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Intentions are Everything
by Edna Nelson
2009-02-12 10:00:26
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Current President Obama has spoken in reverence about former President and signer of the Emancipation Proclamation Abraham Lincoln. For a man who is sometimes seen as the only promise of a positive future in the US, and an icon for black people around the world, Abraham Lincoln can look like a questionable fit for praise. Lincoln although generally accepted by the masses is much disputed among those who have researched him beyond the speeches, actions and attitudes he is well known for. During his lifetime Lincoln had made enough contrary statements to keep people arguing for what's now over a century after his death. Of those folks educated on Lincoln, there are people like President Obama who clearly consider him a stand-up guy, and others who see Lincoln as a dishonest, pushy, and over-represented historic politician.

One thing we can be sure about is that Lincoln was a President who accomplished the main goal of his presidency: defeating the south in defense of the union during the civil war. President Lincoln is commonly remembered for the abolition of slavery and for the most part the men and women who fought in the face of death for their freedom, and the white abolitionists who fought beside them, have been forgotten. Even though they were the true founders of the racial equality movement and a powerful force in the move towards the emancipation proclamation the stories of abolitionists have been lost in Lincoln's shadow. In this process not only have the identities of abolitionists been lost, but also their attitude of conscious and absolute resistance. Unfortunately the power of slaves who had escaped and actively opposed slavery is overcome by the idea of Lincoln as a great white liberator, ignoring that fact that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation as a politician, not an abolitionist.

President Lincoln had been mostly ambiguous and contradictory on racial issues and instead focused on the war. Abraham Lincoln's wide range of statements on the topic show clearly that his rhetoric around slavery was built on an intention to manipulate any given situation to his benefit In comparison to the critical condition of the country issues around the morality of slavery were unimportant to Lincoln on their own. His concerns around slavery are stated clearly in a letter to New York newspaper on August 22nd 1862 where he wrote: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that." Later liberating the slaves would prove to be beneficial to the Union Army, so, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Understanding Lincoln as a politician can lead to a better understanding of what some people consider his second-coming: Barack Obama. The man, a big fan of Lincoln, has been elected to lead a country in conflict over essential financial and moral issues. The elite and the trickle-down economics are being posed against the masses and a hope for some kind of change, all the wars are up for a debate, and the earth is melting. Obama has addressed all class, race, gender, and environmental issues in his speeches, making minor adjustments in his manner of delivery in order to have the greatest affect on his audience. Like Lincoln, Obama is selecting the issues concerning his audience and framing them so that his attitudes appear favorable while at the same time emphasizing that his greater goals will be accomplished regardless.

Lincoln did whatever was needed in order to maintain the Union, all other issues were judged by their ability to serve or oppose this cause. In the present case the US is not compromised by a threat of states to succeed but by a legacy of mismanagement. The future of the US depends on its ability to restructure and regain its integrity. Obama ran for President because he thinks he is the man with the solution to these current and most pressing problems. He proposes an "Era of Responsibility" and speaks in an inclusive manner in order to get all Americans on board. As a politician Abraham Lincoln is a fantastic example of how to achieve ones most primary goals, so when assessing an admirer of his it is important to understand what "The Plan" is. During in his Inauguration speech Obama stated: "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end." His ultimate goal is to create a better stronger US in his view that means one where workers are compensated fairly and people can retire, above everything the priority is to have a government that works.

Barack Obama will be known as the First African American President, and who knows what else, like Lincoln President Obama may be given credit for things he never intended to do, or undervalued for the things he was really focusing on. Under President Lincoln the US saw many changes that needed to happen, slavery was abolished and the industrial age was allowed to progress. The fact that Lincoln himself was not clear about race was shown in his refusal to condemn racists and slave owners outright, because of this the social consciousness of the nation was affected. Reconstruction was a disaster, the Ku Klux Klan became powerful, and segregation was created. By inviting known bigot Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration President Obama has shown a refusal to stand aggressively against the religious based bigotry, he may be following a little too closely in his idols footsteps and repeating the same dangerous mistake of implying social consciousness where there really is none. Hopefully he will benefit from doing something he never intended, and a happily married lesbian will write something like this about him 100 years after his death.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-02-12 11:26:44
In March 1857, way before Lincoln became president, the Supreme Court of the US under Judge Taney declared in the famous Dred Scott case that all Blacks, slaves as well as free, were not and could never become citizens of the US. It also declare the 1820 Missouri Compromise (which stipulated that slavery would not be introduced west of the Mississippi river) unconstitutional thus permitting slavery in all of the country’s territory.

On June 16, 1858, at the Illinois Republican convention in Springfield, Abraham Lincoln kicked off his bid for the U.S. Senate with a speech that would come to be known as the "House Divided" speech. Lincoln believed that the recent Supreme Court decision on the Dred Scott case was part of a Democratic conspiracy that would lead to the legalization of slavery in all states. Referring to the court's decision which permitted Dred Scott to live in a free state and yet remain a slave, he said, "what Dred's Scott's master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free state of Illinois, every other master may lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free state."

The above historical facts would at a minimum suggest that Lincoln, while not being a fiery activist as abolitionist would have liked him to be, was very much aware of the undesirability of spreading slavery to all the other territories and future states and always hoped for its gradual elimination and disappearance.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-12 12:14:21
“By inviting known bigot Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration President Obama has shown a refusal to stand aggressively against the religious based bigotry…”

There is no doubt that Rick Warren is well known, given that his books (especially his The Purpose Driven Life) have sold into the millions. What is intriguing is that characterization gratuitously tied to the term bigot and bigotry implied as synonymous with religion or at least with religious based bigotry, which begs the question: are those millions of people who have purchased and read his books also bigots? The Oxford dictionary defines a bigot thus: “a person with strong and prejudiced views who will not listen to the opinion of others.” There is no mention in such a definition of religion as being integral part of bigotry, which means that a person with strong and prejudiced views against religion or against any other social phenomenon or ideology, who will not listen to the opinions of those who think that religion (as distinguished from cults) can give meaning and purpose to one’s life, and rejects those opinions outright, or caricaturizes and trivializes them, can also be characterized as a bigot, yes? Perhaps, rather than gratuitously associating bigotry with religion we ought to more properly and logically and wisely associate it with fanaticism.

Edna2009-02-12 13:41:14
"I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything." The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, "Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois" (September 18, 1858), pp. 145-146.

The point isn't that Abraham Lincoln was planning to expand slavery, he did of course want to restrict it, for many reasons. He was not hoping to spark further development of equality for ex-slaves, or inspire generations of blacks in the US.

"Religious based bigotry" does not mean religious people are inherently bigots, rather that the type of bigotry President Obama is specifically unable to stand against is the religious based type.

Rick Warren has greatly offended the Gay Communinity in the USA, and for that reason exclusively his selection to speak at the Inauguration shows Obama's lack of consideration for LGBT folks.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-12 15:48:38
On August 1, 1858, before he became president Lincoln wrote that “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is not democracy.” Indeed, most great men exhibit nuances even in their ethical stance what lesser men who wish a Manichean world of black and white with no gray in between find objectionable.

On the issue of religious bigotry I suppose one can go as far as making a case that Jesus Christ too offended all the adulterers in Palestine when he said to the woman caught in adultery whom he saves from stoning, as the law prescribed (by inviting those without sin to cast the first stone): “nobody has condemned you? neither do I, go and sin no more”; one could even make a case that what the woman was up to was none of the stoners’ or Christ’s business, that the woman should have been left alone to do as she best pleased, but that would be a misguided interpretation of the anecdote; for on closer reading it is clear that a distinction is made: while the sin is condemned, the sinner is forgiven as a child of a Providential God who loves his creation and creatures. The parable of the Prodigal Son elucidates that point. Now, if Mr. Rick Warren is involved in a religion which teaches him to hate sinners together with the sin, then it means he has not read the gospel very reflectively and then I would agree with your designation of bigot would apply. Indeed, intentions are everything and since they are quite difficult to scrutinize most of the times it is best left to God to judge people while one can still analyze and even condemn external actions at least under the light of ethical reason.

Emanuel Paparella2009-02-12 17:49:27
P.S.You are quite right that reconstruction was a disaster, but we need to keep in mind that that disaster was not the doing of Lincoln who was looking for "the better angels of our nature" and was now dead, but of his successor Johnson who was a moral and intellectual midget in comparison to Lincoln and who was out to punish the South for its rebellion.

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