I still can’t get over the fact that his staff had to perform a bleeping intervention days after the hurricane had struck to get him to pay attention to the crisis. Didn’t he care about what a hurricane might have done to New Orleans? I guess not, until someone whispered the dreaded words “political damage” in his ear.
I keep remembering that Abraham Lincoln used to hang out for hours around the White House telegraph, reading dispatches from the generals, sometimes sending questions and comments back. He didn’t sit around by the fire waiting for his aides to bring him reports. Some historians accuse Lincoln of being a micromanager, but at least he was fully engaged in doing his job. Unlike George W. Bush, he wasn’t just a figurehead or a ribbon-cutter.
I didn’t think Bush compared well to other presidents, either.
I keep thinking that another president–I usually imagine Harry Truman or FDR–in these circumstances would be all over these problems, kicking butt and busting heads. And I imagine them working hard on a solution to the shelter problem. But does Bush even know these problems exist?
One fascinating point about the current Lincoln v. Bush flap is that the righties are dumping on Robert Kuttner instead of Doris Kearns Goodwin, even though the Kuttner op ed is essentially a review of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book Team of Rivals, and Kuttner cites Goodwin for his facts. Yesterday I dumped on Kenneth Anderson’s tortured critique of the op ed, noting that Anderson failed to even mention Goodwin (he added Goodwin to a postscript later), leaving his readers the impression that Kuttner was just making shit up. From a psychological point of view, the sidestepping of Goodwin by John at Discriminations is even more interesting:
Kuttner’s article is a gloss on a new book by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln and his cabinet, Team of Rivals (or perhaps I should say, a new book that purports to be by Doris Kearns Goodwin). I haven’t read Goodwin’s book, and probably won’t, and so I have no comment about how much of the silliness here is Kuttner’s and how much is Goodwin’s (or her research assistants’). I should thank whoever is responsible, however, for providing some good laughs.
He doesn’t dare take on Goodwin on historical fact, so he kicks her out of the way by claiming she didn’t write her own book. As I said, fascinating.
Here’s a representative howler:
Goodwin’s unusual title, ”Team of Rivals,” refers to the fact that Lincoln deliberately included in his Cabinet the prominent leaders of different factions of his party who had opposed him for the 1860 nomination. Some, like his treasury secretary, Salmon Chase, a fierce abolitionist, wanted Lincoln to proceed much more aggressively.
Salmon Chase had been and was many things, but “fierce abolitionist” is definitely not one of them. He came out of the Free Soil Party, a movement that grew up in Ohio, Illinois, and the midwest dedicated to limiting the expansion of slavery, but this “anti-slavery” position was definitely not abolitionist. Indeed, it was motivated in large part by a racist desire to keep blacks, slave or free, out of their territories; it was also anti-slavery in large part out of a desire not to compete with slaveholders and slave labor.
This is partly true, and partly not. It’s true that the “free soil” position was about keeping slavery out of the territories, not about abolishing slavery. And it’s also true that the majority of free soilers were not abolitionists. The Republican Party also placed a “free soil” plank in its 1860 platform, and Lincoln ran on a promise to keep slavery out of the territories. Lincoln was, in fact, much more of a “free soiler” than he was an abolitionist.
Salmon Chase, on the other hand, was an abolitionist, much more than Lincoln was. This is a simple fact. He was also a free soiler because he believed that, if slavery could be contained in the slave states and not allowed to spread, eventually it would die (or, there would be enough “free” states to amend the Constitution). Like Lincoln, and unlike more radical abolitionists, he did not believe the federal government had the constitutional authority to abolish slavery in slave states, so more incremental measures were called for. The Free Soil Party founded by Chase was a fusion of other small parties, and members held a variety of opinions, but above all it was an anti-slavery party. As one congressman at the organizing convention said, “Our political conflicts must be in future between slavery and freedom.” (See discussion of Chase and the Free Soil Party convention in McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, pp. 61 ff.) After the war began, Chase pressured Lincoln to emancipate the slaves, a pressure Lincoln resisted for more than a year. Later, Chase would be a dedicated proponent for African American suffrage.
I don’t have time to go chasing around the Right Blogosphere and cleaning up rightie messes, so this will have to be representative. But in short we’ve got a whole lot of people given to overstuffed rhetoric who don’t know as much as they think they do.
As I said yesterday I haven’t read the Goodwin book, so I’m not comfortable giving it a blanket endorsement for factuality. And I have to assume Robert Kuttner’s op ed conveyed Goodwin’s work accurately. But IMO Kuttner’s basic point — that Lincoln was a uniter but Bush a divider — is exactly right.
Update: Glenn Greenwald writes a stirring defense of Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus. I would like to add that Lincoln was faced with an emergency situation (civilians shooting at soldiers in Maryland; civil authority totally breaking down in parts of Missouri and Kentucky) at a time when Congress was out of session, and it would have taken weeks to re-convene it. So he acted extraconstitutionally, but openly, and when Congress was back in session Lincoln took his case to the legislators and humbly asked them to sign off on what he had done. Unlike Bush he did not act in secret, nor did he assume an inherent authority to do whatever he pleased, Constitution be damned. He acknowledged that the authority to suspend habeas corpus rested ultimately with Congress (Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 2).