Ever since he declared his candidacy for president standing where Abraham Lincoln had given his famous “House Divided” speech and ostentatiously “[i]nvoking the memory of fellow Illinoisan and the 16th president of the United States,” Barack Obama has been fond of comparing himself (and others are fond of comparing him) to Lincoln, a comparison ubiquitous enough that it once even moved Mitt Romney to commit a rare act of humor.
Some of us recall that Lincoln was the first and last president to preside over a civil war, but even though the level of partisan and cultural hostility under President Obama has approached the level of that late unpleasantness (so far, fortunately, without live ammunition) that is probably not the comparison that he and his admirers have in mind. There is, however, one comparison that I believe is quite apt.
Though he hated slavery, Lincoln was no abolitionist. He, and the new party he led, did not propose to abolish slavery but, as he stated in that “House Divided” speech, to put it “on the course of ultimate extinction” by halting its spread. Similarly, Obama does not demand the abolition of the private insurance market, but he has put in place regulations so restricting it that it will wither and die over time. And not just what he insisted again yesterday is only “a small percentage of folks” — the 5% on the individual market — but also those whose insurance comes from employers (but not unions, who are exempted).
Lincoln, at least, was honest enough to admit his ultimate goal.