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Will Obama Follow Lincoln's Example?

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As The Economic Situation Declines, He Has To Stop Centrist Diddling

By Danny Schechter

Author of PLUNDER

Last week, television was filled with programs marking Abraham Lincoln's birthday. (The official holiday is February 16.) We watched reports on how the civil war erupted and was almost lost by the Union side. We were reminded of how many died and were wounded in that great, national tragedy.

We were also told how Lincoln was often despondent and forced over time to take stronger measures including the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolition of Slavery, even though, at first, he waffled, compromised, and proposed less definitive measures. Somehow, events end up driving policy and as the war got worse, the president found himself doing things he initially opposed or deflected.

Ultimately, he did move against slavery, justifying freeing the slaves at first as an economic and military blow at the Confederacy. Later he called it a moral issue. His last speech calling for voting rights for some freed slaves was the trigger that sparked racist actor, John Wilkes Booth, to become an assassin.

Today, we seem to be at the beginning of a new civil war, a great economic war with fresh details trickling out every day about how bad it is, and how bad it may get. Many banks are insolvent and companies bankrupt. Millions are out of work. No one knows what will happen. Even as the Stimulus bill was passed, no one is confident it will stem the tide of economic decline. No one.

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Today, there are modern Confederates called Republicans even though, in his day, that was Lincoln's party. Like the obstructionists of the old South, they have closed the door on compromise and are, in effect, seceding from the change agenda that the majority of the voters supported in the 2008 election. Rush Limbaugh's statement, "I want him to fail," speaks to and for these defenders of policies responsible for this disaster.

It’s been suggested that the GOP’s solidarity front was not so much about the stimulus bill as sending a message to the Obamacrats not to pursue any prosecutions connected to the Bush era. But even if Obama himself, who keeps stressing his desire to look forward not backwards, doesn't have the gumption to go after his predecessors, he may have to consider taking bolder steps on the economy to stave off the financial Armageddon many fear.

Obama knew he didn’t win by a landslide or fully control Congress. He thought he could legitimize his Administration by ingratiating the center of the deal-making culture of the Washington consensus. Tarnished on the campaign as a radical and worse, he felt he had to signal to the media and his adversaries that he would play the game by its rules, "responsibly." His adversaries sneered and the media amplified their slogans.

To get up and running, he picked a Cabinet built around managers and filled key posts with political operatives. The GOP jumped on tax errors by nominees but as David Michael Green explained in the blog, 'The Regressive Antidote,' that was not the problem:

"Much more disconcerting, with respect to those appointments, is just how small these figures are, and what records of nothingness they bring to the table. Worse still is to hear them described as the indispensable choices for these positions…In any case, what is really needed in the job right now is a heavyweight to sell some big ideas. Just watching Geithner in action, I can't help but think that he is the sheer antithesis of gravitas.”

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To contain likely revolts from the military and intelligence worlds, he appointed insiders who sought to reassure the rogue and not-so-rogue elements that they had nothing to fear in terms of payback for crimes committed. Call this the politics of “compromise and co-optation.”

To move left, he felt he had to feint right and reach out to Republicans whose crude rejection further isolated them from all but their strident base. Frank Rich opined, “Having checked the box on attempted bipartisanship, Obama can now move in for the kill.” Is this wishful thinking?

He set up his White House team on the “Team of Rivals” strategy that Lincoln used expecting he would actually run the policy plays while the appointees implemented them. His team is new and inexperienced and just growing into their jobs.  His missteps are clear.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at See

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Lincoln and the War of Northern Aggression was all... by First Last on Monday, Feb 16, 2009 at 7:19:47 AM