February 28, 2008

For quite a while, Bush and his supporters were absolutely convinced that he is a modern-day Truman, suffering with low approval ratings, but whose stature grew in subsequent decades.
The good news is, Bushies no longer believe he’s a modern-day Truman. The bad news is, they’re now convinced he’s a modern-day Lincoln. Consider Fox News’ Tony Snow on The Colbert Report last night:

COLBERT: Latest polls have his approval rating at 19 percent, which is low for a President but very high for a fetish.

SNOW: Ouch…. They actually hated Truman. They hated Lincoln. Lincoln as late as late-1864 was telling his guys to get ready the next incoming administration of George McClellan.

This seems to be part of a trend. Last month, in a Fox News interview, Bush equated himself with Lincoln. Last week, disgraced former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales “repeatedly made references comparing himself and the Bush administration to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, suggesting that Lincoln was highly criticized during his presidency and is now highly revered.” As Amanda noted, “Conservatives including Newt Gingrich, John Gibson, David Brooks, Glenn Beck, and Rudy Giuliani have also taken up the comparison.”

As long as these guys continue to cling to the fantasy, we might as well go to the trouble of pointing out how very silly this is.

First, Snow’s point that Lincoln feared electoral defeat in 1864 is true. It’s also true that Lincoln was nevertheless popular enough to win re-election by 10 points. (Granted, half the country didn’t vote due to the Civil War, but Lincoln won 21 of the 24 states still in the Union. “Unpopular” isn’t the first word that comes to mind.)

Second, the comparison itself is almost child-like. To hear the president and his supporters tell it, both led controversial administrations, and both faced their share of derision, therefore, the two have to be similar. By that logic, every unpopular president rejected by the nation gets to say, “I’m just like Lincoln!”

Nonsense. Garret Epps had an item in Salon a while back that scrutinized the differences between Bush and Lincoln.

…Lincoln had none of Bush’s obstinacy and egotism. He scorned yes men, and surrounded himself with Cabinet officials better known than he was, refusing to purge even those actively working against his own political interests. He had no personal vanity at all (when a political opponent accused him of being “two-faced,” Lincoln responded, “If I had two faces, would I be wearing this one?”). The historical imagination rebels at the very idea of his swaggering around in the cavalry equivalent of Bush’s flight suit. He was always ready to sit down with his adversaries, favored compromise whenever possible and never held a grudge. “With malice toward none, with charity toward all” was for Lincoln more than a rhetorical flourish; it was the key to his greatness.

Most important, Lincoln was a lawyer. It is hard to find any sign that Lincoln thought himself above the law. He had none of Bush’s scorn for procedures and rights. He used executive authority in an emergency — and always dutifully reported to Congress and asked for its ratification as soon as a new session began. He restricted civil liberties temporarily, and without enthusiasm — he once compared his suspension of habeas corpus to the drugs doctors give to induce vomiting. Unlike this administration — which will not ask for legal authority even when it knows it will receive it — Lincoln never did anything to prove a point. He didn’t have an authoritarian bone in his lanky body. His objective was victory for the Union, not power for himself.

George W. Bush is Lincoln the way Dan Quayle is Jack Kennedy.

In reality, there is one historical parallel that actually makes sense — though I don’t think the Bushies care for it.

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