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Obama and Lincoln Dealing with Tragedy

Just read my colleague Dr. John Fea’s Patheos column for this week (John is chair of the Department of History here at Messiah). Definitely an interesting read. He compares Obama’s recent speech at the Arizona memorial service with Lincoln’s second inaugural address. There are vast differences in the settings, to be sure, but John points out several similarities as well. This leads to an interesting analysis of how they each approached the message they wanted to give a grieving (and quick to blame) nation. His historical perspective is a new insight for me, since I am far from an expert on most of American history (though I do like to dabble). Here is an excerpt:

A Photo of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

It would have been easy for either Lincoln or Obama to cast blame for these tragedies. Lincoln could have blamed the South for the war and used his inaugural address to draw scorn and punishment down on the former Confederacy. This is what many of the Northern evangelical clergy did. They used their pulpits to call down God’s wrath on the South. These ministers believed that the Union victory, which was nearly complete when Lincoln delivered his speech, was confirmation that God was indeed on the side of the North.

But Lincoln wasn’t so sure. …

President Obama speaks at the Arizona Memorial Service

Like Lincoln, Obama would not let an event like this become politicized. By the time he took the podium last week in Tucson, the blame game had already begun. Members of Obama’s own party were quick to explain this tragedy by appealing to a “climate of hate” fostered by conservative Republicans. Obama soared above the political punditry and used the opportunity to call us all to follow our better angels, but recognize that horrible things like this were also the product of our common propensity to sin.

In a time of great tragedy, Obama called us not toward hatred, but to civility. He asked us to stop the venomous nature of public discourse, to have malice toward none and charity toward all. I think Abraham Lincoln would have been proud. On days like this I am glad Barack Obama is our president.

John is not a blind Obama supporter, by any means, and I don’t read him as elevating Obama to the level of Lincoln in the pantheon of US Presidents. Still, his analysis is a welcome perspective, in addition to the two articles I commented on in my post yesterday.

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One comment on “Obama and Lincoln Dealing with Tragedy

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