Americans consider these Iraqis unappreciative cretins who simply don't know what's good for them. And too many Americans continue to view yesterday's Southerners in the same unsympathetic light.
America's bloodiest war gave birth to the modern state we live under today. From intrusive drug laws to Roe vs. Wade, the income tax to the Patriot Act, foreign intervention to market intervention — these and so many other aspects of American life exist due to the ever-increasing centralization of power kick-started by Lincoln.
It's safe to say Washington would not have included Lincoln amongst the "greatest" presidents for his accomplishments. And whether it's Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Bush, or Obama, it is a tragedy that being a "great" president has now come to mean betraying everything America's first president ever stood for.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.