No Comment — February 12, 2008, 1:18 pm

Not a Lincoln, But a Fraud

As Bush runs down to his last months as the nation’s chief executive, and his popularity continues to sink into hitherto unheard-of depths, his retainers remain concerned about the “Bush Legacy.” Efforts are underway on several fronts to attempt to burnish his record. And one figure regularly trotted out to help prop up the Great Leader is the nation’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. Two examples of this effort came in an extended exclusive interview that Bush granted to Fox News’s Bret Baier, for a documentary entitled “George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish.” In the course of the interview, Bush repeatedly compared himself to Abraham Lincoln. Here’s how Baier previews it:

We talked a lot about President Lincoln. And there’s going to be a lot of people out there who watch this hour and say, is he trying to equate himself with Lincoln? I tell you what — he thinks about Lincoln and the tough times that he had during the Civil War. 600,000 dead. The country essentially hated him when he was leaving office. And the President reflects on that. This is a President who is really reflecting on his place in history.

Baier’s mastery of history is vintage Fox. In fact, Lincoln had just won re-election by a commanding majority and was emerging as an iconic political figure at the time he was shot down. (Harper’s subscribers can burrow into the archives of the magazine and read the issues from the spring of 1865. The tones of adulation which appear are very different from the reports from the early war years in which Lincoln was portrayed—well, as just another politician.) Poets and newspapers chronicled the passage of his funeral train back to Springfield, Illinois, on a long-arc through the country’s heartland. Thousands made the trek to bid a tearful farewell to their great leader. Walt Whitman captured the mood in his powerful poem, “O Captain, My Captain,” perhaps the greatest tribute penned to an American leader. No, Lincoln left life regarded by his contemporaries as an almost superhuman figure of greatness and a model of political leadership.

But then, this is hardly the only point on which the Bush fabulists have coined faux history to help their case. For instance, Alaska Republican Don Young went to the floor of the House to present a quotation from Lincoln which was spun from whole cloth. “Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged,” Young stated, claiming it was a statement of Lincoln’s. Actually Young was simply quoting an op-ed by Neocon Frank Gaffney published in the Washington Times which disseminated the same fraud. It wasn’t, of course, a statement by Lincoln. In fact, Abraham Lincoln’s attitudes were just the opposite. He was elected to Congress in the 1840’s as an anti-war firebrand, and he delivered a number of acerbic attacks on the Polk Administration’s conduct of the War with Mexico.

This campaign to make Bush into the New Lincoln has been in the works for some time, and the list of participants is impressive: Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck and Bill Kristol, for instance, are regulars. In the summer of 2006, the White House noted that Bush’s bedside reading included two books about Lincoln.

Recently, Karl Rove is spending much of his time in his exceedingly posh and isolated resort home in Rosemary Beach, Florida, close to the Alabama line. A few days ago, Rove went over to speak to a crowd in DeFuniak Springs about his boss and his legacy. The Associated Press reports:

Rove says “Bush’s ability to get to the nub of the thing” was similar to Abraham Lincoln’s.

Just how Lincoln-like is Bush? Lincoln was, of course, a self-made man, who built a career in the law and entered public life as a bitter opponent of wars of choice. Writing in Salon, Garrett Epps looked at the desperate make-over and gave an effective retort:

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. Bush does, however, stack up quite nicely against Andrew Johnson, one of the least successful presidents in our history. That’s because, even though Bush has most of Johnson’s flaws, he runs almost no risk of being impeached by his own party.

Bush also decided to deliver remarks saluting Abraham Lincoln on his birthday. They were transmitted on February 10. But of course, Lincoln’s birthday is today, February 12.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2015

In the Shadow of the Storm

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Measure for Measure

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Israel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Camera on Every Cop

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
“The campaign music stopped. Hundreds of people, their faces now warped by the dread of a third bomb, began running for cover.”
Photograph © Guy Martin/Panos.
Article
Part Neither, Part Both·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Eight months pregnant I told an old woman sitting beside me on the bus that the egg that hatched my baby came from my wife’s ovaries. I didn’t know how the old woman would take it; one can never know. She was delighted: That’s like a fairy tale!”
Mother with Children, by Gustav Klimt © akg-images
Article
What Recovery?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Between 2007 and 2010, Albany’s poverty rate jumped 12 points, to a record high of 39.9 percent. More than two thirds of Albany’s 76,000 residents are black, and since 2010, their poverty rate has climbed even higher, to nearly 42 percent.”
Photograph by Will Steacy
Article
Rag Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

From a May 23 commencement address delivered at Hofstra University. Doctorow died on Tuesday. He was 84.
“We are a deeply divided nation in danger of undergoing a profound change for the worse.”
Photograph by Giuseppe Giglia
Article
The Trouble with Israel·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“We think we are the only people in the world who live with threat, but we have to work with regional leaders who will work with us. Bibi is taking the country into unprecedented international isolation.”
Photograph by Adam Golfer

Acres of mirrors in Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City:

10

Rhesus macaques, who normally are not self-aware, will, following brain surgery, examine their genitals in a mirror. Similar evidence of self-awareness was previously limited to higher primates, dolphins, magpies, and an elephant named Happy.

In New Hampshire, Huckleberry Finn was arrested for sexual assault.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today